HRC39: Interactive Dialogue with the UN Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar

Mr President,

ARTICLE 19 thanks the members of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar for their strong report regarding the grave human rights situation in Myanmar.

We commend the Fact-Finding Mission for its rigorous investigation of not only the recent atrocities directed against the Rohingya population, but also human rights violations perpetrated against other ethnic minority groups. We are further encouraged by the Fact-Finding Mission’s attention to the root causes of such violence, including systematic discrimination, hateful rhetoric, and the restriction of fundamental freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression.

ARTICLE 19 remains profoundly concerned by the government’s deliberate campaign of misinformation, which appears intended to cast blame on the Rohingya population for the human rights violations they have endured. We condemn the contributions of some government officials to the dehumanising narratives directed against the Rohingya. We recall the recommendations set out in HRC Resolution 16/18 to combat intolerance and incitement to violence, and call on all public officials to cease inflaming tensions and promoting discriminatory rhetoric.

We condemn in the strongest terms the recent conviction of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for their work investigating a massacre of Rohingya men and boys by Myanmar Army soldiers. On 3 September, a Yangon court sentenced the two men to seven years’ imprisonment under the Official Secrets Act, a repressive colonial era law which was frequently used by prior military regimes to imprison critics and shield government actions from public scrutiny.

In this context, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s recent defense of the conviction of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo at the World Economic Forum in Vietnam, on the basis that they violated the Act is  particularly appalling. We note that her statement ignored the vast evidentiary shortcomings in the State’s case against the two men, and the serious procedural irregularities which marred the trial. The Court’s decision to convict in spite of these irregularities is troubling, and implicates the judiciary in the government’s efforts to obstruct reporting on the Rakhine State crisis.

Political leaders must break from Myanmar’s repressive past by repealing or reforming those laws that restrict freedom of expression and information and are increasingly being used to stifle independent reporting, public debate and the voicing of diverse and critical viewpoints. In particular, we call for the repeal or reform of the Official Secrets Act, Telecommunications Law, Electronic Transactions Law, Unlawful Associations Act, Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act, Broadcasting Law, Printing and Publishing Law, News Media Law, and various Penal Code provisions. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Wa Lone, Kyaw Soe Oo and all others imprisoned for their exercise of the right to freedom of expression in the country.

We further call on the government to remove restrictions on access to Rakhine State by journalists, rights monitors, diplomats and UN officials, and to immediately take steps to ensure a safe and enabling environment for journalists to investigate and report on matters of public interest.

Finally, we thank the Fact-Finding Mission for its strong recommendations, set out in its report, which provide a roadmap for international action to promote accountability and human rights in Myanmar. We call on this Council to support the swift establishment of an independent, impartial mechanism to collect and preserve evidence of violations of international law to support future criminal proceedings. The establishment of such a mechanism is essential to ensure that perpetrators are held to account and that victims and others are able to seek and know the truth regarding recent and historical events in Myanmar.

Thank you, Mr President.