We welcome the High Commissioner’s report on the human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Burma/Myanmar. Most Rohingya Muslims suffer government persecution, including statelessness and severe restrictions on freedom of movement. Growing ultra-nationalism has spurred discrimination and threats against Rohingya and other Muslims that the authorities have been unwilling to address.
In ethnic minority areas, particularly in Kachin, Shan, and Rakhine States, the Burmese military continues to commit serious abuses. These include forcible recruitment, killings, rape, torture, arbitrary arrests, forced labor, and landmine use. Ethnic armed groups are also responsible for serious abuses.
Under the constitution, the military retains extensive powers over foreign policy, national security, and policing, threatening the country’s nascent democratic institutions and the rights of minority populations. We urge the government to implement the High Commissioner’s recommendations, and the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar to address these in her report on reform benchmarks.
In Sri Lanka, the government has taken important steps to address the serious human rights problems in the country, including by supporting the Council’s October 2015 resolution. Among these actions is a draft bill to create an Office of Missing Persons (OMP) with strong powers to investigate the thousands of enforced disappearances from nearly three decades of armed conflict. The enacted law should ensure that the OMP’s findings are automatically transferred to prosecutorial bodies.
Several of the government’s key commitments to this Council remain unfulfilled. The government has yet to repeal, as pledged, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and replace it with legislation meeting international human rights standards. All those still held under the PTA should be released if not appropriately charged.
Since October, the government has at times backtracked on its commitment on the judicial mechanism for investigating war crimes and other serious rights abuses by both sides. The October 2015 resolution specifically calls for the participation of foreign judges, prosecutors, investigators, and defense lawyers, which is crucial to ensure that legal proceedings are protected from local pressures and have the independence that a purely domestic process would lack. However, President Sirisena has repeatedly stated, most recently on May 27, that the justice mechanism will not have foreign judges. This gap between the government’s formal undertaking in the resolution and public statements by senior officials is an unnecessary distraction from making real progress on the pledged justice mechanism with international involvement. The foreign minister’s statement here that “our commitment to the Geneva resolution remains unchanged” and other government remarks that any justice mechanism would go forward only with the consent of victims’ groups—which back foreign participation—indicate the government intends to honor its pledges.
We urge the Council, consistent with the High Commissioner’s call for “sustaining its close engagement,” to work with Sri Lanka until all resolution commitments are fully met.