Two international advocacy organisations have slammed the new Myanmar government for failing to address fundamental human rights shortcomings in its first 100 days in office, echoing recent criticism from the international community.
In a joint statement, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Alternative ASEAN Network of Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma) issued a list of key priorities in 10 areas of concern, including unrealised constitutional and legislative reforms, anti-Rohingya policies, military impunity and a failure to adequately protect women’s rights. The National League for Democracy government was also urged to immediately establish a national human rights agenda.
“In some human rights areas, progress has been slow; in others, key issues have remained unaddressed or been relegated to a low priority status,” FIDH’s president, Karim Lahidji, said in a press release on July 10.
“The long-delayed reforms would allow human rights violations, particularly in ethnic minority areas, to continue and foster a climate of impunity among members of the armed forces,” the statement read.
The rights groups questioned the current government’s decision to put constitutional reform – a central campaign plank in the 2015 election – on hold. Parliament’s lower house Speaker U Win Myint recently said the issue of constitutional reform would only be dealt with after there is a durable peace agreement with the nation’s many ethnic armed groups.
“The constitution is the biggest obstacle to the creation of a democratic, transparent and accountable institution,” Andrea Giorgetta, director of FIDH’s Asia desk, told The Myanmar Times. “It is not a coincidence that the ethnic armed groups have made constitutional reform an indispensable condition for the success of the peace process.”
Arina Khoo Ying Hooi, a Malaysia-based political analyst, said there is a sense of disappointment over the early performance of the NLD government led by President U Htin Kyaw and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Further delay in constitutional and legislative reforms could open up to more human rights violations, particularly to the minority groups,” the senior lecturer with the Department of International and Strategic Studies at the University of Malaya told The Myanmar Times.
She added that the needed reforms are significant not only to Myanmar but also to the broader Southeast Asia region because some of the country’s problems – such as institutional discrimination against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine State –are transnational issues that threaten regional human rights protections.
Last year a mass exodus by boat of Rohingya and Bangladeshis became a regional crisis as human traffickers abandoned their cargo at sea amid a crackdown on the trade by Thailand.
ALTSEAN-Burma coordinator Debbie Stothard raised similar concerns. She said the government must urgently pursue legislative reforms to protect the rights of minorities.
“Serious efforts must be made to prevent crimes against civilians in conflict areas and systematic discrimination against religious minorities, including Rohingya Muslims,” the human rights activist said.
The NLD marked its 100th day in office on July 7 amid mounting international pressure to prioritise human rights and constitutional reform. On some key issues, such as the latter, the NLD is hamstrung by military lawmakers’ effective veto over charter change, while there is no civilian control of a military establishment that has continued to wage war against a handful of ethnic armed groups.
Still, despite Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s overwhelming electoral mandate, the Nobel laureate has received particular criticism for failing to take a stand in addressing the plight of the Rohingya, who are denied basic rights including citizenship and see their access to education and healthcare restricted.
Mr Lahidji said the government must not fall victim to complacency stemming from the extraordinary public support it earned in the 2015 election, in which Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD won an overwhelming majority of elected seats.
“The government must set a clear human rights agenda that contains measurable and time-bound benchmarks to assess whether its objectives have been achieved,” he said.
The joint statement also questioned remaining limits to freedom of expression. Although censorship of print media was lifted as part of a series of democratic reforms under the previous government, the NLD-led Ministry of Information last month banned the screening of Twilight Over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess – a film critical of the Tatmadaw’s past – at the Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival in Yangon.
Other major issues raised and as-yet unaddressed included establishing a UN human rights monitoring office and releasing all remaining political prisoners without conditions.