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The Human Rights Council Must Address Burma’s Backsliding on Human Rights - Priority #HRC28

(c) Greg Constantine

March 1, 2015

Last year, Burma experienced a backsliding of its human rights situation. As the country enters an election year, the situation on the ground has deteriorated. Attacks on civilians in Kachin and Shan States, sexual violence committed by security forces during armed conflict, the existence of political prisoners, the harassment of human rights defenders, activists, and media professionals, extrajudicial killings, land confiscation, and the targeting of religious and ethnic minorities – in particular of Rohingya – are serious human rights challenges that remain unaddressed. In addition, no progress has been made with regard to key legislative and institutional reforms, in particular constitutional reform and election laws. In the run-up to the 69th session of the UN General Assembly in 2014, FIDH and its member organization Altsean-Burma published a briefer outlining these key human rights issues. 

Since 2011, the narrative of Burma’s reforms has been floating around international arenas. This has resulted in a decrease in international pressure on the Burmese government, which was reflected in weaker condemnatory language of UN resolutions related to Burma. The Burmese government has taken advantage of this new international dynamic and has sought the discontinuation of international monitoring mechanisms, such as the mandate of UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country.

Recent resolutions on Burma adopted by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) have been unique insofar as they have been adopted by consensus despite the country being placed under the Council’s agenda item 4, dedicated to the most serious situations of human rights violations. At the HRC’s 25th session in March 2014, the Burmese government made it clear that it regarded the resolution adopted then as paving the way for the consideration of Burma under the HRC’s agenda item 10 (on technical assistance and capacity-building), thereby softening international scrutiny of the country.

However, over the last year, in addition to the backsliding of the human rights situation, the Burmese government has not only largely ignored UN recommendations but also stalled on negotiations with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) regarding the opening of an OHCHR country office.

Against this backdrop, FIDH calls on the HRC to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for a period of at least one year by adopting a resolution under the HRC’s agenda item 4. By adopting such a resolution, the Council will show its relevance and continue to exert the necessary pressure on the Burmese government to carry out meaningful reform.

At HRC28, FIDH, in collaboration with Forum-Asia and Human Rights Watch, will organize a side event on the human rights situation in Burma. Panelists will include Altsean-Burma’s Coordinator and FIDH Secretary-General Debbie Stothard, and Women Peace Network Arakan’s Director Wai Wai Nu, a young Rohingya activist who spent seven years in jail as a political prisoner. The panelists will also participate in a round of meetings with diplomatic missions.

FIDH, alongside Human Rights Watch, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Blue Earth Alliance, will also support an exhibition by the award-winning photographer Greg Constantine (Plaine de Plainpalais, Geneva, 4-29 March 2015). “Exiled to Nowhere” will highlight the plight of Burma’s Rohingya, whose situation has been documented by Greg Constantine as part of his work on stateless people.

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