MYANMAR — An independent United Nations investigation into alleged human rights abuses carried out against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar has called for the country’s military leaders to be investigated and prosecuted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The damning report contains allegations of murder, imprisonment and sexual violence against the Rohingyas, carried out by the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, under the guise of a crackdown on terrorists, and against a backdrop of impunity that effectively placed military leaders above the law.
“Military necessity would never justify killing indiscriminately, gang raping women, assaulting children, and burning entire villages. The Tatmadaw’s tactics are consistently and grossly disproportionate to actual security threats, especially in Rakhine State, but also in northern Myanmar,” the report said.
The report recommends the case be referred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, or for an ad hoc tribunal to be created to investigate the actions of the alleged perpetrators. Six military leaders are named in the report, including Commander-in-Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing.
UN investigators found that the Myanmar’s civilian government had “contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes” through their “acts and omissions.”
“The State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has not used her de facto position as Head of Government, nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events in Rakhine State,” it states.
Last August, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims started fleeing across the border into Bangladesh into what’s since become the world’s biggest refugee camp. Many of those who crossed the border have recounted horrific stories of being driven from their homes under threat of death.
Myanmar’s military has repeatedly denied that it has deliberately attacked unarmed Rohingya. Instead, the authorities insist that it only targets Rohingya militants, mostly from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) insurgent group, that have launched deadly attacks on police posts.
“There is no evidence that Myanmar soldiers committed any human rights violations in their response to the ARSA terrorist attacks of 2017. We have recently formed a new independent commission, which will investigate alleged rights abuses in Rakhine State including rape. We will treat any case in accordance with the rule of law,” Zaw Htay, a spokesman for Myanmar’s presidential office told CNN earlier in August.
Despite being barred access to the affected regions, investigators conducted 875 interviews with victims and eyewitnesses, and examined satellite images, forensic and other documentary evidence.
The report by the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar concludes that human rights violations in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states “undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law.”
In the past, the United Nations has called the alleged campaign of violence, including mass killings, rape and the burning of Rohingya villages by Myanmar government forces a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” while UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee has said that the attacks bear the “hallmarks of genocide.”
The report says the actions of the military compare to previous examples of genocide.
“The crimes in Rakhine State, and the manner in which they were perpetrated, are similar in nature, gravity and scope to those that have allowed genocidal intent to be established in other contexts,” it says, including “policies… to alter the demographic composition of Rakhine State; the level of organization indicating a plan for destruction; and the extreme scale and brutality of the violence.”
Once seen as a defender of human rights, Myanmar state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has been heavily criticized for her failure to act as the scale of the attacks against the Rohingya emerged.
Speaking on August 21 following a lecture in Singapore, Suu Kyi again reiterated the government’s claim that “terrorist activities” remain a threat in Myanmar’s Rakhine state that has to be addressed.
“The danger of terrorist activities, which was the initial cause of events leading to the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine remains real and present today. Unless this security challenge is addressed, the risk of inter-communal violence will remain,” she said.
The refugees languishing in camps in Bangladesh are set to be sent home under a repatriation agreement made between Myanmar and Bangladesh. However the timing of their return is uncertain.
Suu Kyi said last week that it was “very difficult” to put a timeframe on the return of tens of thousands of Rohingyas, because the country has to work with Bangladesh to make it happen.