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    A reckoning looms on human rights

    A burnt village in Maungdaw Township, in the aftermath of a security crackdown following attacks on police outposts on October 9 last year. (Teza Hlaing | Frontier)

    By Khin Zaw Win, Frontier Myanmar

    The arguments being advanced against the UN fact-finding mission to Myanmar lack weight and credibility.

    A PROBE into allegations of human rights abuses isn’t something relished by the incumbents and hosts, not to mention the perpetrators. But how else are we, and the world, to keep tabs on unpleasant happenings?

    The United Nations Human Rights Council is not a court of international law and it neither dispenses justice nor punitive measures. The reactions from the Myanmar government to the council’s decision to deploy a fact-finding mission to Myanmar may be understandable but they are not excusable – especially as they come from an elected government that likes to flaunt its democratic credentials. In truth, the term “human rights” appears only minimally – if at all – in the present government’s vocabulary.

    What I wish to say is not meant to castigate the government and its leaders. It is meant in the spirit of advocating a sensible approach to the issue at hand – an issue that cannot and should not be dismissed so easily. To put it another way:I do not want to see a bad situation made worse.

    Rather than seeking ways for a government to wriggle out of a difficult situation, we should take the long view. In the nearly three decades since 1988 there has been no proper accounting of what had happened throughout the period. Both those who perpetrated and those who suffered have their own narratives. If the years before 1988 were added, there would be more to account for. If amnesia were to be forcibly imposed again, there will be twisted consequences.

    As dictatorships and other repressive regimes fell around the world, a handful of countries established truth commissions to look into the painful past. Sometimes they encompassed truth and reconciliation. According to the magnitude of the crimes committed, sometimes international tribunals were convened. In all these proceedings, a term commonly used is “lustration”: bringing light into dark and hidden corners of a nation’s past.

    The arguments being advanced against the fact-finding mission lack weight and credibility. To someone who offers heavy prescriptions of the rule of law, a reminder would be that victim communities may wonder whether they are being subjected to no rule of law, or whether they have too much of it.

    The fact-finding mission will be carrying out what Myanmar as a country is unwilling or otherwise incapable of doing. It doesn’t necessarily follow that its findings have to be accepted, but its work will help to make Myanmar a stronger and healthier country. Conversely, impeding or interfering with its activities will ensure that Myanmar’s sickness continues. The cleavages will then widen. That is the choice before us.

    At stake is considerably more than the Rohingya issue alone. Myanmar is a country that has come back from the brink. It has been a costly return from dictatorship but it has been largely successful. It is being looked upon as a possible middle power capable of making a difference in the region. It is standing up to a neighbouring behemoth.

    Such being the case, the belittling of human rights is even more unbecoming. It suggests that the major concern is regime survival (even for a democratic government) and that Myanmar risks sliding down again.

    It would be a terrible mistake to treat the fact-finding mission as a focus of negative sentiments. It can be a mirror held up to the country’s lapses. Recognising them for what they are can motivate the Myanmar people to fashion a more inclusive and accommodating future for themselves. In truth, this is the only future there is.


    Khin Zaw Win is a former political prisoner and the director of Yangon-based capacity-building institution, the Tampadipa Institute.