Preventing hate speech, incitement and discrimination: the case of Myanmar

2 February 2022

A case study by GAAMAC’s Asia Pacific Study Group explains the historical and cultural contexts as well as the political dynamics of hate speech and incitement in Myanmar. 

Hate speech and incitement remain very serious concerns in Myanmar given the strong prejudice against the Rohingya, and more generally the lack of trust amongst different religious and ethnic communities. The situation is not helped by the absence of mitigating factors, such as civilian control over the military, robust and independent accountability mechanisms, and the rule of law.  

Since the eruption of communal violence in Rakhine in 2012, the problem of hate speech and incitement in Myanmar had not been adequately addressed by either the Union for Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) or the National League for Democracy (NLD) governments. The current version of the draft law remains problematic as it fails to conform to international norms under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.  

Much of the work in combating hate speech and incitement in Myanmar has been pursued by non-state actors. However, the impact of these efforts remains to be seen, specifically in building trust and improving interfaith and communal relations among different religious and ethnic groups in Myanmar.

Major setbacks after the 2021 coup   

In fact, the February 2021 coup has undermined whatever limited achievements were made under the precarious democratic transition in Myanmar since 2010 up until the ousting of the National League for Democracy (NLD) government. The coup was a major setback to efforts by various stakeholders in the country in building awareness about the importance of preventing the use of hate speech and incitement to violence, which have been perpetrated mainly by soldiers and police forces against civilians who are defying the violent crackdown of the junta against coup protestors.

While social media platforms have responded swiftly by indefinitely banning accounts identified with the military in Myanmar, hate speech and incitement to violence are likely to intensify even as the widespread protests in the country evolve into urban warfare against the junta. Anti-coup protesters have also used dehumanising language against soldiers and policemen, which could further perpetuate the cycle of hate and incitement to violence.

Regional and international responses

International response to the Rohingya under the framework of the UN and its agencies has focused on accountability and justice since August 2017. However, the previous NLD government was uncooperative in pursuing both and, following the February coup, it is highly unlikely that the junta will respond positively to international calls to address hate speech, incitement, discrimination, and prejudice against minority groups.

Meanwhile, at the regional level, ASEAN and other regional stakeholders could take advantage of opportunities to engage stakeholders in Myanmar. ASEAN, through its existing mechanisms, is open to capacity building in areas that may be linked to human rights protection, atrocities prevention, and combatting hate speech and incitement. This may be pursued through education and training, policy research, and regional/national dialogues that are aligned with ASEAN’s priorities under its ASEAN Community blueprints, including the development of culture of prevention where hate speech and incitement could be addressed. More important, ASEAN is open to engaging non-state actors in the region through partnerships in projects, workshops, and seminars for government and non-government sectors.

This article is a summary of the chapter on Myanmar in the report Preventing Hate Speech, Incitement, And Discrimination – Lessons On Promoting Tolerance And Respect For Diversity In The Asia Pacific.

Read the chapter on Myanmar   

Read the full report  

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