Myanmar: Oral statement to HRC37 interactive dialogue with Fact Finding Mission and Special Rapporteur

ARTICLE 19 shares the Special Rapporteur’s alarm that the “repressive practices of previous military governments are returning as the norm once more”, with crackdowns on freedom expression creating “a culture of fear, silence and self-censorship.”

This retrogression contradicts many of the specific recommendations this Council directed to the government of Myanmar last year in Resolution 34/22.

In the context of alleged acts of genocide and crimes against humanity, the government’s attempts to control the free flow of information must be recognised as dangerous, undermining any possible efforts to prevent further violations, as well as prospects for accountability, for truth and reconciliation, and for the eventual safe return of refugees.

We condemn, in particular, the targeting of journalists and others reporting on events in conflict affected areas. Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo face up to 14 years imprisonment if convicted under the Official Secrets Act for reporting on a massacre of Rohingya civilians. In October 2017, two Kachin individuals were convicted under the Unlawful Associations Act for assisting journalists reporting on armed conflict in Shan State.

Access to conflict-affected areas for the media remains restricted, limiting the public’s access to information, and enabling a government-led campaign of misinformation: rather than condemn gross human rights violations and discrimination, government officials publicly question the veracity of reports, and contribute to dehumanizing narratives concerning Rohingya Muslims, against the plan of action in Resolution 16/18, which itself is referenced in Resolution 34/22.

We ask the Special Rapporteur and Fact Finding Mission if they share ARTICLE 19’s analysis that the deeply flawed draft bill on “interfaith harmonious coexistence” will, if adopted, make this situation worse rather than better?

Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, and numerous provisions under the Penal Code, are used to target expression critical of the government, including online. Journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and social media users are being arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted. The conviction of researcher and former political prisoner Myo Yan Naung Thein, as well as the defamation charges against Kachin human rights defender Dashi Naw Lawn and Myanmar Now chief editor Swe Win, are emblematic of a broader trend.

The legal framework on freedom of peaceful assembly and association has not improved, and violations of these rights are numerous. Excessive use of force to disperse protests must be investigated and findings released.

We fully support the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations to repeal or reform laws that restrict democratic space, and ask what measures this Council can take to ensure these reforms are prioritized by the government?