A United Nations fact-finding mission that investigated atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state issued a report on Tuesday detailing violence by security forces and calling for the prosecution of top military commanders as well as the removal of the country’s powerful Tatmadaw (military) from politics.
The 444-page report by the three-person panel established by a mandate of the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council, presents extensive findings and fresh descriptions of serious human rights violations and abuses carried out against civilians primarily by the military, as well as violations of international humanitarian law in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan states.
As in the initial report issued on Aug. 27, the comprehensive report says Myanmar commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and other top military leaders should be prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya for a campaign that began in late August 2017 that killed thousands and drove some 700,000 of the Muslim ethnic minority into Bangladesh.
Government soldiers also stand accused of indiscriminate killings, torture, and rape of Rohingya and torching their homes during the crackdown.
“The actions of the Tatmadaw in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan states, in particular in the context of the ‘clearance operations’ in northern Rakhine state in 2016 and 2017, have so seriously violated international law that any engagement in any form with the Tatmadaw, its current leadership, and its businesses, is indefensible,” it said.
The new report calls for security sector reform in Myanmar by abolishing the 25-percent quota for military seats in parliament and the military’s control of three key ministries. It also calls for parliamentary approval of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
That formula, engineered by the military amid the transition from decades of army junta rule to an elected government, means that the administration of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi does not have control over the troops whose actions have tarnished Myanmar’s image and her own international prestige.
Under the terms set by the military, Aung San Suu Kyi herself cannot serve as president and instead rules as state counselor above a figurehead president.
“The government of Myanmar, including the civilian authorities and the Tatmadaw as relevant, should act without delay to restructure the Tatmadaw and transform its role. That should begin with replacing the current leadership of the Tatmadaw,” the report recommended.
“Through a constitutional amendment process, the government should further pursue the removal of the Tatmadaw from Myanmar’s political life,” it said.
The report also reiterates the mission’s call that the situation should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague or to an ad hoc international criminal tribunal.
“Many violations amount to the gravest crimes under international law,” the report says, adding that because of a culture of impunity with the military in Myanmar, the push for accountability must come from the international community.
Call for targeted sanctions
Tuesday’s report called on the U.N. Security Council to adopt targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on senior military officials responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, along with an arms embargo.
“The gross human rights violations and abuses committed in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan states are shocking for their horrifying nature and ubiquity,” the report’s conclusion says. “They are also shocking because they stem from deep fractures in society and structural problems that have been apparent and unaddressed for decades.”
Regarding the report’s recommendation that the military should be placed under the control of the government, Nyan Win, a member of the central executive committee of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government, said that is what the party of leader Aung San Suu Kyi has sought all along.
“That’s why we were fighting for democracy,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “The military is separate from the government, and it is not part of the NLD’s mission.”
“This is because of the 2008 constitution by a previous military government,” he said referring to the document written by army leaders that enshrines the military’s power in Myanmar's politics.
“Should the military be placed under the control of the government, we would be pleased,” Nyan Win said.
Zaw Htay, director general of the state counselor’s office, could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s permanent representative to the U.N., dismissed the commission’s report as “one-sided” and said his government does not recognize its mandate.
“Not only is this report detrimental to social cohesion in Rakhine state, it also undermines the government’s efforts to bring peace, national reconciliation and development to the entire nation,” he said in Geneva.
The government and military have denied committing most of the atrocities against the Rohingya in Rakhine state and have justified the “clearance operations” as a legitimate counterinsurgency against deadly attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Muslim militant group.
The mission’s report also said that some acts by ethnic armed groups and ARSA could amount to war crimes.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, called the report “an indisputable indictment of the Tatmadaw’s inhuman brutality that should jolt the international community into action.”
“The job before us now is to finally ensure accountability for Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and the Tatmadaw commanders and soldiers who have grown so accustomed to impunity for their atrocities that they think they can just ignore this report,” he said in an e-mailed statement.
“Starting next week at the U.N. Human Rights Council, they will see just how wrong they are,” he said.
ICC begins preliminary probe
Also on Tuesday, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a preliminary probe into whether Myanmar’s “forced deportations” of Rohingya to Bangladesh could 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.
“I have decided to proceed to the next phase of the preliminary examination process and to carry out a full-fledged preliminary examination of the situation at hand,” Bensouda said in a statement.
A preliminary examination is not a formal probe but a process of examining information available to reach an informed determination on whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation under criteria established by the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the international court.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.