Burma’s military chief on Wednesday rejected charges that the armed forces had committed war crimes in the past, following calls for international accountability for blatant rights violations by government soldiers during the five decades under military junta rule.
“We are a military that adheres not only civil and to martial laws and regulations, but also to the Geneva Convention,” Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said in an address to mark Armed Forces Day at a ceremony attended for the first time by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Speaking in front of more than 6,000 troops gathered near the presidential palace, he said the military, known as the Tatmadaw, has never committed genocide and abides by international conventions.
"There is no such thing as genocide in the history of our Tatmadaw,” he said at the ceremony as jets, artillery, and tanks paraded through the capital Naypyidaw in a show of strength of the country’s military.
“Since we train our Tatmadaw men to acknowledge and adhere to the Geneva Convention, our Tatmadaw have never committed any war crimes and soldiers who [committed punishable acts] have had effective action taken against them according to military regulations.”
The U.N.’s special envoy for human rights in Burma has said rights violations committed by the military under junta rule could amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity and in 2010 recommended the U.N. establish a fact-finding commission to investigate the issue.
Rights groups have documented abuses in the military’s long-running war against armed ethnic groups, including forced labor, killings, torture, the displacement of ethnic minority people, and the use of rape as a weapon to terrorize them.
The military’s actions in some cases were cited as a form of genocide.
The Geneva Conventions of 1949 sets forth minimum standards for the proper treatment of persons within a warring party's control, namely civilians and wounded and captured combatants.
The military will continue to play a “leading role” in politics amid Burma’s transition toward democracy, and the armed forces must remain strong to protect the country’s constitution, commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing said.
Burma’s constitution, written in 2008 under junta rule, preserves former generals’ power in the country and provides amnesty for junta members for actions they performed in their official capacity.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s attended the Armed Forces Day event for the first time, in a move underscoring the country’s transformation since the former junta ceded power to a reformist government two years ago.
She was accompanied by leaders of ethnic minority parties and watched the parade of soldiers and military hardware from a front-row seat.
Aung San Suu Kyi, a former dissident who spent the better part of two decades under house arrest by the military before joining parliament last year following reforms, has said that she remains "fond" of the military.
The Armed Forces Day event commemorates Burma’s resistance against Japanese occupiers at the start of World War II and is remembered by opposition supporters as Revolution Day.
Asked why Aung San Suu Kyi attended the event, NLD parliamentarian Min Thu said the party leader thought Burma needs the military’s support for the country’s transition to democracy.
“I guess that Aung San Su Kyi attended the Armed Forces celebration because the commander-in-chief invited her to attend,” he said adding that she is the daughter of Burmese independence hero General Aung San who created the country’s army.
“She believes that a democratic country cannot be built without the military’s support,” he said.
This year’s Armed Forces Day came amid ongoing communal violence in central Burma following clashes in Meikhtila last week that killed at least 40 and left tens of thousands displaced. President Thein Sein has deployed the military to contain the violence in several areas.
In a statement commemorating Revolution Day, the NLD urged the Burmese people, political parties, and organizations to work with patience toward stability and for the country’s development.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.