UNHRC 31: Freedom of expression and the new government in Myanmar

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the report of Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

We share the Special Rapporteur’s optimism for the new government, despite illegitimate Constitutional provisions denying Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from taking up the presidency, and we support the Special Rapporteur’s proposed priorities for the government’s first 100 days and year.

ARTICLE 19 also welcomes the appendix to the Special Rapporteur’s report, which clearly outlines the most problematic legal provisions that the new government will have to reform if it is to be successful in democratising Myanmar, including in particular the Penal Code which retains sedition and incitement against the state, among other articles contradicting international human rights law.

Key among these provisions are the criminal laws that punish people for criticising any level of government. Since the constitution was changed in 2010, people across Myanmar have increasingly spoken out on severe injustices, corruption and impunity, but still they are arrested, charged and imprisoned. We urge the new government to make clear, both to all public officials and the public at large, that this will no longer be policy or accepted practice, and that the government is fully committed to protecting and promoting the right to freedom of expression.

Given a free choice, the people of Myanmar voted out the military-backed party and gave a landslide victory to the new government. Against the clearly expressed will of the people, the military retain 25% of seats in parliament and will choose ministers for several of the most critical ministries. Therefore, the military could block many reforms proposed by the new government, including those to increase protections for human rights, which have been supported by the people through the ballot box.

ARTICLE 19 joins the Special Rapporteur in urging the military in Myanmar to support the reforms demanded by the people.

Finally, ARTICLE 19, together with many civil society organisations working in Myanmar, have written to the UN urging member states to continue to support the mandate of the Special Rapporteur under Item 4 of this Council’s agenda. To support this, we also urge the Myanmar government to expedite the opening of an OHCHR office in the country.

The mandate has never been more needed than at this point, when with additional support from the international community, the Myanmar government can finally put an end to decades of human rights violations.