United Nations member states reviewing Myanmar’s human rights record on Monday raised serious concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression in the country, said ARTICLE 19. Myanmar participated in its third Universal Periodic Review (‘UPR’), a mechanism by which the human rights record of each UN member state is reviewed every five years at the UN Human Rights Council.
“The UPR process has again underscored the extent to which Myanmar’s progress towards peace and democracy is being undermined by laws that restrict the right to freedom of expression,” said Matthew Bugher, ARTICLE 19’s Head of Asia Programme. “The recommendations received by Aung San Suu Kyi’s government during the review suggest a way forward.”
Several states called on Myanmar to reform or repeal repressive laws and to unconditionally release all those detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Germany specifically called on the government of Myanmar to repeal Section 77 of the Telecommunications Law, which has been used to restrict mobile Internet access in Rakhine and Chin States for more than a year.
Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone cited the Rabat Plan of Action in their recommendations to the government of Myanmar to combat discrimination and incitement to discrimination. The Rabat Plan of Action provides practical legal and policy guidance to States on implementing Article 20(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which obliges state parties to prohibit ‘any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to hostility, discrimination or violence’.
In the lead-up to the review, the Myanmar government submitted its own report explaining the measures it has taken since the last review to improve its human rights record. The Myanmar government highlighted its ‘Protection Against Hate Speech Bill’ as a key initiative to address ‘hate speech’. ARTICLE 19 has reviewed successive drafts of the legislation and has assessed that the bill fails to meet international standards. The bill’s vague and overly broad definitions, combined with its reliance on criminal measures, are likely to contribute to—not combat—intolerance and discrimination in the country.
ARTICLE 19 has consistently advocated for the government of Myanmar to abandon the proposed anti-hate speech legislation and instead adopt a national action plan to combat intolerance and discrimination through a range of policy measures consistent with international standards and best practices, including the Rabat Plan of Action and Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18.
“The Myanmar government continues to trot out its proposed anti-hate speech law as evidence of its commitment to combat intolerance in the country, but the draft legislation is itself a human rights concern,” said Bugher. “During Myanmar’s UPR review, the international community sent a clear signal that the better approach would be careful implementation of the Rabat Plan of Action and the adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.”