Strengthening Human Rights Knowledge in Myanmar

The Raoul Wallenberg Institute recently held a national inquiry training in Yangon for the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission. The training is part of the Institute’s Myanmar programme to strengthen the human rights knowledge capacities of the commission.

We sat down with Ms. Nang Shan Aung from the commission. She is also one of RWI’s scholarship recipients to study the MA programme in Human Rights at Mahidol University in Bangkok, which is funded by the Institute’s Myanmar programme. After graduating she will be an important asset to the Myanmar Commission.

Why do you think working with human rights is important?

“Working with human rights is important because here in Myanmar we have been closed down by the government on anything relating to human rights and right now they are just opening up, and we don’t know if they will shut it off again so we have to work as fast as we can. We also have to educate and give awareness to people that they have human rights because they don’t even know that they have rights.”

Today we are doing a workshop on national inquiries and the commission is looking into the possibility of doing one on the rights of persons with disabilities – why is it important that a national inquiry is conducted on this subject for the commission?

“The commission’s role is to be a bridge between citizens and the government and people have been criticizing the commission because it is a state institution, so people think that we don’t do anything so this sort of inquiry can show that we are doing as much as we can. We can show that we are working for the people.”

What issues are persons with disabilities faced with here in Myanmar?

“It’s a bit complicated because most people in Myanmar are Buddhists and they think if someone is disabled it’s because they have done something bad in a previous life. Even the persons with disabilities think that they are just cursed, or something like that, and they think that they don’t have rights because they are disabled. We don’t have as many people as in other countries but most persons with disabilities are discriminated, like abused or ignored, or shamed, even children don’t want to play with other children who are disabled. When you walk down the public way they are looked down upon, they don’t see disabled as people, so raising awareness on this issue is important right now.”

Do you think holding a national inquiry will have a positive effect on these attitudes?

“Yes. Most people don’t know that Myanmar has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and I think when we start working on a National inquiry the public will be more aware of that. In the rural areas especially, people are ashamed of persons with disability and keep quiet about them, so I hope after the national inquiry, they will open up and I hope that the Commission can help in this.”

So right now you are enrolled in a Master’s Programme at Mahidol University in Bangkok (scholarship funded by RWI) can you tell us a bit about what your thesis is about?

“My research will be about the right of persons with disabilities to work in Yangon. I want to focus especially on physical disability including hearing impaired, visually impaired and mobile disability and also former soldiers. Some of them have opportunities to get higher education but no job opportunities follow so I would like to do that. It will be based on the views of NGOs and persons with disabilities and I will focus on the impact of the newly passed law on disability in Myanmar.

“I’m hoping to establish contacts with NGOs working with disability issues in Myanmar through this workshop for my field research for my thesis.”

More about conducting National Inquiries into Systemic Patterns of Human Rights Violations

(Exceprt from the Manual on Conducting a National Inquiry into Systematic Patterns of Human Rights Violation, which is a joint publication developed by the Institute and the Asia Pacific Forum.)

A national inquiry is a tool developed by National Human Rights Institutions in the Asia Pacific region to address patterns of human rights violations. It is an investigation into a systemic human rights problem in which a) the public in general is invited to participate through providing public evidence and written submissions, (b) which has investigative and educational objectives and (c) which results in a report with findings and recommendations.

Many NHRIs undertake national inquiries as part of their activities to fulfill their mandates of promoting and protection human rights. They have found that through a national inquiry, large numbers of individual complaints can be dealt with in a proactive and cost- effective way. A national inquiry introduces, exposes and explains a complex situation to the broad community, offering an analysis based in international human rights law and providing recommendations for systemic responses by those with responsibilities in the particular area of human rights examined (whether it be government, private sector corporations, academic institutions or other civil society bodies).

It is also a tool that enables NHRIS to produce significant results: A well-publicized national inquiry, through significant media attention and community awareness, can raise the profile of little known and little understood human rights issues. That in turn encourages greater political attention to the issue and promotes pressure for an adequate response and for changes in public policy and practice.

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