Rakhine focus for Human Rights Council

Myanmar will again be the subject of a European Union-sponsored resolution at the Human Rights Council, but some are calling for an international investigation into alleged abuses in Rakhine State.


THE EUROPEAN UNION is coming under growing pressure to institute an international investigation into alleged abuses in Rakhine State, as it prepares to sponsor a resolution on Myanmar at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The resolution reflects growing international frustration over the situation in Rakhine, where the military has been accused of serious human rights abuses and more than 70,000 people have fled into Bangladesh.

It also marks a dramatic turnaround from September 2016, when the EU abandoned its annual resolution on Myanmar’s human rights record at the UN General Assembly after 25 years, citing progress under Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.

At that time there was speculation that the EU could also drop the Human Rights Council resolution, or downgrade it to end the mandate of the special rapporteur, a position currently filled by Ms Yanghee Lee.

Support more independent journalism like this. Sign up to be a Frontier member.

But events in Rakhine State, as well as the ongoing conflict in northern Myanmar, have all but forced the EU’s hand. Frontier understands that the resolution has been drafted and discussions between EU member states over its contents were to begin in Geneva on March 7.

A spokesperson for the European Union delegation to Myanmar said negotiations with Myanmar, potential co-sponsors and other international partners, including the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, were already underway. The deadline to table the resolution is March 16 and it will be adopted on March 23-24.

The spokesperson insisted that the EU had always intended to maintain the Human Rights Council resolution, with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi informed back in November that the bloc would sponsor the resolution.

The Myanmar government has not publicly discussed the resolution. Frontier sought repeated comment from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week but received no response. In the past it has campaigned vigorously for all resolutions on its human rights record to be dropped.

The key question is whether the resolution will contain wording on an independent, international investigation into allegations of abuses, or even a formal commission of inquiry established by the Human Rights Council.

The EU spokesperson refused to disclose whether the latest draft referred to the creation of a commission of inquiry or similar investigation. But in a statement released on February 24, the EU said Myanmar would be one of its priorities at the Human Rights Council session, which opened on February 27 and will continue until March 24.

“Recent developments in the country show that serious human rights concerns remain,” the statement said. “The EU will therefore present a resolution recommending reinforced and timely action to address these issues and renewing the mandate of the special rapporteur, while recognising the first positive steps taken by the new government.”

Leading the charge for a commission of inquiry is special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Ms Yanghee Lee, whose draft report to the council was released in early March.

Lee said that she was concerned at the government’s refusal to form a credible investigation commission to examine the allegations.

“I also found its initial immediate response to quickly dismiss and deny these allegations to be of concern,” she told Frontier by email. “Considering the extent and nature of these recent allegations as well as the historic and continuing discrimination faced by the Rohingya and other minorities, I strongly believe that an international Commission of Inquiry is required in order for the investigation to be truly thorough, independent and impartial.”

International human rights NGOs are uniformly backing Lee’s proposal. In an open letter to members of the Human Rights Council, 13 human rights organisations called for “a Commission of Inquiry or similar international mechanism to investigate, at a minimum, alleged and apparent serious human rights violations and abuses in Rakhine State”.

Mr Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said the response from the government and military to accusations of abuses had “left the international community with little other choice” than to create a commission of inquiry.

“The Myanmar government may not like the prospect of returning to greater scrutiny at the UN Human Rights Council, but they don’t have to look any further than Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and the Tatmadaw to see who is really responsible for putting them in this predicament,” Robertson said.

“It’s time for the soldiers on the ground committing these atrocities, and their superiors in command authority, to be held accountable, and that is precisely what the Human Rights Council is going to do.” 


About 120,000 Muslims displaced by conflict in 2012 are still living in temporary shelters inside IDP camps. (Maro Verli | Frontier)

But with negotiations still ongoing, it is far from clear whether the EU-drafted resolution will indeed result in a commission of inquiry or similar investigation being established.

Once the resolution has been agreed upon by the EU member states, it will be shared with other members of the Human Rights Council. Countries affiliated with the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, who hold 12 of 47 seats on the council, could seek to strengthen the wording of the resolution. Frontier understands that the special rapporteur’s views are relatively influential with current Human Rights Council member states.

Mr Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, said there were mixed views among the EU member states on the resolution and whether it should include reference to a commission of inquiry.

“The EU [External Affairs Service] is traditionally very soft on human rights in Myanmar,” he said. “The British government is currently reviewing its position on supporting a UN Inquiry, but is concerned that there is a lack of support from within the EU.”

Farmaner said that after the General Assembly “there were discussions within the EU about dropping the resolution or at the very least ending the mandate of the special rapporteur. The events in Rakhine State have forced a rethink.”

The decision also represents a repudiation of Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership on Rakhine State. She has repeatedly called on the international community to give her government for more time and space to resolve the conflict.

Despite the growing crisis in Rakhine State and the government’s intransigence, the EU delegation spokesperson rejected suggestions that the EU had acted prematurely in dropping its General Assembly resolution.

“Recent developments in the country show that serious human rights concerns remain, confirming the importance of keeping the human rights situation in Myanmar under international review including through the regular HRC resolution.”

TOP PHOTO: State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi arrives to address the United Nations General Assembly on September 21, 2016, at the United Nations in New York. (AFP)

More stories

Latest Issue

Stories in this issue
Myanmar enters 2021 with more friends than foes
The early delivery of vaccines is one of the many boons of the country’s geopolitics, but to really take advantage, Myanmar must bury the legacy of its isolationist past.
Will the Kayin BGF go quietly?
The Kayin State Border Guard Force has come under intense pressure from the Tatmadaw over its extensive, controversial business interests and there’s concern the ultimatum could trigger fresh hostilities in one of the country’s most war-torn areas.

Support our independent journalism and get exclusive behind-the-scenes content and analysis

Stay on top of Myanmar current affairs with our Daily Briefing and Media Monitor newsletters.

Sign up for our Frontier Fridays newsletter. It’s a free weekly round-up featuring the most important events shaping Myanmar