Politicians in Myanmar on Friday rejected international pressure to hold the country’s powerful military accountable for a brutal crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority group.
The government of Aung San Sui Kyi has faced mounting pressure over the 2017 campaign that pushed more than 700,000 members of the Muslim minority group to Bangladesh.
The Rohingya were also subjected to indiscriminate killings, rape, and torture, and their villages were burned during a campaign of violence that began on Aug. 25, 2017, in northern Rakhine state in response to deadly attacks on police outposts by a Rohingya militant group.
The latest international figure to call for Myanmar leaders to take action against top military brass that ordered the crackdown was British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
“What is essential now is that the perpetrators of any atrocities are brought to justice, because without that there can be no solution to the huge refugee problem,” Hunt said in a statement issued Thursday. “We will use all the tools at our disposal to try and make sure there is accountability.”
That day, Hunt wrapped up a two-day visit to Myanmar during which he met State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint and toured northern Rakhine to meet with different groups who live in the multiethnic state.
Hunt’s appeal was rebuffed by politicians across the spectrum in Myanmar.
Zaw Htay, spokesman for Aung San Suu Kyi, suggested that foreign delegates who visit Myanmar put trade above the Rakhine issue, because the country’s political situation will become more stable if there is a strong economy, and vice versa.
“Now the government has to spend a lot of time and energy only on this Rakhine issue,” he said. “For example, whenever we have an international delegation, they raise the Rakhine issue first followed by other important topics such as developing international ties and then trade.”
Request is 'unacceptable'
Nandar Hla Myint, spokesman of the opposition, army-supported Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), said Hunt’s request that the government prosecute top military leaders is unacceptable.
“Right now, the international community has pressured us to prosecute our military leaders,” he said. “It is the international community that is flagrantly interfering in our domestic issues, and we can’t accept it.”
“It is important to resolve this problem without hurting the country, the people, and the country’s stability and development,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“The government shouldn’t do something whenever it faces international pressure,” he said.
Nandar Hla Myint dismissed the Rohingya as “people from the other country who cross the border illegally and live in our country,” underlining the prevailing hard-line view of the ethnic group as Bengali immigrants from Bangladesh.
Myo Nyunt, spokesman of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said that Myanmar's constitution does not allow the government to prosecute top military leaders, as Hunt requested.
“The constitution says the military can determine and act independently on military matters,” he said about the charter drafted in 2008 by a former military junta that ruled the government at the time.
“It means that the military acted [in Rakhine] according to its constitutional rights, so it would be difficult for the government to take action against it,” he said.
‘It will take time’
Hunt’s visit came just after a United Nations-mandated fact-finding mission that investigated atrocities committed against the Rohingya in Rakhine state issued a comprehensive report on Tuesday, providing chilling details of violence by security forces and calling for the prosecution of defense force commanders as well as the removal of the country’s military from politics.
The mission also called for Myanmar commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and other top leaders to be prosecuted for genocide.
That same day, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary probe into whether Myanmar’s “forced deportations” of Rohingya to Bangladesh can constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.
The ICC decided earlier this month that it has jurisdiction over the alleged crime of deportation because Bangladesh is a member of the international tribunal though Myanmar is not.
Tun Khin, chairman of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, suggested that the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) be used as another way prosecute military commanders responsible for the atrocities.
The U.N. General Assembly set up the IIIM in December 2016 to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for committing the most serious crimes in Syria under international law.
“But it will take time,” he said. “If we have international support, we can do it quickly.”
Kachin group weighs in
Meanwhile, the World Kachin Congress on Friday welcomed both the ICC probe and the U.N. fact-finding mission’s report on evidence of genocide against the Rohingya as well as crimes against humanity committed against ethnic minorities in Myanmar's Shan and Kachin states.
Fighting between ethnic armed groups and the Myanmar military in the latter two states has displaced roughly 110,000 civilians, many of whom have been unable to return to their homes as the conflicts continue. Rights groups have accused Myanmar authorities of denying humanitarian access to displaced people in the regions.
Moon Nay Li, general secretary of the Kachin Women's Association of Thailand, told RFA that Kachin civilians in Myanmar have suffered greatly at the hands of the military for decades.
“It is important for the military to stop offensive attacks and remove its camps from ethnic areas,” she said. “If they do this, then we can build more trust when we have peace talks and it will support having the federal union that we want.”
Reported by Khin Khin Ei, Wai Mar Tun, and Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.