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Myanmar’s Rule of Law & Human Rights

The Myanmar Constitution recognizes the fundamental human rights of citizens only, and imposes corresponding citizen duties to the State. The Constitution recognizes the right to health and education, and a fair trial rights such as the non-retroactive application of criminal law. Civil political rights such as the right to freedom of religion, association, assembly and expression are recognized but subject to limitations on the grounds of, “security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility or public order and morality”.

The Judiciary is comprised of the Supreme Court, the High Courts of the Regions, the High Courts of the States and lower courts. The Constitution recognizes the independent administration of justice and rule of law as core “judicial principles”, but lack of judicial independence remains an issue.

Myanmar has a National Human Rights Commission, with the power to accept individual complaints of violations of constitutional rights. The Commission has not been yet been accredited by the International Coordinating Committee for National Human Rights Institutions (ICC) as compliant with the Paris Principles. The Commission is an associate member of the Asia Pacific Forum (APF)

Myanmar has accessed to three core international human rights treaties and one optional protocol: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and, in 2012, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Myanmar lodged a reservation against CEDAW’s article 29 exempting it from arbitration of disputes between State Parties to CEDAW.

Myanmar has ratified two of the eight International Labour Organization Core Conventions: the 1930 Forced Labour Convention (No. 29) and the 1948 Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention (No. 87).

During Myanmar’s 2011 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the UN Human Rights Council, concerns were raised about the situation of political prisoners, protection of the rights of minority groups, child and forced labour, child soldiers, restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, the impartiality of the judiciary and impunity for crimes committed by military and State officials. 

Members of the UN Human Rights Council made a number of recommendations during the UPR review that Myanmar did not accept, including:

  • Ratify the core international human rights treaties and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
  • Protect civilians in conflict areas and to prevent such conflicts in the future by the creation of a democratic environment with full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms to all members of society.
  • Bring the Constitution and national legislation in line with international human rights standards international human rights law.
  • Repeal Article 445 of the Constitution which grants immunity to State and military personnel for crimes.
  • Amend the 1982 Citizenship Act of 1982 to allow Myanmar citizenship to be granted to the Rohingya.
  • Release unconditionally all political prisoners and allow ICRC unimpeded access to places of detention.
  • Withdraw restrictions placed upon the freedoms of opinion, expression and information.
  • Bring the national human rights commission in line with Paris Principles in terms of its independence from the government (no response to this recommendation).

In 1992, the UN Commission on Human Rights (now the UN Human Rights Council) created a Special Rapporteurship on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. Myanmar has permitted the Special Rapporteur to conduct country visits, but not during times of political or social unrest. Myanmar has not issued a standing invitation to the UN Special Procedures and has not responded to visit requests from other mandate holders. Myanmar rejected the UPR recommendation that it cooperate more fully with the UN Human Rights Council Special Procedures.

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