Burmese President Thein Sein on Thursday announced reformation of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC), but renowned rights activists claim to have been left out of the decision-making process.
On the day of the announcement, two well-known rights groups that long worked in exile, Burma Partnership and Equality Myanmar, published a damning report on the Commission’s activity.
The report blasted the Commission for doing “almost nothing” in parts of Burma where support for human rights is most urgently needed: conflict-torn Arakan, Kachin and Shan states. It also criticised the Commission’s make-up, which is overwhelmingly government-affiliated and hence not independent.
“Currently, the assessments for candidates are not based on predetermined, objective and publicly available criteria that promotes the appointment of merit-based candidates,” the report read.
Aung Myo Min, the director of Equality Myanmar, said he was unaware that the commission was being restructured, but that the changes made by the president this week turned out to be unsubstantial and were executed with the Commission’s typical opacity.
“We were absolutely not aware of the board making nominations and we had no knowledge of who was being appointed,” said Aung Myo Min. “Just like before, we continue to stress this lack of transparency and communication with civil society groups.”
What was created by presidential decree in 2011 as a 15-member body chaired by the junta’s former UN liaison, Win Mra, now has 11 appointed members. The chairman has kept his position and four others have also remained.
While civil society groups, which have long been Burma’s most effective rights defenders, say they have not been consulted about the reshuffle, the chairman told DVB that the changes were well considered and a year in the making.
“The board consulted concerned organisations for more than one year about the formation of the commission,” said Win Mra, adding that the new nominees include government officials, parliamentarians and foreign professionals.
“Human rights is a rather broad subject, and this work cannot be done by the MNHRC alone. Everyone needs to participate: civil society groups, the public, the government and the parliament,” he said.
Win Mra said that the commission will conduct human rights education workshops in seven ethnic states before the end of this year.
Ironically, that’s exactly the kind of work that Equality Myanmar and several other community-based organisations had already been doing for more than a decade.