Asia in Review Archive (2019-2020)


Date of AiR edition

News summary

18 February 2020

Myanmar: No improvement of Rakhine situation

(tk) Myanmar’s military chief and an ethnic Rakhine delegation led by a member of the Arkan National Party (ANP) met in Naypyitaw and discussed how to stop clashes in order to achieve peace in Rakhine State last week. The meeting, however, drew criticism and questions from members of the Rakhine community because this meeting was not officially planned in the ANP and violence continues. [The Irrawaddy]

On the same day, an artillery fire hit a primary school in Rakhine state and left at least 19 students injured. Both, the military and Buddhist rebels denied they were behind the shelling. [Al Jazeera]

Due to the ongoing violent situation and seasonal calmer water, more Rohingyas risk their lives by trying to flee to predominantly Muslim countries like Malaysia or Indonesia. On Tuesday, at least 15 Rohingya refugees drowned when an overloaded boat carrying mostly women and children sank as it tried to reach Malaysia. Local authorities respond with detention, prosecution and sending back the refugees. On Friday, nearly 50 Rohingyas have been detained at sea by Myanmar’s navy as they were caught trying to flee. [The Star]


18 February 2020

Bangladesh builds barbed-wire fences around Rohingya refugee camps

(tk) Bangladesh started erecting barbed-wire fences around Rohingya refugee camps, watchtowers and CCTV. The government said, it had taken these measures to strengthen the surveillance on the Rohingya people and the refugee camps in order to rein in illegal trafficking of refugees. In recent months incidents of trafficking of Rohingya to Malaysia have significantly increased. Several had died on their way. 

However, Rohingya refugees and rights groups urged the government not to take these measures. They are concerned, that wire fences may cause psychological and mental disorders. [AA]

11 February 2020

Myanmar: Internet Shutdown expanded in Rakhine State

(tk) Myanmar authorities have reinstated the shutdown of mobile internet traffic in five more townships in Myanmar’s northwestern Rakhine and Chin states. Already in June 2019, Myanmar authorities had ordered telecommunications companies to shut down internet services in four Rakhine State townships. [Asia in Review 4/6/2019]

This earlier shutdown had been lifted in September, but now due to “security requirements and public interest”, re-imposed in a total of nine townships. The internet shutdown causes an information and communication blackout that affects approximately one million people. Human rights experts say that shutting down entire parts of communications systems can never be justified under human rights law. [Human Rights Watch]

4 February 2020

Bangladesh: Situation of Rohingya children in refugee camps

(tk) After human rights organizations have been campaigning for the nearly half a million Rohingya children in Bangladesh’s refugee camps, the Bangladesh government now has announced it will offer schooling and skills training opportunities to Rohingya refugee children, who have already missed two academic years. The pilot program starting in April is supported by UNICEF and will initially enroll 10,000 Rohingya children up to the age of 14, where they will be taught in Burmese under Myanmar’s curriculum. Children older than 14 will get skills training. [Amnesty International] [Al Jazeera]

Meanwhile, a delegation from the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently visiting Bangladesh to assess the Rohingya crisis. ICC judges authorized the request to investigate alleged crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya people in Myanmar. However, the current visit of the Prosecutor’s delegation is not part of the investigation, but to engage with relevant stakeholders and explain the judicial process and the status of the investigation to the public. [Prothom Alo]

4 February 2020

Myanmar: Two Rohingya women killed after ICJ ruling 

(tk) Just two days after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Myanmar to take measures to protect Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state from genocide, [Asia in Review No. 4, January/2020] at least two Rohingya women were killed and eight other villagers were wounded after artillery shells hit a village in western Rakhine.

It remains unclear who fired the shells, but a senior official of Rakhine’s regional government believed it was fired from a nearby military battalion. He said, “whenever there is an incident in Muslim villages, we found it is due to the military”. Due to the just previously issued court order, he sees the incident as a clear message from the military that they are not accepting the ICJ ruling. [AA

4 February 2020

Myanmar – US relations: Trump imposes immigration restrictions

(tk) On Friday, President Trump added Myanmar along with five other countries to a list of immigration restrictions as his latest move to reduce immigration – a top campaign promise – as he pushes forward on reelection efforts. 

All six countries have substantial Muslim populations, and the Muslim minority from Myanmar of course, is still fleeing genocide. Last year, nearly 5,000 Burmese refugees arrived in America, many of them hoping to reunite with family. 

While immigrant visas will be banned, non-immigrant visas can still be granted and according to officials the ban won’t apply to refugees. The proclamation will take effect later in February.

According to an official, the restrictions are “the result of these countries’ unwillingness or inability to adhere to certain baseline identity management information-sharing and national security and public safety criteria that were established by the department in 2017 at the president’s request.” In opposition to the move, US House of Representatives’ Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated that “President Trump and his administration’s continued disdain for our nation’s national security and our founding ideals of liberty and justice dishonor our proud immigrant heritage and the diversity that strengthens and enriches our communities.” [The New York Times] [BuzzFeedNews]

28 January 2020

Myanmar: ICJ orders provisional measures to protect Rohingya from genocide

(ls/tk) The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ruled last Thursday to impose provisional measures on Myanmar, demanding the government to take action to prevent future acts of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim community. By ordering the measures, the ICJ only indicated that it is plausible that genocide occurred, that there is a link between The Gambia’s claims and the provisional measures requested, and that the Rohingya are still in danger of “irreparable harm”. In these proceedings, the Court did not need to decide on the merits. [Frontier Myanmar]

Besides ordering Myanmar to ensure that no acts of genocide occur, the Court also ordered the government to take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of evidence, and to submit a report to the Court on all measures taken within four months, and then every six months, until a final decision on the case is rendered by the Court. [International Court of Justice]

According to experts, such monitoring system is rarely seen, and it perhaps reflects concerns arising from the Bosnian Genocide case, where a provisional measures order of April 1993 had to be followed by another in September 1993, and both were of no avail, as the Srebrenica genocide continued. [Opinio Juris]

Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that it was “important for Myanmar that the Court reaches a factually correct decision on the merits of the case”. It also said that NGOs presented a “distorted picture” of the situation in Rakhine state. The word “Rohingya” was absent from the Ministry’s statement. [Al Jazeera] The ICJ, however, recognized that “the Rohingya appear to constitute a protected group within the meaning of Article II of the Genocide Convention” (para. 52, 23 January Order).

Rohingya groups, as well as human rights organizations and the Gambian Justice Minister have welcomed the decision as a triumph of international law and international justice. However, some Burmese people described the ruling as “unfair and unjust” and said the day of the court’s decision was “a tragic day for Myanmar”. According to them, “the judges were blind and deaf and didn’t know the real situation in the country”. The Bangladesh Government hopes that Myanmar will take back all the Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh after the deadly military attacks and will provide them security. [BBC]

Meanwhile, it was reported that Myanmar troops have shelled a Rohingya village on Saturday. Two women were killed, and seven other people injured in the apparent attack. The military denied responsibility, saying that rebels attacked a bridge. Besides violence committed against Rohingya people, the region was plunged into further chaos by new fights between the military and the Arakan Army, a rebel group that recruits from the mostly Buddhist majority in the state. [Reuters 1]

In order to ease the tensions, the Arakan Army had released a member of parliament of the ruling National League for Democracy party (NLD), who had been abducted in an attack on a boat in November. [Reuters 2]


21 January 2020

Myanmar: UN Rohingya Genocide Case Court Ruling Set for Next Week

(tk) The West African nation of Gambia asked the International Court of Justice last month for an immediate court order claiming a breach of the Genocide Convention by the “security operations” between 25 August and 5 September 2017 by the military against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar. [Myanmar Times] Gambia accuses Myanmar of a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide – including the killings of civilians, raping of women and torching of houses – that forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. Myanmar defended the actions saying they were a tragic consequence of hostilities started by Rohingya insurgents. [The Diplomat

An international panel set up by the Malaysian government to probe accusations of human rights abuses said in its report on Monday, it found that war crimes had been committed but that there was no indication of genocidal intent. Human Rights Watch, however, is of the opinion that the report was an attempt to influence the forthcoming International Court of Justice’s verdict. [Myanmar Times

The court will hand down its final and legally binding decision on January 23. Though, the court has no enforcement powers, it is part of the United Nations. [The Diplomat]


21 January 2020

Myanmar: Thousands of workers rally for higher minimum wage

(tk) On Sunday, nearly 10,000 garment workers from 20 labor organizations in Yanong took the streets to demand an increase of the minimum wage from currently K4800 to K9800 ($6.66) ahead of the review of the country’s new minimum wage law. According to the Minimum Wage La, that rate is to be defined every two years. In 2018 the minimum wage was set at K4800, but prices of rice and accommodation are rising. The chief organizer of the Solidarity Trade Union of Myanmar said a worker needs a minimum wage of about K8000 for eight work hours per day to be self-sufficient and be able to provide the minimum needs of his family. [Myanmar Times]


21 January 2020

Chinese President Xi visits Myanmar signing major infrastructure developments

(jk) Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Myanmar over the past weekend, marking the first trip by a Chinese President since 2001. In the country’s capital, Xi and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi signed 33 agreements, including some major infrastructure developments. 

One of them is the Kyaukphyu special economic zone (SEZ) and deep-sea port in Rakhine State providing access to the Bay of Bengal, as well as a railway link connecting the port with southern China. [The Diplomat] [Splash 247

The port project in particular worries neighboring countries suspicious of a larger Chinese footprint and a “string of pearls” strategy when seen together with other projects such as Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Chittagong in Bangladesh, Gwadar in Pakistan or Djibouti. For obvious geographical reasons, Myanmar plays an important role in China’s strategic planning and after mounting pressure from many Western countries over the Rohingya crisis, Myanmar as well is looking for support and partners. 

Underscoring the notion that many of the deals struck are not purely economic in nature, after the visit, a joint statement was issued by China and Myanmar “in which Myanmar reaffirmed the so called ‘one-China principle’, naming Taiwan as an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China’s territory” [Focus Taiwan]. The English versions of the statement read slightly different. The MOFA Myanmar Facebook page for instance, referred to a commitment to a One China Policy and to the three regions as “inalienable parts of China”, not using the term “the People’s Republic.”


7 January 2020

Myanmar: No results after talks on Rohingya repatriation 

(lf) The December talks between the Burmese government and representatives of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have ended without results. The meeting was supposed to pave the way for the return of the refugees from Bangladesh to Rakhine state in Myanmar but speakers of the refugees say the government has offered no new incentives for returning. [Dhaka Tribune] [Voice of America News]


31 December 2019

Myanmar: UNGA passes resolution condemning human rights abuses against Rohingya

(lf) After Aung San Suu Kyi rejected allegations of genocide at the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) earlier this month, the UN general assembly has passed a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Myanmar against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities with 134 of the 193 member states voting in favour and 9 against it.

The resolution calls for an end to the fighting, which started in 2017, as well as ending the statelessness of almost all Rohingya which are seen as Bengalis, rather than Burmese by the government since 1982.  In addition, the UN approved a budget for the investigation of human rights abuses in Myanmar and Syria upending Russian attempts to stop it. [The Guardian] [BBC


24 December 2019

Bangladesh asking Russia to pressure Myanmar on Rohingya 

(lf) Bangladesh’s foreign minister has urged Russia to put more pressure on Myanmar regarding the Rohingyas, of which Bangladesh still hosts between 600.000 to one million after they were forced to flee Myanmar amid a violent military crackdown. The refugees have led to a humanitarian crisis as Bangladesh is not sufficiently equipped for the number of refugees.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Myanmar in 1948 [Embassy of Russia in Myanmar], the two countries have been close and the FM recognises that Russia – which has blocked a previous UN statement in the Rohingya case- holds a lot of sway over Myanmar. [The Star]


24 December 2019

Myanmar buys new military aircrafts

(lf) Myanmar’s air force has commissioned several new aircrafts, including six light attack aircrafts. Myanmar has one of the largest armies in Southeast Asia, when it comes to manpower, however its capabilities have been lagging behind its neighbors. This new order has been part of the recent modernization strategy of the army. [The Diplomat]


17 December 2019

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi at the ICJ: Reactions and assessments

(jk/ls) Last week, Myanmar’s legal team presented arguments in response to the genocide lawsuit filed against the country by The Gambia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague at the first public hearing. Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi asked the Court to reject the genocide case in her closing remarks to the judges on the last of three days of public hearings.

Suu Kyi accused The Gambia of providing a misleading and incomplete account of what happened in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017. A transcript of her speech can be found here: [Al Jazeera]

[The Irrawaddy] has compiled a range of views on the arguments put forward. 

Reactions to Suu Kyi’s appearance were naturally mixed. In a rather dramatic response to the ICJ hearing, the Arakan Army (AA), a Buddhist armed ethnic group fighting Myanmar forces in Rakhine state, abducted the chairman of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party in Buthidaung township as he organized a public rally in support of Aung San Suu Kyi’s defense at the court. [RFA]


10 December 2019

Myanmar at the ICJ: Aung San Suu Kyi representing her country this week

(ls/nj) This week, Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi appears in person to defend Myanmar against accusations of genocide before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. She will attend the hearing in her capacity as the Union Minister of the Foreign Affairs. It will deal with jurisdictional questions and the possibility of provisional measures that would mandate Myanmar to halt a continuing genocide. Closing submissions from both sides at the ICJ will be made on Thursday. The judgment is expected to be reserved. [The Guardian] [Eleven Myanmar]

Human Rights Watch has put together an overview of Questions & Answers regarding the case. [Human Rights Watch]

Press releases from the International Court of Justice on this case are published here: [ICJ]

Meanwhile, Thai authorities announced that they will delay the deportation of the arrested wife and children of Tun Myat Naing, the commander of the Arakan Army, and carry out a full investigation. The Arakan Army is an ethnic armed group that fights for greater autonomy of Rakhine state. Rights groups have criticized the arrests, worrying that the family could be forced back to Myanmar in what has been an increasing pattern by Southeast Asian states to send home each other’s dissidents. [Reuters]


26 November 2019

Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi to personally defend her country in Rohingya case at ICJ

(ls/nj) As reported last week, the Gambia has filed a case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) accusing Myanmar of genocide against its Rohingya Muslim minority. Now, State Counsellor and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi announced that she will appear before the court “to defend the national interest of Myanmar”. The military said that it will fully cooperate with the government on this matter. Suu Kyi had previously blamed the incidents on Rohingya “terrorists” and described reports of atrocities, including gang-rapes and mass killings, as fake news. [Reuters] [Myanmar Times]

The ICJ has said it will hold the first public hearings in the case already on December 10 to 12. Myanmar is likely to challenge the jurisdiction of the Court. However, whereas some state parties to the Genocide Convention have made specific reservations to Article IX of the Genocide Convention, which gives jurisdiction to the ICJ to try genocide, Myanmar has not done this. Regarding the merits of the case, the observations of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2019, which found that Myanmar has failed to perform its obligations to prevent, investigate, and punish genocide, will make Suu Kyi’s defense an up-hill battle. [The Diplomat]



19 November 2019

Four immediate reforms to strengthen the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission

(jk) The International Commission of Jurists has published a legal briefing note which outlines four immediate reforms that if implemented, would enhance the Myanmar Human Rights Commission’s abilities to protect human rights.  The commission that was established eight years ago has remained largely ineffective as its independence from both the government and in particular the military is highly questionable. [ICJ]



19 November 2019

Myanmar facing charges for Rohingya genocide at ICJ, ICC

(nj) Myanmar faces tremendous legal pressure for its alleged genocide against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority. On Wednesday, rights groups filed a case in Argentina where former human rights icon Aung San Suu Kyi among other Myanmar high ranking officials have been accused of crimes against the Rohingya minority.

In addition, the West African nation Gambia submitted a case against Myanmar’s genocidal campaign at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s highest court. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has approved to investigate all allegations of crimes against humanity during Myanmar’s 2017 military crackdown against the Muslim minority. [Aljazeera]

Myanmar is facing several charges including mass rapes, killings and intended acts to destroy the Rohingya group in whole or in part. Hopes are that the court’s ruling could help stop the genocidal campaign against Rohingya in Myanmar. [South China Morning Post]



5 November 2019

Human rights groups criticise East Asia Summit for not including human rights issues

(jk) Rights groups criticised the state of human rights protection in Southeast Asia in particular over the weekend as they pointed out that the big summits, such as the East Asia Summit, do not include official discussions or statements on the deteriorating human rights situation in the region.

Human rights watch and other organisation expressed grave concern over the fact the Rohingya crisis, the war on drugs in the Philippines, the punishment of the LGBT community or enforced disappearances of activists were largely ignored throughout the summit. [Bangkok Post]

The Rohingya refugee crisis, although not in these terms, was mentioned at length in the final statement of the 35th ASEAN Summit however. ASEAN leaders noted their desire to

facilitate the safe, secure and dignified return displaced persons currently in Bangladesh to

Rakhine State from which they fled. [Chairman’s Statement Of The 35th ASEAN Summit] At the same time, they commended the work of AICHR, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights [for background on AICHR, see this article in CPG’s COM Online Magazine 4/2019]



5 November 2019

RCEP: 15 countries (RCEP minus India) declare they have agreed and will sign in 2020

(jk) During the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) summit in Bangkok on Monday, 15 countries (The ASEAN-ten, Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand) agreed to all 20 chapters of the RCEP and stated that they were “willing to sign” the deal in 2020.

All participating countries agreed to make efforts to resolve the remaining issues surrounding India’s concerns, so it too, can participate. [The Korea Herald]

Despite the positive spin on this development, it will remain a disappointment that RCEP could not be completed and signed by the end of this year as it was initially (if very optimistically) stated.

This disappointing if not entirely unexpected outcome was underscored by the US decision to downgrade US representation at the East Asia Summit, also held in Bangkok this past weekend. It was the first time since the EAS was established in 2005, that a country at the summit was represented by an official below the rank of foreign minister. Instead the US sent the new National Security Advisor, Robert O’Brien, as the Special Envoy to the upcoming EAS and the US-ASEAN Summit. [ISEAS Commentary]


5 November 2019

Myanmar: 1-year jail sentence for making fun of Myanmar’s military

(nj) Five members of a group of satirical actors have been sentenced to one year jail by a Myanmar court for making fun of the country’s military during a traditional satirical dance performance. The actors posted a Facebook live-stream of the performance to reach the masses and approached the wide-spread discontent concerning the dominant involvement of the military in economy. A total of seven people were arrested in April this year during Myanmar ́s New Year Festival and have been held in Yangon ́s prison since then after being denied bail. [The Washington Post]

“Thangyat“ – the performance- is a Burmese traditional dance and music performance, often used to voice opinions on social and political issues. The tradition had been banned for over twenty years by the military. [Aljazeera]


29 October 2019

Myanmar: Intensified fights in Rakhine state

(ls/nj) In intense fighting in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the ethnic armed group Arakan Army took more than 50 people as prisoners, most belonging to the security forces. 14 people have been rescued in the meantime. Arakan Army rebels reported many dead in military attacks on boats carrying soldiers. The rebels draw on deep-seated historical resentment felt by some in Rakhine toward the ethnic Bamar majority that dominates the central government. The Rohingya situation is not directly linked to the Arakan Army’s fight to win greater autonomy. [Reuters]


29 October 2019

Bangladesh: doubt on Rohingya relocation 

(jk) The relocation of thousands of Rohingya refugees that was apparently agreed upon [Asia in Review, No. 43, October/2019, 4has been heavily doubted by human rights NGO Fortify Rights who, based on on-the-ground research, claim that they were hard-pressed to identify a single refugee who had even been consulted – let alone agreed to – relocating to the island. [Straits Times]


22 October 2019

How the PRC pushes its agenda in Myanmar’s media

(jk) [Myanmar now] provides an interesting deep dive into some of the People’s Republic of China’s strategies to push for media outlets in Myanmar to peddle pro-Beijing narratives.

22 October 2019

Bangladesh: Some Rohingyas to be relocated to island as situation in refugee camps further deteriorates 

(ls/nj) About 6,000 to 7,000 Rohingya living in Bangladesh refugee camps have apparently agreed to being relocated to Bhashan Charan, an island in the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh has been planning since last year to relocate Rohingya to the flood-prone site, which is an hour by boat from the mainland. In the past half a century, powerful cyclones have killed hundreds of thousands of people in the Meghna river estuary where the island is located. [Straits Times]

Latest attempts to persuade Rohingya refugees to return to their home country by Bangladesh authorities failed. Authorities, therefore, have imposed more restrictions on Rohingya, such as confiscating mobile phones and banning Rohingya children from local schools, to speed up the return process. [Al Jazeera]

Following the incident of the killing of a ruling-party politician for which Rohingya refugees are held responsible for, security status in the camps in Cox´s Bazar remains critical. On Monday a young Rohingya was murdered by another fellow. Investigations revealed that an earlier dispute between the victim and the offender could have led to the killing. [The Daily Star]

15 October 2019

Bangladesh forces kill more than a dozen Rohingya refugees over a few weeks 

(jk) The recent murder of a ruling party politician in Bangladesh led to violent actions against some Rohingya refugees inside of the refugee camps who were alleged to have been involved in the murder. In addition to this particular incident, refugees are often accused of being involved in other illegal activities such as drug smuggling or robberies. Human Rights groups say that over the past few weeks more than a dozen Rohingya were killed by Bangladeshi security forces, with local law enforcement not intervening to protect the refugees. [Al Jazeera]

1 October 2019

Mahatir calls for global support in Rohingya refugee crisis

(ls) At the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad criticized the U.N. for its “deafening silence” on the Rohingya crisis. He pointed to Myanmar’s failure to punish the perpetrators of the genocidal acts and said that it was unrealistic to expect Rohingya people to return to Myanmar without the guarantee of a safe environment for repatriation and without offering them full citizenship. “It is clear that the Myanmar government is unwilling to take any action to resolve the crisis”, Mahatir said.

He called on the United Nations member states to support Bangladesh which is hosting more than one million Rohingya refugees. Though ASEAN countries pursue a policy of non-interference with internal affairs, Mahatir has repeatedly referred to Myanmar’s military campaign against the Rohingya as a genocide and called for criminal prosecution. [MalayMail]

Myanmar, for its part, insisted that it wants Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled to neighboring Bangladesh repatriated to their former homes so they can live in a “more conducive environment” than the one they left, according to Myanmar’s minister for the office of the state counsellor in his nation’s address at the United Nations General Assembly. [Straits Times]

24 September 2019

Myanmar: Origins of the longest civil war in the world

(jk) This is the first of a three part series on the longest civil war in the world. Part one explores the history of Myanmar’s conflicts going back hundreds of years when ancient kingdom were struggling for dominance, eventually resulting in domination by the Burmans. An audio version of the article is available. [Global Ground Media]

24 September 2019

Myanmar: NLD sues two Facebook users for making fun of Mandalay Chief Minister 

(jk) In line with the trend of increasing online defamation charges under the 2013 Telecommunications Law since the New League for Democracy (NLD) took over the government in 2016, this case yet again exemplifies the growing intolerance for political criticism in Myanmar. Purposefully vaguely worded article 66(d) of the law punishes online defamation with a fine and up to three years in prison. The NLD has last week made a new claim under the article against two Facebook users who shared memes on a page making fun of the Mandalay Chief Minister. [Myanmar Times]

24 September 2019

Myanmar’s ASSK could face prosecution over Myanmar military’s actions

(jk) UN investigators said last week that Myanmar’s civil leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, could face prosecution for ongoing crimes against humanity because of the military’s attacks on Rohingya Muslims in the country.

The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar [United Nations Human Rights Council] released a report last week finding that the over half a million remaining Rohingya in Myanmar today are facing systematic prosecution and that “Myanmar is failing in its obligation to prevent genocide, to investigate genocide and to enact effective legislation criminalizing and punishing genocide”. The conditions of grave human rights violations and persecution are prevailing in Myanmar today.

For this, the investigators state,  Aung San Suu Kyi has extensive responsibility. While had “no control over the actions of the Tatmadaw”, she as head of a party “that controlled 60 percent of the seats in Myanmar’s Parliament […] led a government that had the power to change every law except the Constitution.” [New York Times]

10 September 2019

Myanmar and South Korea sign MOUs, including for infrastructure projects 

(jk) Myanmar and South Korea signed a number of Memoranda of Understanding and at least one agreement on financial, trade and investment cooperation and infrastructure projects during a three-day visit by the South Korean President last week who was in the country advancing South Korea’s New Southern Policy. [The Irrawady]

A framework agreement has been signed under which South Korea will provide US$1 billion to Myanmar which has said will focus the investment on infrastructure projects. [Myanmar Times]

However, a series of coordinated attacks as reported previously [AiR 34, August/2019, 3] in Mandalay and Shan State has not only brought about disruption in trade between Myanmar and China in particular, but also pointed to the difficulties with foreign investment in a country where a peace deal between the government and several rebel groups seems as far out of reach as ever. 

3 September 2019

Myanmar navy takes part in US-ASEAN exercises despite existing US sanctions

(ls) Myanmar’s navy takes part in the five-day maritime exercise led by the United States with seven ASEAN navies this week. Joint naval drills between the US and Myanmar are controversial as the US placed travel bans earlier this year on top Myanmar military figures for what a UN fact-finding mission called the military’s “crimes against humanity” carried out against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority in the western state of Rakhine with “genocidal intent” in 2017. [The Irrawaddy]

However, there are growing calls to further isolate the military, expand sanctions and prosecute senior leadership for genocide against the stateless minority. “The U.S. should be working with members of the international community to push for accountability in Myanmar, not joining its military in exercises,” a statement from Fortify Rights said. [Defense Post]

Over the weekend, the website of Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing said a military court that visited the state of Rakhine found soldiers had shown “weakness in following instructions in some incidents” at a village said to have been a Rohingya massacre site. Though the investigation’s findings were kept secret, Myanmar’s army said it will court-martial respective soldiers. [Reuters]

3 September 2019

Myanmar: Filmmaker sentenced to prison over critical remarks

(ls) A Myanmar court has sentenced the prominent filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi to one year in prison with hard labor for Facebook posts that criticized the military. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners human rights group, 161 people are in jail or on trial in Myanmar on what the group says are politically motivated charges. [Reuters]

Date of AiR edition

News summary

Web links

2 July 2019

Myanmar internet shutdown: Rising voices of criticism

(ls) As reported last week, Myanmar has shut down internet services in parts of Rakhine and Chin state. The US State Department has now joined the criticism, stating that a resumption of service would help facilitate transparency in and accountability for what the government claims are law enforcement actions. Myanmar has deployed thousands of troops to the western region. [Al Jazeera]

U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said that Myanmar’s army may be committing gross human rights violations under cover of the mobile phone blackout. She said that she had been informed that the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s army) was conducting a ‘clearance operation’. [Reuters] According to a directive under article 77 of the 2013 Telecommunications Law, the suspension of a telecommunications service is permitted “when an emergency situation arises.”

Human Rights Watch issued a statement according to which the disruption to internet services has exacerbated an information blackout and increased difficulties for humanitarian agencies and human rights groups to assist vulnerable populations in the face of increased fighting in the area. [Human Rights Watch]

11 June 2019

The Significance of Everyday Access to Justice in Myanmar’s Transition to Democracy

(jk) In Myanmar, “ordinary people distrust and fear the official system and perceive courts as expensive, slow, distant, intrusive, and therefore the least preferred option in efforts to seek justice”. Consequently, many “legal issues” are resolved by alternative providers of justice, such as elders, religious leaders or administrative officials. These pathways however, are informal and often not sufficiently recognized by outside observers. Their murkiness complicates any possible justice reform. This piece argues that alternative justice systems can contribute to stability when the official system has limited reach and is mistrusted. First though, the systems need to be properly understood. [ISEAS]

4 June 2019

Myanmar: Amnesty issues new report on Myanmar military’s continued killing of Rohingya civilians, which the military denies

(jyk) According to a recent Amnesty International’s report, Myanmar’s military has been confirmed to have unlawfully tortured and executed at least six Rohingya rebels detained in a village located at the northern Rakhine state where thousands of Myanmar’s armed forces have been deployed to subdue the Rohingya rebels. Although the conflict area is highly inaccessible, scores of interviews with various ethnic groups, photographs, videos and satellite imageries have revealed Myanmar forces’ perpetration of war crimes including “extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, torture and enforced disappearances” [Dhaka Tribune]. In response to the report, the spokesperson of Myanmar’s military denied the accusation as baseless, and said the military has “(conducted) the operation by following the rules of engagement and regulations” with transparent procedures [Myanmar Times].

4 June 2019

Myanmar seeks to pass a constitutional amendment bill that will decentralize presidential power

(jyk) The Myanmar military and opposition party, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), has submitted a constitutional amendment bill that will give the regional and state legislatures the power to appoint their own state and regional chief ministers, instead of the president. The MP of the USDP responsible for the initiative said the purpose of the amendment is “to strengthen the Union system and the (state or regional) chief ministers”. The bill, in order to pass, requires at least 75 percent of assembly’s MPs to vote in favor, and it is about to be scrutinized by a joint committee and discussed in the assembly. [Myanmar Times]

4 June 2019

Myanmar: Arrest warrant issued for Myanmar hard-line monk Wirathu

(jyk) The western district court in Yangon has issued an arrest warrant for the nationalist Buddhist monk, Wirathu, under the charge of sedition according to the Myanmar police. In recent rallies, Wirathu has publicly accused the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi of corruption and has long spoken negatively of the Rohingya refugees. The police bureau in Mandalay, where Wirathu is based, has not yet received the warrant according to its spokesperson. But if it does and puts Wirathu on trial, he faces possible prison sentence of up to three years. [Dhaka Tribune]

28 May 2019

Myanmar: Soldiers jailed for Rohingya killings released after less than a year

(ls) Already last November, Myanmar has granted early releases to seven soldiers jailed for the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys during a 2017 military crackdown in the western state of Rakhine, according to a Reuters report. They thus served less than one year of their 10-year prison terms for the killings. In comparison, the two Reuters reporters who uncovered the killings spent more than 16 months behind bars on charges of obtaining state secrets. [Reuters]

19 March 2019

Myanmar: Yangon Stock Exchange set to expand

(ls) The Yangon Stock Exchange stock exchange is expected to liberalize stock trading within this year. Currently, it is Asia’s tiniest bourse. Home to only five companies, it updates prices just four times a day. Until now, only domestic investors were allowed to trade. But soon, it should be possible for foreigners to participate too. Last year, parliament passed a new Companies Law that says foreign investors can own as much as 35 percent of local firms. In two stages, possibly within this year, the bourse will welcome foreigners based in Myanmar, followed by overseas institutional investors. [Bloomberg]

11 March 2019

Myanmar: New report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights/World Justice Project – Global Rule of Law Index

(cc/jk) The Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar published her latest report on Tuesday on the situation in Myanmar despite being barred from entering the country for her research. The UN official warned against “institutionalized” hate speech, especially in the education system, “[f]or example, there is a fourth-grade lesson on ‘Wunthanu Spirit’, meaning nationalistic and patriotic spirit. The lesson says ‘we loathe those of mixed blood, for they prohibit the progression of a race”. She also expressed concerns over the repatriation process of the Rohingya refugee, currently living in camps in Bangladesh and criticized the “safe zones” wanted by Bangladesh inside Rakhine State as the country says it cannot welcome more refugees. The report also highlights the high number of cases of people in jail for their political activities. She recommended sanctions against two military-owned and military-affiliated companies, the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). [Al Jazeera][The Irrawaddy]

The report comes amid the recent publication of the global rule of law index of the World for 2019 Justice Project in which Myanmar ranks 110 out of 126 countries. [Myanmar Times] It is the second- lowest ranking member of eight ranked ASEAN states (Brunei and Lao are not ranked) ahead of Cambodia, with Singapore at the opposite end of the ASEAN table. After Singapore and before the last two is Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines in that order. [World Justice Project]

4 March 2019

Myanmar: Rally in support of changing the military-drafted constitution

(cc/ls) On last week’s Wednesday, at least a thousand people gathered in Yangon to support the move of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) to amend the military-drafted constitution. While the Myanmar Times refers to “hundreds of people”, Reuters speaks of “thousands”. Numbers of well-known democracy activists participated at the event, including U Mya Aye one of the leaders of 88 Generation for who “[t]he amendments should be based on democracy and the federal system in line with the Union”. The NLD, however, has not said what provisions of the constitution it might seek to reform. [Reuters] [The Myanmar Times]

4 March 2019

Myanmar: Northern Alliance offers ceasefire with Tatmadaw

(cc) Last week, representatives of the Northern Alliance, a group of four Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), met for the first time with the government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) in China. The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA), and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), offered a bilateral ceasefire with the Tatmadaw. There was no agreement. Both sides agreed to meet again next month. In December, the military announced a unilateral ceasefire, Rakhine State, however, was not included, and fighting with the AA displaced over 5000 persons in the conflict-affected areas. [The Irrawaddy] [The Myanmar Times]