GENOCIDE AND CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY: Unit I. Myanmar
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Response from the International Community
Northern Kayin State villagers shot on sight for violating SPDC-imposed movement restrictions, March 2007
The way violations have been committed against ethnic minorities in Myanmar has led organizations such as Human Rights Watch to call on the international community to investigate whether the Myanmar government is guilty of committing crimes against humanity.
The Myanmar government’s maltreatment of ethnic minorities (especially through the practices of forced labor, extrajudicial killing, rape, and torture) as well as the huge refugee population that has fled the country led many to consider this as a situation not of random acts of oppression but rather persecution of a more systematic nature.
Read each treaty’s description and click YES or NO as to whether or not you think Myanmar has ratified it.
Then click SHOW ME to find out.
The case of Myanmar unfortunately illustrates how the effective enforcement of human rights
still lags far behind broad acceptance of the idea of human rights.
Even though Myanmar has failed to ratify many human rights treaties and ignores the ones it has ratified, other governments have put pressure on the current government to start respecting the human rights of the people of Myanmar. The most important international human rights document is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR provides a basis from which other governments can criticize the military junta in Myanmar for its human rights records because although it is not technically binding, it calls upon all governments to promote and protect human rights.
The United States has pressured the Myanmar government to clean up its human rights record for quite some time. In 2006, the US decided to continue the various economic and diplomatic sanctions that it had placed on Myanmar. The hope behind these actions was that even though Myanmar has failed to ratify many human rights conventions, with enough economic and diplomatic pressure, the US government might be able to force Myanmar to respect the rights of its citizens.
The state of Massachusetts also tried to pressure the Myanmar government by prohibiting contracts with businesses involved in Myanmar. The Supreme Court ruled, however, that the Massachusetts law violated federal law and was an infringement on the Federal Government’s ability to conduct foreign policy.
Unfortunately, the US failed in its attempt to get a UN Security Council resolution passed that called on the Myanmar government to release all political prisoners and stop the attacks on ethnic minorities. Both China and Russia vetoed the resolution, arguing that the situation in Myanmar did not constitute a matter of international peace and security. According to the UN Charter, the Security Council can only pass binding resolutions on matters of international peace and security.
The stalemate in the UN Security Council shows how precarious it can be to rely on the international community for effective enforcement of human rights. It also highlights that protecting human rights is a relatively low priority for the international community, especially when that goal is weighed against protecting state sovereignty.
Which is more important to protect: state sovereignty or human rights?
Which do you think is a better strategy for securing human rights: isolating or trying to engage a repressive regime like the one in Myanmar?