Human Rights in Myanmar
Following recent elections, human rights abuses in Myanmar continue. The new government, which took power in March 2016, has not limited military authority. The 2008 constitution gives the military extensive power within the government with no civilian oversight. This means that human rights in Myanmar are abused for political prisoners and ethnic minorities.

The military government suppressed opposing views and placed thousands of people in jail. People who have dissenting views are harassed, arrested without cause, tortured, imprisoned and sometimes executed. The current number of political prisoners is unknown because there is no clear method to account for them. Political prisoners face inhumane conditions, often without sufficient food or basic sanitation. Prisoners do not receive medical treatment, so many have lasting injuries from initial acts of violence in the prison.

People who speak out about human rights violations are often arrested and detained. This makes it very difficult for people to monitor and document the abuses in the country.

Ethnic minorities face the most significant threats to their human rights in Myanmar. Areas of the country with large populations of ethnic minorities lack educational, health and social services. The military has killed, tortured and sexually assaulted ethnic minorities. The areas where ethnic minorities live have been shelled and vandalized.

Soldiers rape ethnic women regularly as part of a military strategy. They do not face any prosecution for these widespread crimes. The government denies these reports and soldiers are not prosecuted for these crimes. There is no system for women to report sexual assault in the country. Displaced women are most vulnerable to assault and abductions.

The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, are currently facing human rights abuses. There are around 1.2 million ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar. After outbreaks of violence, media and humanitarian aid groups were not allowed to enter the northern Rakhine State. There have been reports of murder, torture, sexual violence and arrests. Satellite imagery showed 430 buildings destroyed by fire. It is believed that 30,000 Muslims are displaced from their villages. The government did not investigate these offenses and did not seek U.N. assistance.

The Rohingya do not have citizenship in Myanmar. This fact limits both their access to healthcare and education and their movements in the country.

In March 2017, the U.N. agreed to investigate human rights in Myanmar and the attacks against the Rohingya. Hopefully, this probe will bring attention to the abuses, justice for the victims and accountability to the government and military.

Sarah Denning

Photo: Flickr

Rohingya Muslims
On July 9, the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on human rights in Southeast Asia.

The representatives focused, in particular, on human rights violations in The Republic Union of Myanmar (Burma). Over 100,000 Rohingya Muslims, a minority group in Burma, have been expelled from their homes and placed into internally displaced persons camps.

Republican and Democratic representatives alike recognize the human rights abuses occurring in Burma. The Republican chair of the committee, Representative Ed Royce, drew similarities between IDP camps and concentration camps. Democratic Representative David Cicilline criticized the actions of the government and radical Buddhists. Further, he questioned whether or not the situation could be labeled genocide.

Tom Andrews, a former Democratic congressman and human rights activist, testified that the situation qualifies as genocide.

The House previously took action to protect the rights of the Rohingya in May, when they passed Resolution 418 “urging the Government of Burma to end the persecution of the Rohingya people and respect internationally recognized human rights for all ethnic and religious minority groups within Burma.”

Proposed by Representative James McGovern, D-MA, in November 2013, the resolution was co-sponsored by 50 representatives across party lines. The resolution identified the high number of Rohingya expelled from their homes and significant limitations on their access to healthcare, education and general safety, as well as violence toward non-Rohingya Muslims.

Following these observations, the House recommended that the Burmese government make greater progress toward “democracy, constitutional reform, and national reconciliation,” end persecution of the Rohingya and recognize Rohingya citizenship.

The House also called upon the U.S. government to take action by putting “consistent pressure” on the Burmese government to end discrimination and to focus on Burma’s human rights violations when dealing with the government of Burma.

The actions of the House of Representatives starkly contrasts with statements made by President Obama. On May 20, the U.S. President met with President Thein Sein of Myanmar. In public statements, he complimented the increase in democracy and representation of all groups in Myamnar, though the Rhoningya are still not considered citizens.

Though, he did call attention to the “communal violence” inflicted on Muslims, he lauded the government for its successful transition from a military to a civilian-led government and release of political prisoners.

In a speech at West Point on May 28, the president described the U.S. foreign policy in Burma as a success. He stated, “Thanks to the enormous courage of the people in that country, and because we took the diplomatic initiative, American leadership, we have seen political reforms opening a once-closed society; a movement by Burmese leadership away from partnership with North Korea in favor of engagement with America and our allies.”

Though the House called on the president to take action by putting pressure on the Burmese government, the actions of President Obama suggest that the “consistent pressure” will not be intense. Furthermore, this approach suggests that the president does prioritize the image of a democratic government over true democratic governance when considering whether or not a country is a diplomatic success.

Continual pressure on the president, along with continued attention to the increasing human rights violations against the Rohingya Muslims by both citizens and congressional leaders, could push the federal government to take more significant action.

– Tara Wilson

Sources: The White House, Yahoo,, New York Times
Photo: Muslim Village

Doctors without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontiers, is one of the most respected aid organizations in the world. It was created in 1971 by a group of doctors who desired to have a more direct approach to aiding those in need. It has provided aid to many countries that desperately need it. Doctors without Borders won the Nobel Peace prize in 1999 for its work helping those in war torn countries around the world.

In accepting the award in 1999, former head of the organization Dr. James Orbinski said, “Silence has long been confused with neutrality, and has been presented as a necessary condition for humanitarian action. From its inception, MSF (Medecins Sans Frontiers) was created in opposition to this assumption.”

The situation in Myanmar for the Rohingya could not be more dire and the comments of Orbinski could not be more apt. The Muslim Rohingya are the minority in Myanmar and are one of the most persecuted groups in the world, according to the United Nations.

Doctors Without Borders was an integral part of ensuring that the Rohingya received basic medical care and the services that they desperately need. The situation is more complex however as the government of Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as a legitimate ethnic group and persecutes and block their basic human rights at every turn.

Doctors Without Borders has been providing aid to citizens in Myanmar for the last 22 years, according to CNN, and was the largest non-governmental organization in the Rakhine state where the Rohingya live. The group was banned by the Myanmar authority for allegedly showing a “bias” towards the Rohingya who are termed Bengali by the Myanmar government which views them as illegal aliens.

There is speculation by a number of sources that the ban originated because Doctors without Borders put out a statement regarding a massacre of 44 Rohingya by state security officials. The UN and Doctors Without Borders maintain that the Rohingya were targeted by security forces and a mob of local Buddhist.

Myanmar’s government maintains that just one police officer was killed and no other violence occurred.

Doctors Without Borders was operating medical clinics for basic needs as well as HIV/AIDS clinics that were providing treatment to over 30,000 people. The NGO was Myanmar’s largest supplier of HIV medicine and the lack of treatment for this many could and will have devastating consequences in the long term.

Representative Joe Crowley is an outspoken voice on Myanmar and recently tweeted, “It is the responsibility of the Burmese government to protect its civilians. This is deeply troubling.” The Rohingya need more outspoken representatives in international governments around the world if they are to continue to be under the thumb of Myanmar’s oppressive government.

– Arthur Fuller

Sources: ABC, CNN, Doctors Without Borders, Los Angeles Times, Fox
Photo: Apologetics Press