Myanmar: Worsening climate for free expression despite UN commitments

In this Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mid-term report, ARTICLE 19 assesses the progress made by the Government of Myanmar in implementing freedom of expression-related recommendations received during its second UPR in November 2015. With just over 18 months until its third cycle review, the report sets out the urgent steps the government must take if it is to demonstrate a genuine commitment to improving the human rights situation in the country.

During its 2015 UPR, Myanmar received 108 recommendations relevant to freedom of expression, of which it supported 56 and noted 52. In early 2016, the NLD government took office after a landslide general election victory and on the back of commitments to implement sorely needed democratic reforms. However, civic space has continued to shrink in the past three years amidst an escalating human rights crisis in the country. Increased international scrutiny has not prompted remedial action from the Myanmar government, as authorities have largely ignored recommendations from the UN Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar and others.

Little progress has been made on the repeal or reform of the laws most frequently used to target government critics, while legislative proposals expected to come before Parliament in the coming months threaten to further erode already weak legal protections for the right to freedom of expression, in particular for ethnic and religious minorities. ‘Hate speech’ has continued to thrive, in part because of the absence of principled leadership by senior politicians in speaking out against discriminatory hatred, and the lack of a comprehensive plan to promote pluralism, diversity and inclusion in Myanmar.

Myanmar authorities have continued to repress and criminalise dissent and criticism of the State and its policies, in particular in relation to ongoing conflicts and human rights abuses perpetrated by the State. The operating environment for the media and civil society remains fraught, with human rights defenders, protesters, journalists and media workers routinely threatened with arrest and prosecution simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Against this backdrop, self-censorship is widespread and government officials seek to control and manipulate the flow of information in the country.

To honor commitments made during its previous UPR, Myanmar must immediately take steps to end arbitrary arrests of those exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, initiate a comprehensive program of legislative reform, ratify key human rights conventions, and take steps to tackle the advocacy of discriminatory hatred towards ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar.

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