Human Rights Commission, its law and the people’s conscience


Human Rights Commission member U Zaw Win (right) seen at the Parliament in Nay Pyi Taw. Photo: Min Min/Mizzima

On October 6, the President’s Office issued a notice saying the human rights commission had let four of its members, Zaw Win, Dr. Nyan Zaw, Mya Mya and Dr.Than New, voluntarily resign from their posts following the recent outcry over two abused teenage maids who were encouraged by the commission to accept compensation money from the perpetrators.

There emerged different opinions regarding this. Some said they should not be allowed to resign from their posts and they should be dealt with by law. Some people said letting them resign from their posts was not enough for their misdeeds. Some questioned letting them resign from their posts in response to a motion in parliament and a consensus vote calling for appropriate action to be taken against those members of the human rights commission who they believe had acted inappropriately.

Announcement No. 56/2016 issued on October 6 by the President’s Office says, “As per section 17 of the Human Rights Commission Law, the following members of the commission are allowed to resign from their posts of their own volition.”

Thus we need to study the Human Rights Commission Law. The commission must act in accordance with its own law. What are the objectives of this commission? What are the terms of reference of this commission? How are the members of the commission selected? When can they resign? What is the authority of the commission in dealing with human rights issues? How is the commission working? All these facts are mentioned clearly in the Human Rights Commission Law. The HR Commission is directed and guided by commission law like the state is governed and guided by the State Constitution.

Section 17 of HR Commission Law says, “A member of the commission other than commission chairman may resign from his/her post of his/her own volition by telling the President in writing via the commission chairman.”  This means a commission member may resign from his/her post by permission given by the President. So these four members acted as per their rights granted by the law.

And then a question arises. Why wasn’t there appropriate actiontaken for their alleged negligence and dereliction of their duties as demanded by the parliament motion? The dereliction of duty shows their incompetence. So people called for action to be taken against them. The reason why action was not taken in accordance with the law can be studied in Section 62 of the Human Rights Commission Law. Section 62 says, “Commission or commission members or a person who is given authority by the commission shall not be sued in civil suit or criminal case for their acts in performing or an omission of their duty in good faith or giving comments or opinions on any case.” So the commission law gives full protection to the commission and commission members if they perform their duties in good faith even though their acts or omission of their acts goes wrong. So in this case,in accordance with the law, letting them resign from their posts was their right as granted by the law.

People need to know commission law if they want to talk about the commission. Simply, the commission is like the state constitution. The state is governed by the constitution and the commission is governed by the commission law. The performance of the commission will be good if the commission law is good. If the commission law is weak the performance of the commission will be weak too. So we need to point out the weaknesses of the commission members and also we need to study weaknesses of the commission law.

In fact, human rights commissions are formed in many countries with the objective of protecting and promoting human rights. In some countries, these commissions are formed as per the provision in their constitutions and in some countries these commissions are formed as per a special human rights commission law. In Myanmar, National Human Rights Commission Law was passed by parliament on March 28, 2014 and then the human rights commission was formed and the current commission was reconstituted on September 24, 2014 and it is the fifth one in the 10-member ASEAN country bloc.

A point needs to be made.The human rights commission law allows for the selection and appointment of commission members. Section 6 of the law says selection of commission members shall be done by the selection committee and the final say on selected members shall be made by the President. But in fact no one knows who isappointed by the selection committee. And people cannot give their suggestions on who should be selected and appointed. The commission members who are supposed to protect and promote the rights of the people must have credibility and they must be trusted and respected by the people. People will cooperate with the commission only if it has their trust and respect. So a provision for respecting the suggestions and proposals for the selection of commission members given by the people should be inserted into commission law.

We need to take into consideration people’s suggestions and proposals in the selection and appointment of commission members because of fundamental rights. As the people have a right to elect their government by voting, they should also have the right to select and appoint human rights commission members. The human rights commission has the responsibility to protect the rights of individual citizens and ensure the government abides byand fulfils human rights legislation efficiently and resolutely. So people need those who will stand up for their rights. They don’t want a human rights commission that will waste taxpayers’ money and they don’t want commission members who work in the manner of ‘no work, not busy, no dismissal’. Only if people have their rights to suggest and propose their own commission members who will efficiently work for them will there be the right people in the right place. As long as people who don’t understand human rights and who have no predilection towards protecting people are appointed to this commission itwill not win people’s trust, respect and cooperation.

Human rights commission members should not be selected entirely on their wisdom and experience in human rights. Yes, knowledge and wisdom is important but on the other hand morality is also important. In saying morality, I mean both personal and human rights morality. Human rights morality means respecting human rights concepts, being motivatedby human rights, and determined to ensurehuman rights flourish in society. Whenever talking about human rights, there should be no discrimination against anyone. Whenever hearing about human rights violations, one should be energetic in fighting for truth and justice. Whenever talking about working for human rights, one needs to understand it involves working for peace, democracy and justice by getting rid of discrimination, exploitation and violence.

Let all people join hands together to strive for the re-emergence of human rights commission law withcommission members who will help the commission perform its functions efficiently and competently.


The author, Aung Myo Min, is the executive director of ‘Equality Myanmar’ which works for educating and advocating on human rights

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