Accusations of genocide have been levelled at Myanmar’s military over its treatment of the Rohingya in a damning new UN report.
Released on Monday (27 August) and compiled by UN investigators Marzuki Darusman, Radhika Coomaraswamy and Christopher Sidoti, the report calls for the investigation and prosecution of military commanders in Myanmar for crimes committed against Rohingya civilians in the states of Rakhine, Kachin and Shan, prior to and during the mass exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya since last August.
The Independent International Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar lists murder, rape, torture, sexual slavery, persecution and enslavement among the litany of crimes committed by the military, known as the Tatmadaw, against the stateless majority-Muslim people. It is believed that more than 25,000 Rohingya have been killed since the beginning of the campaign of violence. These charges have been rejected by the Myanmar authorities following the publication of the report.
While the UN investigators were denied direct access to Myanmar, where former Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is prime minister, they were able to gain an insight into the atrocities through interviewing 875 Rohingya witnesses fleeing the country.
The report stated that the crimes committed, ‘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.’ This echoes accusations that have long been made by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The findings of the report are in stark contrast to those arising from an investigation carried out by the Myanmar military, which found the army not guilty of any wrongdoing. Individuals likely to face investigation for crimes against humanity following the UN’s report include Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar armed forces, and prime minister Aung San Suu Kyi.
It is unclear at this stage, however, whether those held responsible will be able to be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC), as Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome statute – the treaty establishing the ICC in 1998.
Speaking at a press conference in Geneva following the release of the report, investigator Christopher Sidoti said: “The Fact-finding Mission has concluded, on reasonable grounds, that the patterns of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law that it has found, amount to the gravest crime under international law.
“These have principally been committed by the military, the Tatmadaw. The Mission has concluded that criminal investigation and prosecution is warranted, focusing on the top Tatmadaw generals, in relation to the three categories of crimes under international law; genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.”
Jean Lambert MEP, who recently visited the Cox’s Bazar Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh in her capacity as Chair of the European Parliament’s South Asia delegation, said: “The UN report simply underlines the appalling reports we’ve already heard: Myanmar’s military has committed the most horrifying of crimes against the Rohingya people.
“The military, acting without any condemnation from the civilian government, has sought to wipe out an entire community – violently and indiscriminately killing tens of thousands of people. During my visits to Cox’s Bazar I’ve witnessed the devastating aftermath of this violence, and the living nightmare that continues to be experienced by the Rohingyas who escaped with their lives.
“In June, the European Parliament passed a resolution urging the Commission and Member States to ramp up the amount of humanitarian aid reaching the region. This is desperately needed. We also urged the international community to act to ensure that those perpetrating this atrocity aren’t let off the hook. The Rohingya people need answers, and they need justice. I echo the calls of Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and others for these grievous crimes to be referred to the ICC and will be calling on the EU to lead on doing that.”
You can read the full Report of the Independent International Fact-Finding mission on Myanmar on the UN Human Rights website.