Serious human rights violations, particularly against ethnic minorities, have been a stark reality in Myanmar for many decades. The Rohingya crisis that deteriorated in 2017 and the ongoing abuses in areas of armed conflict such as Kachin, Rakhine, and Shan States, and more recently in response to anti-coup protests, demonstrate the recurrence of violence and trauma. During these decades of violence and ongoing violations, civil society initiatives inside and outside the country have attempted to monitor and document human rights abuses in order to contribute towards accountability and truth-telling. Despite the vast array of civil society documentation efforts, this work has sparked limited scholarly debate, especially concerning the complexities of existing multi-layered systems of documentation. This article analyses the current scope of documentation work related to serious human rights violations in Myanmar and the methods, standards, and audiences of various initiatives. We distinguish three layers of civil society documentation: (i) initiatives carried out on the local level in Myanmar and the various border areas; (ii) initiatives carried out by the refugee and diaspora communities; and (iii) third-party initiatives. We then analyse two elements that complicate documentation efforts, namely the risk of ‘over-documentation’, and issues of hierarchy and contestation. These challenges make clear the value of strengthening partnerships and cooperation for all groups involved in documentation work that aims to promote and protect human rights. We end by cautiously considering the potential impact, value, and limitations of Myanmar’s multi-layered documentation efforts for accountability and truth-telling in the aftermath of the 2021 military coup.
- civil society
- human rights violations
- international criminal justice