Myanmar: ICJ discusses international standards on investigations of unlawful killings with Prosecutors

At a training event for senior prosecutors hosted by the Union Attorney General’s Office (UAGO) on 7 September 2019 in Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw, the ICJ made presentations on the international standards and legal obligation on unlawful killings.

Representing each of Myanmar’s 14 states and regions, some 30 law officers attended the activity, which was a capacity-building training hosted by the UAGO. This is part of the ICJ’s ongoing engagement with authorities in Myanmar as well as in neighboring countries on the Minnesota Protocol on the investigation of potentially unlawful death (the Minnesota Protocol).

The Minnesota Protocol provides guidance on the State’s implementation of its duty under international law to investigate potentially unlawful killings, including when State actors may have been involved. It applies to deaths under custody, suspicious deaths, and enforced disappearances. Myanmar has experienced widespread incidents of such deaths, including in recent years those constituting serious crimes under international law.

ICJ Associate Legal Adviser, Jenny Domino, introduced salient points of the Minnesota Protocol and shared relevant examples from experience promoting and protecting human rights in the Philippines. She highlighted the significance of the State’s duty to investigate potentially unlawful killings in upholding the right to life under international human rights law.

ICJ Legal Researcher, Ja Seng Ing, shared the case of Laotian activist Sombath Somphone, who was subjected to enforced disappearance on 15 December 2012 with the apparent consent or acquiescence of State agents. To date, Laotian authorities have failed to conduct effective investigations with a view to revealing the fate or whereabouts of Somphone. ICJ has repeatedly called for accountability on the issue.

Participants discussed these cases in relation to the comparative remedies and practical challenges related to the conduct of investigations in Myanmar, where police and prosecutors both have roles to play in the conduct of investigations.

First published in 1991 and subsequently revised in 2016 under the auspices of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Minnesota Protocol includes guidelines on conducting investigations to ensure that they are prompt; effective and thorough; impartial and independent; and transparent.

Since December 2017, the ICJ has co-hosted several regional workshops in Asia focused on this topic, with lawyers, academics, and State authorities from Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal, India, and Myanmar attending the events.

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