When Myanmar held its first openly contested elections in 2015, there was hope for change. Four years later and the political landscape of the South East Asian nation has transformed in unexpected ways. A United Nations (UN) report reveals the situation in Myanmar has worsened over time.
UN Human Rights investigator on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee discovered that hate speech is being “institutionalised” and democratic freedoms like freedom of speech are shrinking. Furthermore, there appears no foreseeable solution for the Rohingya crisis.
Following the election of Nobel Prize winner Aung San Su Kyi and her National League of Democracy Party, Kyi and her party promised to create laws to promote freedom of speech. However, according to Lee, little progress has been made.
Article 19 of Lee’s report states that the party had failed to use its parliamentary majority to reform laws used against government critics and that the government still controls the flow of information.
Poet Maung Saung Kha was arrested in 2015 for writing a poem on his Facebook page in which he shared that he had a tattoo of former president U Thein Sein on his penis. The grounds for Kha’s arrest and six-month imprisonment were for defamation under Article 66(d) of the controversial Telecommunications Law. Minor amendments have been made to the Telecommunications Law since Kha’s case, but Article 66(d) remains in full effect.
During her investigation, Lee also read textbooks being used in schools that promoted hate speech. A fourth-grade textbook told students to “loathe those of mixed blood” because they do not help progress the human race. Another textbook mentioned the ‘Wunthanu Spirit’, meaning nationalistic and patriotic spirit. The concept of Wunthanu Spirit combined with the idea that those of mixed blood are second-class is used to justify discrimination against groups of people like the Rohingyas.
Since 1982, the Rohingya people have been denied citizenship and thus have been violently discriminated against. Many believed that when Suu Kyi came into office that she would take affirmative action to resolve the Rohingya crisis. Yet, both Suu Kyi and her party have remained passive and silent on the issue.
Numerous attacks have been orchestrated by the military targeting Rohingyas, with the most recent happening in January this year on Myanmar’s Independence Day. The military is also denying Rohingyas in Rakhine State access to food and water, making living conditions even more difficult. While Lee’s report does address the racial violence occurring in Myanmar, like other UN reports that discuss the abuse against the Rohingyas, it has fallen on deaf ears.
Electing a government led by a Nobel Prize Winner who fought for democracy, no one predicted that Myanmar would take a turn for the worst. Yet, with violence, oppression and hate speech more prevalent than ever, it seems to be failing to become the modern-day democracy it was destined to be.