Yangon, 21 July 2017
Thank you for the opportunity to address you again this evening. I would like to start by expressing my sympathies to Myanmar at the damage recently caused by the Cyclone Mora, particularly in Rakhine and Chin States and Ayeyarwaddy Division. I understand the rebuilding effort is underway and hope the needs of all affected people can be addressed soon.
As you know I have just completed my 12-day visit to Myanmar. I would like to thank the Government as well as the United Nations Resident Coordinator for facilitating it. I have been to Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw as well as parts of Rakhine, Shan and Kayin States. In Rakhine, I went to Kyaukphyu, Sittwe, Buthidaung and Maungdaw. In Shan State, I was only able to visit Lashio; and in Kayin State, only Hpa-an. In Nay Pyi Taw, I met with the State Counsellor as well as other Government ministers and officials. I was not able to meet the Commander-in-Chief and representatives from the ministries for Defence, Home Affairs, Transport and Communication, and Religious Affairs and Culture. I also met with the Attorney General, as well as Governmental, Parliamentary, and statutory bodies.
In the past, I have acknowledged the good cooperation extended to me by the Myanmar Government for my visits to the country. And on a few occasions mentioned some difficulties of access. This time I want to speak a bit more on the issue of access particularly in light of the Government’s recent decision to deny visas to the UN Fact-Finding Mission as well as a new condition that the Government tried to impose on me for this visit.
Let me first remind that two recommendations from my last report were for a Special Session of the Human Rights Council on the situation in the north of the country, specifically Kachin and Shan States; and for a Commission of Inquiry on the situation in Rakhine State. In its March resolution, the Human Rights Council extended my mandate for one more year while at the same time established the mandate of the Fact-Finding Mission.
Now these are two separate independent mandates. I am here concluding my visit to the country today as part of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar which was in fact first established in 1992 by the UN Commission on Human Rights.
Yet I was astonished when I was asked by the Government to give an assurance that I will not undertake any activities that are to do with the Fact-Finding Mission while conducting my visit. The Government delayed confirming the dates of my visit expecting me to give such an assurance which I found to be an affront to the independence of my mandate as Special Rapporteur.
The delay of the Government in confirming the dates of my visit also meant delay in confirming the places that I would be permitted to go. Usually, and this was the case this time, in order to maximise the limited time I have in the country, I would propose alternative options to the places I had been denied. Yet the Government would often, which was also the case here, use the excuse of short notice to not entertain any new proposals, in addition to reasons of security.
As well as increasing restrictions on my access, individuals who meet with me continue to face intimidation, including being photographed, questioned before and after meetings and in one case even followed. This is unacceptable.
This is my third visit under the new Government and I have to say I am disappointed to see the tactics applied by the previous Government still being used. I understand the new Government wishes to normalise its relations with the United Nations, including not having special mechanisms attached to it. Before these “special mechanisms” can be dismantled, Myanmar must first transition into a country that deserves less attention and scrutiny.
Just as we are told not to expect Myanmar to transition into a democracy overnight – that it needs time and space, Myanmar should also not expect to have special mechanisms dismantled overnight – not until there are real and discernible progress in the human rights situation.
I will not at this time go into detail on the substance or issues that I looked into during my visit and will elaborate on them in my report to the General Assembly. But, for now, let me give you a brief overview.
I was particularly dismayed to learn that the situation in northern Shan is deteriorating. During my visit, I was not allowed to go to any of the places I had sought to visit beyond Lashio. I understand this applies to other international actors whose access to other areas is decreasing month on month. One of my requests was to visit Hsipaw Prison where the three journalists detained and charged under the Unlawful Associations Act are being held. However, despite Hsipaw being a tourist destination and frequented by foreigners, I was not allowed to go there.
In Lashio, I met representatives of the Shan State Government as well as civil society actors. I am concerned to hear from groups working on the ground they see more conflict, more cases of alleged human rights violations by different parties to the conflict and inadequate assistance for civilians. There have been numerous reports of killings, torture, even the use of human shields by the Tatmadaw, allegedly in some cases accompanied by threats of further violence if incidents are reported. In a few cases civilians, who are accused as collaborators or supporters of an ethnic armed group, are reportedly even forced to wear the uniform of that EAG before being subjected to ill treatment and torture.
I welcome information on the recent release of 67 children and young people from the Tatmadaw in June. However, there is also a reported increase in forced recruitment and abductions by the several Ethnic Armed Groups operating in the region as well as various militias. Civilians are caught between parties to the conflict facing abuses, risks from mines and clashes while less able to access assistance. While I was not able to visit this time, I understand the situation in Kachin State is also extremely serious, with no access for the UN to non-government controlled areas for over a year and concerning developments in Tanai township.
As you may know, my first site visit was to Kyaukphyu in Rakhine State. This was as part of my focus on business and human rights, particularly on the three Special Economic Zones – Kyaukphyu as well as Dawei and Thilawa. I met members of civil society working in this area and community members including farmers and fishers who were affected by these SEZs as well as past and ongoing mega-projects including on the Madei Island. These communities relayed experiences of land confiscation with little or no consultation or compensation, with efforts to seek redress often gone unanswered. Similar stories were to be repeated during my visits to other areas, showing this to be a truly nationwide problem.
In respect of Rakhine, I also sought to see progress on the Government’s implementation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission’s interim recommendations particularly the recommendation on the closure of three camps affecting three different communities. I was able to meet Kaman leaders as well as the displaced community members who were offered to move to Yangon instead of returning to their place of origin as recommended. I also visited Pyin Phyu Maw village where the displaced Rakhine community members were resettled from Ka Nyin Taw and met a few of them who also expressed their initial desire to return to their place of origin. I was however unable to meet the Rohingya community who still remain displaced in Kyein Ni Pyin camp. I am worried that these different and non-uniform re-settlement practices so far offer little prospect of a durable solution for the estimated 120,000 long-term IDPs still living in camps. On birth registration, I was informed of efforts to improve this in line with a recommendation from the Commission and welcome the issuance of over 20,000 birth certificates in Rakhine State.
The general situation for the Rohingya has hardly improved since my last visit in January, and has become further complicated in the north of Rakhine. I continue to receive reports of violations allegedly committed by security forces during operations. There also appear to be incidents of Rohingya being targeted by unknown assailants for applying to be verified as a citizen, as well as village administrators and other Muslims targeted for being collaborators for working with the authorities – leaving many Rohingya civilians terrified, and often caught between violence on both sides.
I note that officials at the State as well as Union level have stated that their duty to provide protection and security extends to not only the Rakhine but also the Muslim communities. Concrete actions including investigating all alleged violations must be undertaken. At the same time steps must be immediately taken to end discriminatory practices and restoring freedom of movement.
Members of the Rakhine community expressed to me their sadness at the current situation, their belief that the problems were caused by hardliners in both communities or even the Government and asked for the international community to be reminded that the Rakhine community as a whole should not be judged for the actions of its most extreme members. Similarly, the Kaman Muslims I met in Kyauk Ta Lone IDP camp stated that they have no problems with the Rakhine community living in Kyaukphyu town; however, they were being kept separated. I was saddened to learn that the IDPs were told that they would only stay in the camp for 3 days. The 3 days have turned into 5 long years.
I met a number of detainees in Buthidaung Prison arrested and charged in relation to the 9 October attacks – most of whom do not appear to have legal representation, do not fully understand the charges against them and are unable to put up a proper defence. I am particularly concerned by the detention of under-age individuals in general as well as specifically related to the 9 October attacks, and reported deaths in custody. Humanitarian access remains conditional, impeding the work of humanitarian actors in making the required assessment and delivering the necessary assistance and services. Moreover, it is also equally important that there is access for human rights monitoring and protection activities.
In Kayin State, I was not allowed to visit other places besides Hpa-an. Visiting the state for the first time, I met civil society groups working with communities across the state affected by land confiscation without due consultation and compensation as well as forced evictions. I was shocked to hear that in some cases farmers must still pay tax on land which was confiscated from them and in some other cases they are given the offer to buy back their own land at an inflated rate. I heard that domestic violence and violence against children is increasing both here and in other areas of the country with relevant ministries lacking the financial and human resources to roll out assistance projects across the country. Many of the tens of thousands of individuals displaced in the Thai-Myanmar border area are reportedly still afraid to return due to landmines and militarisation but face an increasingly precarious situation with assistance being reduced where they are now.
I also wanted to visit the Myaing Ka Lay cement factory area, but was denied, on the basis of the usual security issues. However, to my surprise, on the road from Hpa-an to Yangon, the cement factory was very visible, permitting me to see from afar the site which produces 4,000 tonnes of cement per day.
Concerns related to civil documentation were heard from communities living in several areas. I heard testimonies that obtaining identity cards in Kayin State is time consuming and frequently requires a bribe to speed up the process. I heard that in Kyaukphyu, the slow citizenship verification process is confining Kaman Muslims family members to Kyauk Ta Lone camp while their Buddhist family members have freedom to choose where to live. I also heard that in the north of Rakhine, the NVCs are being imposed on the Rohingya community in order to fish, get food assistance, have a job when the citizenship verification exercise is meant to be a voluntary one.
I also obtained updates on the worrying increase in prosecutions under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act and ongoing efforts to amend the law as well as on the status of other laws that I have been following.
I will give more detail on these and other issues in my report to the UN General Assembly which I will present in October.
I recognise that for many individuals, albeit perhaps not many of those with whom I have spoken, there have been improvements. I welcome the clear commitment from some ministries such as the Ministry of Education that is making extensive efforts to improve access to quality schooling across the country. The Ministry of Health’s efforts in extending vaccination coverage are also to be commended as well as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservations’ clear desire to tackle complex challenges in the resource sector.
In other, perhaps more sensitive areas, I sincerely hope that an equally strong commitment will become clear in the next few months that can be reflected in my report to the UN General Assembly – such as demonstrable steps towards humanitarian access being fully restored, towards preventing violations and assisting victims, towards the full implementation of the interim recommendations of the Rakhine State Advisory Commission and towards instituting systematic and genuine consultation as well as adequate compensation for those impacted by all new and continuing development projects in line with international standards.
I would also like to appeal to ASEAN to take a “non-indifference” stance to assist Myanmar in its journey to full transformation to a fully democratic society.
As ever, I stand ready to help in any way I can, to make Myanmar the rights respecting country I know it can be — to make Myanmar a country where the rights of all people are respected, upheld, and protected.