NGOs Slam Performance of National Human Rights Commission

By Yen Saning 25 September 2014

RANGOON — Burmese civil society groups on Thursday published a damning review of the performance of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC), saying that it had not successfully investigated “any case submitted to it” since it was formed by President Thein Sein in 2011.

The report, titled “Burma: All the President’s Men,” also slammed a law passed in March that will enable the commission’s future work, saying that it fails to guarantee that commission members are selected by an independent body.

“One of the biggest flaws is the lack of independence that the selection committee has. Too many of its members are either government or government-affiliated, while the provision of civil society involvement excludes large parts of Burma’s civil society,” said the report, written by the Burma Partnership and Equality Myanmar.

Aung Myo Min, executive director of Equality Myanmar, told a press conference in Rangoon on Thursday that the commission lacks financial independence because it is funded by the President’s Office, adding that commission members can be dismissed on order of the president or union parliament speaker.

On the day of the launch of the report, the President’s Office announced that it had replaced several members of the commission, but its chairman remains unchanged.

Aung Myo Min said civil society groups had not been properly consulted on the new law concerning the rights commission, or on the new appointments of commission members that were announced Thursday. He added that this lack of transparency and consultation exemplified the shortcomings of the commission.

Soon after taking office in 2011, Thein Sein’s reformist government issued an executive order for the creation of a national human rights commission. The creation of the commission was immediately met with criticism as it was not approved by Parliament, while the commission lacked a legislative text with a clearly defined broad mandate and its operations are not based on universal human rights standards.

Thein Sein appointed commission chairman Win Mra, who was the ambassador to the United Nations for Burma’s military regime from 1994 to 2001, where he consistently denied the occurrence of gross rights violations.

The report said the commission had failed to seriously address thousands of complaints of human rights violations it had received, while it had publicly declined to investigate abuses in war-torn Kachin State and Arakan State, which has been wracked by inter-communal violence between Rohingya Muslims and Arakanese Buddhists.

“In the two areas of most concern, in Arakan and Kachin State, the MNHRC has done almost nothing. The chairman explicitly stated that they cannot investigate abuses in active conflict zones, thus ruling out Kachin State and the ongoing atrocities there,” the report said.

“[W]hile in Arakan State, despite credible evidence in the hands of the UN and corroborated by Medicins Sans Frontieries, [the commission] claims to have found no evidence of the massacre of Duu Char Yar Tan village, in which over 40 Rohingya were killed with police involvement.”

The Burma Partnership and Equality Myanmar said the country’s human rights situation remained dire and had seen little improvement in recent years, while new types of rights abuses, such as land-grabbing, are rapidly rising.

The NGOs faulted the government for failing to set up a truly independent national human rights commission in cooperation with civil society groups, and said the government was ignoring the public’s demand for justice after decades of military rule.

“To date, the [commission] has still not successfully investigated and taken effective action on any case submitted to it,” the report said.

“We want to know in how many cases it has taken action. How many [rights-abusing] people have they taken action against? How have the grievances of the public been solved in cooperation with concerned ministries?” asked Aung Myo Min of Equality Myanmar.

“The MNHRC has failed to address or handle abuses, and the government has failed to urge [the commission] to solve the issues. As Burma Partnership, we are very disappointed with the MNHRC,” said Khin Ohmar, coordinator of Burma Partnership.