More than 20 rights NGOs have issued a joint statement urging the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) to focus on reported rights violations committed during the COVID-19 pandemic by military troops in the country’s conflict zones.
The MNHRC is criticised by rights groups for failing to address widespread human rights violations amid the coronavirus pandemic, especially in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan states, home to ethnic conflicts of varying intensity.
“We haven’t seen any acknowledgement of human rights violations during the pandemic as we had seen before,” said Aung Myo Min, director of human rights education group Equality Myanmar.
“The commission has been particularly silent on rights violations related to COVID-19 outbreaks,” he said. “It has also been inactive in providing guidelines for preventing rights violations or acknowledging violations that have occurred.”
Aung Myo Min said that a government-imposed internet service ban in nine townships in northern Rakhine and Chin states is a violation of human rights because residents cannot access to information about the coronavirus pandemic and how to protect themselves from it.
The government cited security reasons for ordering mobile internet providers to block service to the areas amid fighting between Myanmar forces and the rebel Arakan Army.
The rights organizations have called on the MNHCR to be proactive in preventing rights violations, rather than acting only when it received complaints, Aung Myo Min said.
Myanmar President Win Myinthas revamped and replaced the 11 members of the MNHRC with new commissioners on January 14.
Hla Myint, Myanmar’s representative to the ASEAN intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, was appointed to lead the body, while Dr. Nanda Hmun, the retired permanent secretary of the Ministry of Religion and Culture, was made vice chairman.
Among the groups that signed the statement are Equality Myanmar, the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand, the Karen Human Rights Group, Karenni human rights groups, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), and the Ta’ang Women’s Organization.
The rights groups also said that the reformed MNHRC has failed to speak out about allegations of rights abuses against civilians by the military in Rakhine state. They pointed to a recent video that went viral on social media earlier this month showing Myanmar soldiers assaulting detained civilians aboard a naval vessel.
The statement mentioned cases of where soldiers have intervened in or shot at civilians involved in coronavirus screening activities conducted by ethnic armed groups in Shan and Kayin states, and noted that the MNHRC failed to demand cease-fires in conflict zones to focus on curbing the spread of COVID-19.
MyatTun of the Rakhine Human Rights Protection Group said those who have suffered abuse at the hands of the Myanmar military have filed the complaints with the MNHRC, but the commission has not taken adequate action.
The civil society groups also noted that the MNHRC did not appeal to the Myanmar government for the release of political prisoners during the annual presidential amnesty granted to some inmates amid the Buddhist New Year holiday in April.
Only 26 of the nearly 600 political prisoners currently detained in Myanmar were released this year, they said. (Source: RFA)