Explanation of Vote on a Third Committee Resolution on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

Courtney Nemroff
Deputy U.S. Representative to ECOSOC
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
November 15, 2018



The United States is proud to co-sponsor this timely and important resolution on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

The United States expresses deep concern at continuing reports of serious human rights violations and abuses in Burma, including in Rakhine, Kachin, and northern Shan States.

We welcomed the Government’s commitment to implement the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission and its signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with UNHCR and UNDP to support the creation of conditions for the return of refugees from Bangladesh. But commitments are not enough. The Government must take concrete action to improve the situation for the Rohingya and for all people in Rakhine State.

The United States calls on the Burmese authorities to work to establish civilian control of the military; ensure accountability for those responsible for human rights violations and abuses; remove those responsible for human rights violations and abuses from positions of authority and also bar them from future public office; give unhindered access to the UN, humanitarian organizations, human rights investigators, and media professionals; fully implement the recommendations of the Annan Advisory Commission in Rakhine State, including those related to citizenship, freedom of movement, and accountability; and work to ensure that all displaced persons can voluntarily return to their places of origin in safety and dignity.

The United States expresses our appreciation for the work of the UN fact-finding mission and its well-researched reports and documentation of human rights violations and abuses. Its devastating findings and conclusions should spur the international community to action. We are glad this resolution welcomes the establishment of an ongoing independent mechanism to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law committed in Burma since 2011. We echo the resolution’s call for its immediate operationalization.

We are strongly supportive of the Resolution’s efforts to promote accountability. We read the language regarding the responsibility of States to prosecute violations of international law and human rights abuses to refer only to those actions that constitute criminal violations under applicable law and note that there are no such violations in some of the bodies of international law listed. Similarly, we read the language regarding the responsibility to provide an effective remedy to apply to those whose human rights have been violated, as appropriate under applicable treaties.

We commend the Special Rapporteur on the situation for human rights in Myanmar, Dr. Yanghee Lee, who has continued to fulfill her mandate and develop insightful reports despite the Government’s regrettable decision to rescind cooperation with her mandate since December 2017. We affirm the resolution’s call to the Government to resume its cooperation with Special Rapporteur Lee without delay and grant her full, unfettered access to the country. The United States also asks the Government to cooperate fully with other relevant mandates, including the newly established ongoing independent mechanism.

While we continue to support Burma’s transition towards democracy, we are concerned by the deterioration of respect for fundamental freedoms, including through the increasingly severe and undue restrictions on freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and freedoms of association, assembly, and religion. We again call for the immediate and unconditional release of Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were sentenced to seven years in jail for reporting on the military’s extrajudicial killings of Rohingya villagers.

Furthermore, the United States understands that this resolution, like all resolutions of this committee, does not change the current state of conventional or customary international law. Accordingly, we read references to human rights to refer exclusively to those rights enshrined in the applicable international treaties, and we maintain our longstanding positions on those rights.

In addition, we do not read this resolution to imply that states must join or implement obligations under international instruments to which they are not a party.

Finally, we express our continued appreciation for the government and people of Bangladesh as they remain generous and principled hosts of more than one million Rohingya refugees. We welcome Bangladesh’s recent decision to suspend efforts to immediately repatriate refugees, as it was clear that any such returns would not be voluntary. We encourage Bangladesh to continue to respect the principle of non-refoulement and to work with UN agencies to promote the refugees’ wellbeing, and we call upon the Government of Burma to more quickly establish conditions that will allow for safe, voluntary, dignified, and sustainable returns.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.