The United Nations has been ramping up pressure on Myanmar to hold accountable military officials responsible for what it has called the ethnic cleansing of and genocide against Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state. Security forces stand accused of committing atrocities against the minority group and driving more than 800,000 of them out of the country and into Bangladesh during two crackdowns that began in October 2016 and August 2017.
In late August, an investigation team appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council said top military commanders in Myanmar should be investigated and prosecuted for the “gravest crimes” committed against civilians under international law, including genocide, in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan states.
On Sept. 7, The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) decided that it has jurisdiction to investigate and possibly prosecute the crime against humanity of deportation of the Rohingya to Bangladesh. Myanmar, however, maintains that the ICC has no say because the country is not a party to the Rome Statute which created the international tribunal. Immediately following the court’s decision, rights groups called on the U.N. Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC to investigate all atrocity crimes committed in the country.
And on Monday, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called for a new "mechanism" to prepare criminal indictments for atrocities, including murder, torture, and rape, committed against the Rohingya.
In the meantime, Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, who also serves as foreign affairs minister, plans to skip the U.N. General Assembly session beginning next week in New York, as she did last year. Myint Tun, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, discussed Myanmar’s participation in the upcoming U.N. General Assembly session with reporter Wai Mar Tun of RFA’s Myanmar Service. The following is an edited version of their conversation.
RFA: Who will attend the U.N. General Assembly as Myanmar representatives?
Myint Tun: A delegation led by Kyaw Tint Swe, minister of the State Counselor’s Office, and Kyaw Tin, minister of the Ministry of International Cooperation, will attend. The General Assembly's regular session usually lasts three months, but the Myanmar delegation will attend the plenary session and several important sideline meetings. The other committee members will stay until the session ends. The Myanmar delegation will leave for New York next week and will be there for about 10 days.
RFA: Aung San Suu Kyi attended U.N. General Assemblies in the past when she was an opposition leader, but now she is a state leader. Do you think she should attend this year’s Assembly to talk about Myanmar’s situation?
Myint Tun: State counselors, presidents, and prime ministers usually attend only high-level panels. This one is just an annual General Assembly. That’s why she isn’t attending, but rather is sending a delegation.
RFA: How will you respond if another delegate or some countries complain about the Rakhine issue or put pressure on Myanmar?
Myint Tun: Myanmar’s stance is to work with U.N. organizations, including the Security Council. The Myanmar delegation will declare this stance at the General Assembly as well. We will also work together with our ally countries [and] explain to them the developments in Rakhine state that we have been working on, such as the rapid assessment surveys that have begun today. Myanmar’s permanent representative to the United Nations will talk about this at the U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva as well.
RFA: The international community often talks about satellite photos of the destruction of Muslim villages in Rakhine state. What will you say about this at the Assembly?
Myint Tun: The U.N.’s fact-finding mission submitted a report about it a few weeks ago. Myanmar has already announced our stance on this as well. We will also announce our stance at the Assembly.
RFA: What if someone brings up the issue of the possible prosecution of Myanmar’s top military generals at the ICC?
Myint Tun: We are not a party to the Rome Statute, and we don’t accept that the ICC has brought Myanmar under its jurisdiction. If someone brings up the ICC issue during the U.N. Assembly, we will explain our stance and defend it.
RFA: Myanmar says Bangladesh has ignored its demands to provide documents and work with it to begin repatriating Rohingya refugees who fled from northern Rakhine state, while Bangladesh has blamed Myanmar for the delays. How will the Myanmar delegation explain this situation to international leaders at the Assembly?
Myint Tun: We will work with Bangladesh according to the agreement that both countries signed in November 2017. Bangladesh will have an election [later this year], and everybody knows that the refugee repatriation issue is being used to gain political advantage. Despite any blaming or accusations by Bangladesh, we will keep working on this issue.
RFA: How are the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR) conducting the rapid assessment surveys that began today in Rakhine state?
Myint Tun: They asked us for permission to visit 31 village tracts, but Myanmar has allowed them to visit 12 village groups in 23 village tracts. They requested permission to visit three additional villages, and we granted it. The UNDP and UNHCR will conduct their surveys freely by asking villagers about their social situation, education, health care, work, and the difficulties they face. The U.N. groups will also discuss with villagers how to live together peacefully with people who are returning from Bangladesh and their job opportunities. The U.N. agencies will create working plans based on the results of their surveys. The Myanmar government is allowing the U.N. agencies to travel freely and will support them and provide help and security as needed.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.