Myanmar: ICJ highlights systemic impunity for criminal human rights violations in UPR submission

Today, the ICJ submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) ahead of the review of Myanmar’s human rights record in January-February 2021.

The ICJ stressed the lack of accountability and redress for victims – and the resulting continued culture of impunity – for widespread gross human rights violations constituting crimes under international law in Myanmar, particularly those involving members of Myanmar’s Defence Services.

Certain provisions under the 2008 Myanmar Constitution as well as national laws such as the 1959 Defence Services Act and 1995 Myanmar Police Force Maintenance of Discipline Law shield security forces from public criminal prosecutions in civilian courts. Closed court martial proceedings also deny victims and their families the right to truth about human rights violations.

The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC), Myanmar’s national human rights institution with the mandate to investigate allegations of human rights violations, has not initiated any substantive or credible investigation into allegations of widespread and systematic human rights violations perpetrated in recent years by soldiers against persons from ethnic minorities, despite being recorded in detail in the reports of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

Rather than strengthen the role of civilian courts and the MNHRC, Myanmar has set up ad hoc commissions of inquiry to investigate such incidents. However, these inquiries have a recommendatory mandate and an unclear relationship with the judiciary. The full report of the findings of these commissions are generally not publicly disclosed. Against this backdrop, Myanmar has ceased cooperation with the UN Special Rapporteur for Myanmar and rejected other UN and international accountability mandates.

In light of this, the ICJ recommended the following actions, among others:

  • For the MNHRC to investigate all allegations of gross human rights violations, especially including crimes under international law;
  • For the Parliament to repeal or amend the 1959 Defence Services Act to bring it in line with international human rights law and standards and ensure that gross human rights violations and serious international humanitarian law violations perpetrated by soldiers can only be prosecuted in civilian courts;
  • For the Union Government to publish the full report of the findings of ad hoc commissions of inquiry, such as that of the Independent Commission of Enquiry;
  • For the Union Government to issue an open invitation to and cooperate with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as well as the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar; and
  • For the Union Government to cooperate with the International Criminal Court.

The ICJ also called for Myanmar to become a party to key human rights treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that the State committed – yet failed – to accede to in its previous UPR cycle.


Myanmar-UPR-Submission-2020-ENG (PDF)


Jenny Domino, ICJ Associate Legal Adviser, e:

Kingsley Abbott, Coordinator of the ICJ’s Global Accountability Initiative, e:

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