Shan Herald Agency for News | November 24, 2017
Amid a catastrophic human rights crisis, the space for civil society and human rights defenders is shrinking as protests in Yangon are banned, a land rights defender is beaten to death, and spurious charges are used to silence those who speak out against the military’s violations.
In early November 2017, Yangon Region Security and Border Affairs Minister – a military-assigned position in local government – issued an order that all applications for public assembly are to be denied in eleven townships in Myanmar’s biggest city. By effectively banning peaceful assembly, the Yangon authorities are contradicting domestic legislation – specifically the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law – which although problematic still gives people of Myanmar the right to peacefully assemble. Furthermore, the ban is in violation of Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which gives everyone the right to “freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”
It is not just urban areas where space for civil society is shrinking. In conflict-affected Kachin State where the Myanmar Army has committed a litany of human rights abuses over many years, to speak out against this violence is to face charges. Dashi Naw Lawn, an ethnic Kachin man who is the General Secretary of the Kachin National Development Foundation, has been charged with criminal defamation under the Section 500 of the Penal Code after his organization distributed pamphlets outlining the abuse and destruction that the Myanmar Army has committed in Kachin State.
In certain cases, to be a human rights defender means facing death. In a tragic case, Htay Aung, a land rights defender who was a focal person with the Federation of National Peasant Union wasbeaten to death by a mob of 20 men during an inspection of disputed land that had been confiscated nearly 30 years ago and reallocated to a different community.
It is vital that civil society space is expanded and the rights of people are protected, not restricted if Myanmar is to move towards a democratic society with transparency, accountability and checks and balances of the powerful. Those human rights defenders who bravely and tirelessly work for the rights of the most vulnerable populations are becoming more and more at risk. Through repressive legislation, arbitrary judicial harassment, and violence, the Myanmar military, government authorities and their associated businesses are able to avoid accountability and ensure that the vulnerable populations they abuse, whether through land confiscations, destruction of property, arbitrary arrest, rape and sexual violence, torture or extrajudicial killing, do not find justice. This only illustrates how important the work of rights-based civil society and human rights defenders is.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) Government may be restricted in its overall power vis-à-vis the Myanmar Army, but it can work towards repealing and/or amending legislation that the Myanmar Army can use as a tool for repression. It must utilize their legislative power to further protect human rights defenders against spurious charges. Furthermore, the international community must seek to support those at risk who work with grassroots communities to protect the most vulnerable, including providing support for protection mechanisms and preventative measures for activists and human rights defenders. Ultimately, it is the work and sacrifice of those working on the ground with their own personal security at stake that will make the most progress towards the promotion and protection of human rights. Given the huge power imbalance between them and the perpetrators of human rights abuses, these courageous human rights defenders and activists on the ground must be given all the support possible.
This article originally appeared on Shan Herald Agency for News on October 24, 2017