Violations of Fundamental Human Rights in Myanmar: Military Restricts Access to the Internet Information Flow and Communications

Myanmar military blocks free communication, internet, and social media access since 2021 coup, violating UDHR rights, causing insecurity, and fines individuals for VPN use.

Violations of Fundamental Human Rights in Myanmar:  Military Restricts Access to the Internet  Information Flow and Communications
Accessing the internet has been impeded by the Myanmar military by LinkedIn Sales Solutions, via Unsplash, October 6th 2017.

June 27th 2024

Pauliina Majasaari

Team East Asia Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

 

Since May 31st 2024, Myanmar military has been blocking access to free communication, the internet, and various social media platforms such as Facebook, X and WhatsApp as well as banning the use of virtual private networks (VPNs), which are used to circumvent blockages to various websites and online platforms. Individuals have been fined when caught using VPNs by the authorities.

Ever since the 2021 coup in Myanmar, the military has been relentlessly attempting to disrupt internet activity of its peoples, especially in the immediate aftermath of the military takeover. Similarly, whenever fighting is taking place in any of the cities or regions within Myanmar, the military has been shutting off access to the internet which has provided protection for the military as information about the human rights abuses taking place within the armed clashes would not spread across the internet. Such barriers to access the internet create obstacles for journalists, human rights monitors, and humanitarian organisations in gathering evidence of human rights abuses taking place which act as a backbone to their missions. Furthermore, the authorities have been expanding the permitted access to personal data by the authorities and pressuring telecommunication companies to use surveillance technology as well as obliging handover of user information to the police. Information has spread of the authorities’ stopping civilians on the street to search their phones for VPN apps and an anti-military Radio Free Asia reported that 25 persons have been arrested and fined by the military after recovery of VPN apps on their mobile phones.

Respectively, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which holds customary law status and thereby the rights set within bind states globally, sets out the right to freedom of expression under Article 19, according to which every human being has the freedom to seek, receive and impart information, through any media of his choice. Additionally, Article 12 of the UDHR grants the right to privacy of all individuals and prohibits the arbitrary interference with the mentioned right. According to the General Comment of the Human Rights Council, interference with the right to privacy can take place only if it is prescribed in law, whilst simultaneously the law must not be arbitrary and should be reasonable in the circumstances. Furthermore, the interference with one’s private life and related personal information should only be accessed by public authorities if it is essential in the interests of the society. Actions such as surveillance, in electronic or other form, interceptions of telephonic, telegraphic, and other forms of communications are prohibited.

Consequently, the actions of the Myanmar military are contrary to the rights set forth in the UDHR. Firstly, the right to freedom of expression under Article 19 is violated as the military is restricting people's access to information and access to the internet and different platforms within and thereby, individuals cannot freely receive or seek information that is found on media platforms or on the internet. Secondly, the military authorities are arbitrarily interfering with the right to privacy of individuals, set out under Article 12, as the interference is not essential in the interests of the society, as in practice the interference leads to insecurity within the society as the civilians cannot communicate with each other especially within active conflict zones. Moreover, the objective of interference of the military is to control the population and especially those who are anti-military, though impeding access to communications is not essential in the interest of the society as the civilian population is fighting for the return of the democratic government. Thereby, the motives of the military are merely self-serving in interfering with individuals’ privacy and correspondence and can be seen as arbitrary. Additionally, actions such as accessing personal data through surveillance of electronic communications and the interception of various avenues of communication, such as Facebook and WhatsApp are prohibited under Article 19.

Therefore, Myanmar is urged by the UN and various human rights organisations, such as the Human Rights Watch, to stop impeding access to the internet and thereby allow free flow of information to citizens, in line with their rights to freedom of expression and receiving information. In addition, the military authorities and the government are asked to respect individuals' right to privacy by ceasing actions of surveillance and intercepting communication avenues for its people. As the aforementioned rights are fundamental human rights and critical for a well-functioning society, people of Myanmar should be able to enjoy freedom in regard to them.

 

 

Sources and further readings:

 

Andrew Nachemson, ‘Why is Myanmar’s military blocking the internet?’ Al Jazeera (4 March 2021) <https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/3/4/myanmar-internet-blackouts> accessed 27 June 2024.

 

Grant Peck, ‘Myanmar’s embattled military government cracks down on free flow of news by blocking VPNs’ Independent (14 June 2024) <https://www.independent.co.uk/news/myanmar-ap-internet-vpns-facebook-b2562970.html> accessed 27 June 2024.

 

HRC, ‘CCPR General Comment No. 16: Article 17 (Right to Privacy) The Right to Respect of Privacy, Family, Home and Correspondence and Protection of Honour and Reputation’ (1988) UN Doc HRI/GEN/1/Rev.9 (Vol 1).

 

‘Myanmar cracks down on flow of information by blocking VPNs’ Associated Press (14 June 2024) <https://www.voanews.com/a/myanmar-cracks-down-on-flow-of-information-by-blocking-vpns-/7657052.html> accessed 27 June 2024.

 

‘Myanmar: UN experts condemn military’s ‘digital dictatorship’’ UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (7 June 2022)<https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/06/myanmar-un-experts-condemn-militarys-digital-dictatorship> accessed 27 June 2024.

 

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 10 December 1948 UNGA Res 217 A(III) (UDHR).