Human Rights Watch
Interactive Dialogue with the
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
13th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council
15 March, 2010
Human Rights Watch welcomes the call by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, to consider establishing a commission of inquiry with a specific fact-finding mandate to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma. The United Nations should establish this commission without delay. Since 2006 Human Rights Watch has called on the UN to establish a commission of inquiry into the numerous systematic human rights violations that continue to be committed in Burma with impunity.
A commission of inquiry would be a first step towards providing justice for victims of serious abuses in Burma and to deter future violations of international law. The Burmese armed forces in its conduct of military operations in Burma's long-running armed conflicts has been implicated in numerous violations of international human rights and humanitarian law against Burma's ethnic minority populations. Such a commission could investigate crimes perpetrated by all parties to the conflicts, including extra-judicial killings, torture, rape and other sexual violence against women and girls, use of child soldiers, forced labor, pillage, and forced displacement.
Human Rights Watch's ongoing research in Burma found that these crimes continue against various ethnic minorities in eastern Burma and against the ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority in western Burma. More than half a million people are internally displaced in eastern Burma, as well as hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled to neighboring Thailand over the past 25 years. Burmese army attacks and routine human rights violations by army units stationed in these areas continue to displace large numbers of civilians.
A May 2009 report, "Crimes in Burma," by the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, reviewed the findings of UN human rights reports over several years and concluded that human rights abuses are both widespread and systematic and are in effect part of state policy. The Harvard report similarly called for a commission of inquiry to be established to investigate alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma.
Burma remains one of the most repressive countries in Asia. The military government, called the State Peace and Development Council, restricts the basic rights and freedoms of all Burmese. The Burmese election law released last week undermines participation by opposition political parties. It confirms that the military is stage-managing elections announced for this year to perpetrate its rule with an ostensibly civilian parliament that is a front for continued military control. Addressing the ongoing impunity that fuels the civil conflict and endangers the civilian population would be a significant step towards advancing the broader goal of promoting a rights-respecting government in Burma.
The Human Rights Council should support the Special Rapporteur's call for a commission of inquiry with a fact-finding mandate in Burma. An international investigative body would provide the factual and legal groundwork for an independent justice mechanism to hold accountable those most responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Justice and accountability are at the foundation of the United Nations system, rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which calls for an international order in which the rights and freedoms set out in the declaration can be fully realized. Failing to act on accountability in Burma will embolden the perpetrators of international crimes and further postpone long-overdue justice.
Human Rights Watch urges the Secretary-General to support Mr. Quintana's recommendation and convene a commission at the highest levels of the UN to put it into effect.