Blog: Ko Ko
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November 5, 2015
International Human Rights Organizations Call for Accountability of Myanmar’s Minister of Home Affairs
Tomorrow is Myanmar’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) hearing in Geneva. Today, a coalition of groups issued a statement calling for accountability for Lt. Gen. Ko Ko, the head of Myanmar’s UPR process:
International Human Rights Organizations Call for Accountability of Lt. Gen. Ko Ko, Myanmar’s Minister of Home Affairs
November 5, 2015
We, the undersigned organizations, call for Lt. Gen. Ko Ko, Myanmar’s Minister of Home Affairs and Minister for Immigration and Population, to be held accountable for his involvement in human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. On November 6, 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council will review Myanmar’s human rights record during its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva. Regrettably, the Myanmar Government has appointed Lt. Gen. Ko Ko to head the committee responsible for its UPR process.
Hundreds of civil society organizations in Myanmar have signed a petition expressing their concern about Lt. Gen. Ko Ko’s role in the UPR process, as well as the current impunity at the national level that exists for his involvement in abuses. They have called on the international community to take concrete steps to hold him accountable.
Lt. Gen. Ko Ko has a well-documented track record of human rights violations. He led Myanmar’s Southern Command during a military offensive in Kayin State from 2005-2008. According to a report released by the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, there is sufficient evidence against him to satisfy the standard required to issue an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for his command over soldiers that intentionally attacked, killed, tortured, enslaved, and forcibly transferred civilians.
In his current position as the Minister of Home Affairs, Lt. Gen. Ko Ko has also been implicated in human rights abuses, including violations of the rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. For example, strong evidence exists that the Myanmar Police Force, which is under the control of the Ministry of Home Affairs, has repeatedly used unlawful and excessive force against peaceful protesters. In November 2012, Lt. Gen. Ko Ko was accused of authorizing riot police to use white phosphorus munitions to disperse peaceful protesters—mostly monks and villagers—at the Letpadaung Copper Mine, resulting in severe chemical burns of more than 100 people. In March 2015, the police again used excessive force in the town of Letpadan against unarmed protesters calling for reforms to the National Education Law.
The Human Rights Council has called upon the Myanmar Government to take all necessary measures to ensure accountability and end impunity for violations of human rights. This recommendation also was made during Myanmar’s previous UPR in 2011 and has been reiterated in advance questions for the forthcoming UPR this year. Similarly, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, recommended in both her March and October 2015 reports that the Government address impunity for human rights violations committed by security personnel.
In light of Lt. Gen. Ko Ko’s track record, we call on the Myanmar Government to remove him as the head of its UPR process, and to initiate a prompt, independent, and thorough investigation into the allegations of his involvement in human rights violations and international crimes. The international community should lend support to any investigation and prosecution. If the Myanmar Government does not pursue accountability in a prompt and effective manner, the international community should initiate its own investigation into Lt. Gen. Ko Ko’s responsibility for human rights violations and international crimes, and governments should pursue appropriate legal action against him if he enters their territory under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
Burma Campaign UK
FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
Global Justice Center
International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School
US Campaign for Burma
World Organization Against Torture
November 5, 2015
May 26, 2015
Posted by Courtney Svoboda, JD '16
This past January, I traveled with a team from the International Human Rights Clinic to a small rural community on the border of Thailand and Myanmar. While the Clinic had been there many times before, it was my first time. There, we met the survivors of a brutal military offensive in Eastern Myanmar. As children ran up and down the aisles of the makeshift meetinghouse, we spoke with the villagers about the document we had written—a document that was, in a sense, their own.
On the strength of more than 1,000 pages of their testimony, we had produced a legal memorandum that made a case for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It also implicated current high-ranking military and government officials. Last November, when it was released, the findings sparked a discussion about accountability in a country that is, for the most part, considered to be on the path to reform.
When we finished telling the villagers all of this, I expected people to ask questions or to begin filtering down the dusty aisles towards the exits. Instead, after a few more minutes of silence, a man stood up and began telling us a story about his life. After he finished, another person rose to speak. Slowly, one by one, more came forward to talk to us.
As the crowd dwindled, one woman approached, her young son’s arms wrapped tightly around her neck, and started telling her story. A few years earlier, the Myanmar military had come into her village, shooting at people and burning homes as they moved through the streets. She took shelter in the jungle with her children, but without proper food or medicine, one of them died; then another; then a third.
I knew this story. I had read it back in Cambridge while working on the Clinic’s legal memorandum. But it was one thing to process her story from a distance. It was another to stand in front of her.
I have always believed in the power of storytelling to create empathy and human connection. But somewhere along the way in law school, I lost sight of it. I got distracted, poring over pages of documents, piecing together facts, checking grammar, debating sentence structure. It was easy to forget that at the heart of the Clinic’s work are people, wanting to be heard.
For those three weeks in January, our clinical team listened to people all over Myanmar. We heard about ongoing abuses in Shan State and Kachin State. We heard about police crackdowns at Letpadaung. The stories are everywhere.
Ironically enough, a story I heard back in Cambridge left one of the deepest impressions. It came from U Teikkha Nyana, a monk who participated in a panel discussion the Clinic organized on accountability in Myanmar.
Speaking in his crimson robes via Skype, U Teikkha Nyana took the audience of law students and professors back to a dark, brisk night in Letpadaung in northern Myanmar, where hundreds of monks were lined up in peaceful protest outside of a copper mine. First, he recalled how the police doused the men with water; then, how they shot canisters of white phosphorus, an acidic weapon that burns flesh.
“We kept our heads down, covered ourselves with robes and blankets, and took the brunt of it,” U Teikkha Nyana told us.
He waited for his words to be translated, then began again.
“My robes and blankets that were soaking wet suddenly caught on fire . . . . I was engulfed in flames.”
Another pause, as the audience absorbed those words.
“I raised my arms up and screamed at them, ‘Look what you have done. Do you see what you have done?’”
From the moment U Teikkha Nyana started speaking, I was captivated. It was more than just the words that he spoke. It was seeing him speak, hearing the inflection in his voice, seeing the look in eyes—the depth of compassion, pain, and ultimately hope. I already knew the facts about the crackdown in Letpadaung; I had read the statistics. But here was one man, in front of me, telling his story, a small window into the experiences of others like him who have also suffered.
It brought me back to that day in the village, when one person after another stepped forward—story after story, followed by a sea of handshakes and heartfelt thanks.
There is no one way to achieve accountability in Myanmar. That much is clear. Different communities and advocates will have different ideas, and it is not my place to define that path. But at the center of it all, surely, are stories—the stories of the many who have suffered, from the villagers at the border of Thailand and Myanmar, to the monks whose burns are still healing. These stories should be heard. These stories need to be a part of the conversation.
U Teikkha Nyana and the villagers at the heart of the Clinic’s work: thank you for sharing your stories. I, for one, feel honored to have heard them.
Below is the video from the Clinic’s panel discussion featuring U Teikkha Nyana, who is suing the Home Affairs Minister, Major General Ko Ko, for his responsibility in the Letpadaung crackdown. Ko Ko is one of the high-ranking government officials implicated in the Clinic’s legal memorandum. The panel also included U Teikkha Nyana’s lawyer, U Aung Thein; Roger Normand, of Justice Trust; and Matt Smith, of Fortify Rights.
May 11, 2015
Posted by Matthew Thiman, JD '16, and Tyler Giannini
It only happens once every four years: a full UN review of Myanmar’s human rights record. With its rather generic name—the Universal Periodic Review (“UPR”)—this UN process does not often get much attention. But it should. Especially when the head of Myanmar’s delegation is someone like Lieutenant General Ko Ko—the country’s Home Affairs Minister, a man who has been linked to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
It was quite a moment when we at the International Human Rights Clinic realized that Ko Ko was in charge of Myanmar’s UPR process. We know Ko Ko well because we have been investigating his central role in a brutal Myanmar Army offensive for the last four years. We published our findings in a legal memorandum last November, implicating Ko Ko and two other military commanders in violent attacks on civilians.
Exactly a year after the release of our findings, the Myanmar delegation is scheduled to answer questions about its human rights record as part of the UPR process. If Ko Ko in fact ends up leading that delegation, it will say a lot about the status of reform in a country that says it is committed to human rights. With over 1000 pages of witness testimonies and expert declarations implicating him in international crimes, Ko Ko should not be the face of human rights in the new Myanmar.
NOTE: The International Human Rights Clinic made a submission to the UPR process in March, detailing the findings of the Clinic’s investigation. The submission notes Myanmar’s ongoing obligations to provide remedies for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and also highlights that high-ranking officials like Ko Ko have been promoted instead of investigated.
April 1, 2015
Tomorrow, Thursday, April 2: “Ties to the Top: The Role of Government Officials in Human Rights Abuses in Myanmar”
April 2, 2015
“Ties to the Top: The Role of Government Officials in Human Rights Abuses in Myanmar”
As Myanmar approaches its second election later this year, join us for a discussion about accountability and its place in the country’s reform efforts. Panelists Roger Normand, of Justice Trust, and Matt Smith, of Fortify Rights, will join two advocates from Myanmar:
U Teikkha Nyana, a Buddhist monk who was severely injured two years ago when riot police used white phosphorus weapons to attack peaceful protesters; he recently joined with other injured monks to file an unprecedented lawsuit against the local police chief and the Home Affairs Minister. U Teikkha Nyana will join the conversation via Skype.
U Aung Thein, a Supreme Court advocate from Yangon who has represented more than 150 political prisoners, including leaders of the Saffron Revolution and Generation 88.
Tyler Giannini will moderate the discussion.
This event is being co-sponsored by HLS East Asian Legal Studies
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