Japan believes that Myanmar did not commit state-sponsored genocide against Rohingya Muslims during a 2017 military-led crackdown that left thousands dead and drove more than 740,000 out of the country, Japan's ambassador to Myanmar said Thursday, despite legal action being taken on related charges in international courts.
Ambassador Ichiro Maruyama told the Myanmar media during a press conference in the commercial capital Yangon that the Japanese government does not hold that genocide occurred in northern Rakhine state during military-led violence that began more than two years ago and included indiscriminate killings, mass rape, torture, and village burnings.
He also said that he is praying that the International Court of Justice (ICJ), where Myanmar faces genocide charges, will not order emergency measures to prevent further atrocities from being conducted against the minority group.
“We fully believe that there is no genocide in Myanmar,” he said. “We are praying and hoping that the ICJ will not issue a ruling for provisional measures.”
Maruyama, a leading diplomat of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told the press in Burmese that he met with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing separately in Yangon and informed them that the Japanese government stands with Myanmar in the face of legal action against the Southeast Asian country at both the ICJ and the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Myanmar is facing genocide charges for its treatment of the Rohingya at the ICJ where Muslim-majority Gambia brought a lawsuit against the country on behalf of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Two weeks ago, Aung San Suu Kyi led her country’s defense team at a court hearing on provisional measures in the case. She denied that that violence meted out against the Rohingya was done with genocidal intent, and said it was a “clearance operation” to rid the area of Muslim insurgents.
The Japanese government admired Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to lead the defense team at the ICJ and hopes that both the Myanmar government and the military will take action on an upcoming report by the Myanmar-appointed Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) that is investigating allegations of human rights violations related to the crackdown, Maruyama said.
Formed in August 2018, the commission includes senior Philippine diplomat Rosario Manalo, Japan’s former U.N. ambassador Kenzo Oshima, Myanmar lawyer Mya Thein, and Myanmar economist and former U.N. official Aung Tun Thet.
The commission is expected to complete its final report by mid-January 2020.
Early release ‘inappropriate’
Despite Japan’s support for Myanmar, Maruyama called the early release of seven soldiers convicted of indiscriminately murdering 10 Rohingyas in northern Rakhine’s Inn Din village during the crackdown “inappropriate” and said the incident makes it more difficult for the country to regain international credibility.
In March 2018, a military court sentenced four officers and three soldiers to 10-year prison sentences for the killings, but Min Aung Hlaing pardoned and freed them in November of that year.
Myanmar faces other lawsuits, including one filed in November in Argentina that names Aung San Suu Kyi herself under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” and an authorization by the ICC to investigate crimes against humanity over the alleged forced deportation of the Rohingya.
A U.N.-mandated independent fact-finding commission concluded that the attacks on the Rohingya were carried out with “genocidal intent” and warned that the roughly 600,000 Rohingya currently living in Myanmar face a “serious risk of genocide.”
Rights groups and some nations have said that the campaign of violence amounted to ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, or genocide itself.
Canada and the Netherlands have officially announced that they support Gambia in its ICJ lawsuit against Myanmar.
Monywa Aung Shin, a spokesman for Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, welcomed the ambassador’s public comments of support.
“Japan and the Japanese government have been helping Myanmar government all the time,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “Japan has provided financial assistance in several instances when we were experiencing crises. They are also providing humanitarian aid.”
“Now the Japanese are showing support with regard to our leader defending us against the ICJ lawsuit,” he said. “We are very glad that Japan is standing up for the truth. This is very good sign for our bilateral relationship.”
RFA could not reach Chan Aye, director general of the International Organizations and Economic Department at Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for comment.
Aung Myo Min, director of the human rights education agency Equality Myanmar, said Japan, like some other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), would rather focus on maintaining its regional political and economic relations than condemn Myanmar over an internal matter.
“Japan and most ASEAN countries are more dedicated to promoting cooperation with the Myanmar government and never take the approach of harsh denunciation,” he told RFA. “So, I conclude that they are saying this in accordance with their foreign policy.”
“Whether it is genocide or crimes against humanity, regardless of what the label is, we cannot deny that there are human rights violations in Myanmar,” he added. “Whatever the approach is, either cooperation or denunciation, I’d like to urge all nations to work together to stop these rights violations.”
This is not the first time that Maruyama has publicly commented on an issue related to the Rohingya crisis.
In May, he advised the dominant ethnic Rakhine political party in Rakhine state during a visit to the area that it should work to resolve the crisis as soon as possible because it had caused widespread international interest.
Teppei Kasai, a Tokyo-based program officer for the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, wrote in a June essay in the online publication The Diplomat that Japan’s main aim in Myanmar is to promote its business interests in Myanmar.
“Japan’s decision to side with the Myanmar government’s political rhetoric is unsettling,” he wrote. “But it is only a small part of Tokyo’s eager embrace of the Myanmar government’s attempt to divert attention away from the Rohingya crisis, and instead to promote foreign business opportunities in war-torn Rakhine state.”
In February, Japan and Myanmar organized an investment fair in Rakhine state to attract foreign and national investors despite rights abuses and the massive displacement of people there.
Then in October, Aung San Suu Kyi went to Tokyo to speak at a conference sponsored by the Japan External Trade Organization to promote investment and business opportunities in Myanmar.
Japan is the fourth largest investor in Myanmar after Singapore, China, and the Netherlands. The country has provided financial support for numerous large-scale infrastructure projects with its investment in Myanmar hitting an all-time peak of roughly $1.48 billion in fiscal year 2017, according to Myanmar’s Ministry of Planning and Finance.
Reported by Nay Myo Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.