The United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday said it will dispatch an independent, international fact-finding mission to investigate alleged recent human rights violations by the Myanmar military and security forces in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
The mission will be looking into reports of murder, rape, torture, and arson by security forces in Rohingya Muslim communities in the northern part of the state during a four-month crackdown that began last October following deadly attacks on border guard posts blamed on Rohingya militants.
About 1,000 people died during the operations and more than 77,000 Rohingya fled, mostly to neighboring Bangladesh where they are living in refugee camps.
Myanmar disassociated itself from the draft of the European Union-backed resolution, and specifically from the call for the urgent dispatch of a fact-finding mission, according to a statement by the U.N. Human Rights Council (OHCHR).
The country said it was committed to finding a sustainable solution to the situation in Rakhine state, and that based on the findings and recommendations of a national investigation commission and an advisory commission for Myanmar would put in place a long-term peace-building plan for Rakhine state.
Presidential spokesman Zaw Htay told RFA’s Myanmar Service that it was not fair for the council to send a separate mission to look into the human rights abuse allegations, given the country’s national-level commission led by Vice President Myint Swe and a Rakhine advisory commission headed by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan.
“It is totally unfair and counter to international practice that other countries have decided to send a separate mission to investigate violations when we haven’t completed our own investigations,” he said. “Their action shows a lack of respect to the host country.”
He added that the Myanmar government would continue promoting and defending human rights as recommended by the United Nations and is implementing the country’s human rights policy.
“We’ll take action against the perpetrators,” he said in a reference to anyone found to have committed human rights abuses during the crackdown in Rakhine.
Zaw Htay said the country has to deal with other factors related to the recent crisis in Rakhine State that began last October along with important issues such as achieving national peace and reconciliation after decades of ethnic separatist civil wars.
“At this juncture, this U.N. resolution will not help our efforts to resolve these issues,” he said. “Therefore, we cannot agree with the resolution, and we have dissociated ourselves from it. We cannot accept this resolution.”
The resolution also states that Myanmar should continue to address systematic and institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya and other ethnic and religious minorities in the country.
Zaw Htay said that Myanmar’s Human Rights Commission will issue a report soon and that national leaders will continue to work for a long-lasting solution to the problems in Rakhine state.
The state is home to more than 1.1 million Rohingya who are denied citizenship and access to basic services because Myanmar considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Communal violence with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in 2012 left more than 200 people dead and displaced about 140,000 Rohingya who were forced to live in appalling conditions in internally displaced persons camps.
The independent mission, which will be appointed by the council’s president, will submit an update on its work during the body’s autumn session.
China disassociated itself from the draft resolution, saying that the international community should look at the progress Myanmar has made in human rights and respect the country’s sovereignty by creating a favorable environment for the parties to resolve their differences through dialogue.
Rights groups applauded the move, with New York-based Human Rights Watch calling it a “step toward preventing future abuses and brining justice for victims” in Myanmar.
“The Human Rights Council’s authorization of an international fact-finding mission is crucial for ensuring that allegations of serious human rights abuses in Burma are thoroughly examined by experts, and to ensure that those responsible will ultimately be held accountable,” said John Fisher, HRW’s director in Geneva, Switzerland.
“Burma’s government should cooperate fully with the mission, including by providing unfettered access to all affected areas,” he said.
East Asia-based Fortify Rights called the move a “landmark resolution” and urged the Myanmar government to fully cooperate with it.
“We commend the Human Rights Council for this initiative. It’s long overdue,” said Matthew Smith, the group’s chief executive officer. “While this mission isn’t a silver bullet, it’s a welcome and positive move toward prevention and accountability.”
Relations with the military
The resolution comes as Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, tries to forge peace in a country wracked by fighting between ethnic armed groups and Myanmar’s powerful military, in addition to addressing the problems in Rakhine state.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s efforts to improve the government’s relationship with the country’s military is based on the need for reconciliation, rather than a struggle for power, Win Htein, spokesman of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), told RFA on Friday.
“Aung San Suu Kyi’s efforts to forge a better relationship with the military, including military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, is headed towards reconciliation and not meant to gain more power,” he said.
He noted that the country’s 2008 constitution, written by the army, gives control of the ministries of defense, home affairs, and border affairs to the military “whether we like it or not.”
Military officials also are appointed to a quarter of the seats in parliament.
Analysts say the military’s independence from control by elected politicians helps explain why Aung San Suu Kyi has not been able to respond effectively to widespread and numerous reports of army atrocities in Rakhine. The Nobel Peace laureate has been criticized internationally over the Rakhine bloodshed.
Though Aung San Suu Kyi has indicated that she would like to see the constitution amended to decrease the power of the military in government affairs, she has striven to maintain good relations with Min Aung Hlaing and the generals who head up the three ministries, Win Htein said.
The previous military junta that ruled the country for 50 years kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 years when she was head of the NLD, which was then the main opposition party.
As proof of improving ties between Aung San Suu Kyi and Min Aung Hlaing, Win Htein pointed to the general’s attendance at Martyrs' Day last July 19, which had been boycotted by the generals in the past.
The military chief also attended an interfaith religious ceremony held at Aug San Suu Kyi’s residence in Yangon that day.
“These are the fruits of Aung San Suu Kyi’s efforts to forge better ties with General Min Aung Hlaing, which are required for national reconciliation in the future,” said Win Htein.
“It’s a very incorrect assumption by local and foreign observers that Aung San Suu Kyi cannot overcome the military’s influence,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.