Myanmar: The repression of ethnic minority activists in Myanmar

February 16, 2010

Myanmar: The repression of ethnic minority activists in Myanmar

Myanmar has neither signed nor ratified most international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on all Forms of Racial Discrimination, both of which are particularly relevant to the violations documented in this report. The government has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.14 Myanmar has also ratified the Charter of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which came into force in December 2008, and includes "respect for fundamental freedoms, the promotion and protection of human rights, and the promotion of social justice" among its legally binding principles.15


Some of the violations described in this report took place in areas where an internal armed conflict is ongoing. Myanmar is a High Contracting Party to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. Article 3, common to the Conventions, applies in armed conflicts not of an international nature. Common Article 3 obliges Myanmar to treat all persons not taking an active part in the hostilities "humanely", including by prohibiting "murder", torture and cruel treatment, and unfair trials.


Moreover, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), though not a binding treaty, articulates the most basic rights that all UN member states--including Myanmar--are expected to promote and protect. Several of the UDHR provisions, including the prohibition on discrimination, the right to life and liberty, and the right to freedom from torture and other ill-treatment, constitute rules of customary international law. These derive from consistent state practice and the consistent view among states, courts, and experts that these rules are universally binding, regardless of any individual state's treaty status. Thus, while Myanmar is not a state party to the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, it is still bound by the absolute prohibition against the use of torture.


Seven provisions of the UDHR are shown in this report to have been violated systematically by Myanmar authorities, including:


  • The right to life, which includes a prohibition on arbitrary deprivation of life, in all circumstances (Article 3);16


  • The right to liberty, which includes a prohibition on arbitrary deprivation of liberty and arbitrary arrest and detention (Articles 3 and 9);17


  • Freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment--which applies at all times and to all persons without exception (Article 5); 18


  • The right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence (Articles 10 and 11);19


  • Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion (Article 18);