Submission on the Report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

 

45th regular session of the Human Rights Council
14 September to 2 October 2020
Report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar
Agenda  item 2

IWGIA and AIPP welcome the establishment of the independent investigative mechanism with the mandate to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law committed in Myanmar since 2011. The report gives a comprehensive overview over the progress till date of the mechanism. We do however notice with regret, that the mechanism seems only to focus on the Rohingya, whereas numerous Indigenous Peoples in Myanmar suffer from countless human rights violations such as illegal land grabbing, evictions, intimidations and threats to their lives. We hope that the mandate will be able to include the plight of these peoples as well.

Indigenous Peoples in Myanmar

There is no accurate information about the number of Indigenous Peoples in Myanmar, partly due to a lack of understanding of the internationally recognised concept of Indigenous Peoples. The government claims that all citizens of Myanmar are “Indigenous” (taing-yin-tha), and on that basis dismisses the applicability of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to Myanmar. Indigenous Peoples’ rights activists use the Burmese language term hta-nay-tainyin-tha in describing Indigenous Peoples, based on international principles; using the criteria of non-dominance in the national context, historical continuity, ancestral territories and self-identification.

While the democratic transition from quasi-military government to quasi-civilian took place peacefully, and early signs of progression took place via ministerial development focussed on Indigenous rights and development via the newly established Ministry of Ethnic Affairs, the overwhelming feeling held by Indigenous rights activists is that the governing National League for Democracy party (NLD) have not honoured pre-election manifesto promises to eradicate harmful policies which restrict fundamental freedoms such as the right to assembly and peaceful expression. Furthermore, the stated aims of the NLD for “national reconciliation” via the 21st Century Panglong forums are presently stalled, with conflict escalating in many ethnic states and regions.

Myanmar voted in favour of the UNDRIP, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, but has not signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), and nor has it ratified ILO Convention No. 169. It is party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) but voted against a bill to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights under the rationale that it was a threat to national sovereignty. In 2017, Myanmar became the 165th State Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

Read more here: https://www.iwgia.org/en/myanmar/3606-iw-2020-myanmar.html

Main challenges for indigenous Peoples in Myanmar:

Ever since independence in 1948, brutal conflicts over Indigenous territories have played out with thousands of lives lost over the pursuit of economic, cultural, religious, and political control and dominance. Continuous marginalisation, discrimination and consistent implicit favouring of Burmans over Indigenous Peoples fuels support from communities to the ethnic armed groups fighting for greater self-determination and autonomy for their peoples.

The constant arbitrary arrests, brutal torture, rape and killings that accompany operations aimed at defending national interests – meaning Burman interests – has put fuel to the fire for generations. 

Examples of discriminatory practices and policies include: the demolition of Christian churches replaced by Buddhist shrines; the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin (VFV) Land Management Law covering almost a third of the country’s territory, most of which is located in traditional Indigenous areas thus disproportionately affecting Indigenous populations who become trespassers on their own ancestral lands if they do not get the correct permits; Christians not receiving government benefits; and disproportionately limited funding for education in Indigenous languages.

The destruction of monuments of cultural, religious and historical significance to Indigenous Peoples is another example of how the state uses its powers to try to wipe out the identity of Indigenous communities. 

At the core of the struggle we see a fight to control the natural resources in Indigenous territories. The state has strong economic interests in using the natural resources found in Indigenous territories. 

The Virgin Fallow Vacant Law imposed in 2019 clearly spells out the view of the state that Indigenous territories that lie fallow should be used for economic gains. However, Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determined development in their territories according to article 3 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Myanmar is a signatory. 

Effects of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples

Even during COVID-19 Indigenous Peoples are being targeted, threatened, harassed and killed in Myanmar. Despite the warning of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: “Emergency declarations based on the COVID-19 outbreak should not be used as a basis to target particular groups, minorities, or individuals. It should not function as a cover for repressive action under the guise of protecting health nor should it be used to silence the work of human rights defenders[1].”  The Myanmar military has stepped up its military campaign in areas inhabited by Indigenous Peoples, while at the same time launching an attack on the freedom of speech

“While the world is occupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Myanmar military continues to escalate its assault in Rakhine State, targeting the civilian population,” Yanghee Lee, who is concluding her tenure as UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said in a 29 April statement. "While the country is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the military is escalating its offensives against ethnic armed groups in Rakhine, Chin, Karen and northern Shan states,"  Naw Hser Hser, general-secretary of the Women's League of Burma, said.

More information is available here: https://www.iwgia.org/en/news-alerts/news-covid-19/3569-while-the-world-focuses-on-covid-19,-indigenous-peoples-in-myanmar-are-being-killed.html

Recommendations

  1. While IWGIA and AIPP welcome the establishment of an independent investigative mechanism with the mandate to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law committed in Myanmar since 2011, we recommend that the mechanism is made broadly known to the indigenous peoples in Myanmar, who have been victims of gross human rights violations in countless instances. We applaud that the mechanism has made factsheets in English, Myanmar and Jinghphaw languages about the mandate of the mechanism, as well as in audio in the Rohingya language on the Mechanism’s website, however we urge the OHCHR to make sure that factsheets and guidelines on how to safely communicate with the mechanism is made available in indigenous peoples’ own languages as well.

IWGIA and AIPP recommend that the mechanism establishes safe ways to regularly meet and get updates from indigenous peoples’ own representatives

 

[1] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25802&LangID=E

About IWGIA

IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. The Indigenous World 2019.

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