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Report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar – Human Rights Council

September 20, 2018

Burma 2A fact-finding mission on Myanmar has concluded that the security forces in that country, specifically the Myanmar military – the Tatmadaw – have committed what amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity, in its treatment of several ethnic and religious minorities in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States.

In the case of the Rohingya in Rakhine, the Mission also concluded “there is sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Tatmadaw chain of command, so that a competent court can determine their liability for genocide.”

“The gross human rights violations and abuses committed in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States are shocking for their horrifying nature and ubiquity,” states the report. “Many of these violations undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law. [The violations] stem from deep fractures in society and structural problems that have been apparent and unaddressed for decades. They are shocking for the level of denial, normalcy and impunity that is attached to them.”

The findings are part of the report to the Human Rights Council submitted by the Mission’s chairperson, Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia, and experts Radhika Coomaraswamy of Sri Lanka and Christopher Sidoti of Australia.

The Mission was tasked by the Human Rights Council to establish the facts and circumstances of alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces, and abuses, in Myanmar. The Mission focused on the situation in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States since 2011.

The publication comes at the end of an 18-month fact-finding mission into alleged human-rights abuses, after the flight of more than 700,000 Muslim-minority Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh in August last year. The military launched a crack­down in Rakhine state last summer after Rohingya militants carried out deadly attacks on police posts.

The report discusses the systematic marginalization and “othering” of the Rohingya through State policies and practices that have been implemented over decades. The Rohingya are in a continuing situation of severe, systemic and institutionalized oppression from birth to death. The cornerstone and symbol of this system is their complete lack of legal status, including the denial of citizenship. Disturbingly, the report concludes that, although generally using less inflammatory language, the rhetoric of the Myanmar authorities has mirrored and promoted hateful and divisive narratives. This has fostered a climate in which virulent hate speech thrives.

The Mission documented mass killings, large-scale gang rape and other sexual violence, grave violations against children, and the deliberate and systematic destruction of entire villages, among other serious violations.

“The scale, brutality and systematic nature of rape and sexual violence indicate that they are part of a deliberate strategy to intimidate, terrorize or punish a civilian population”, said Coomaraswamy of the Mission. “They are used as a tactic of war”. The report defines sexual violence as one of four “hallmarks of Tatmadaw operations”, along with the targeting of civilians, exclusionary rhetoric and impunity.

“Rape and other forms of sexual violence were perpetrated on a massive scale. Rape and sexual violence are part of a deliberate strategy to intimidate, terrorise or punish a civilian population, and are used as a tactic of war,” it argues.

The Mission based its findings on a variety of sources, including 875 in-depth interviews with victims and eyewitnesses, satellite imagery analysis and a range of authenticated documents, photos and videos. The team received no cooperation from the Myanmar government nor was allowed to enter the country.

The report is unequivocal in who is most responsible for the human rights crisis in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin States: responsibility firmly lays with the Tatmadaw. The report goes so far as to name some of those responsible, including the Tatmadaw Commander in Chief, Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, and five other senior generals.

“The consistent, tactical formula employed by the Tatmadaw exhibits a level of coordination only possible when all troops are acting under the effective control of a single unified command,” the report states. “This effective control, combined with knowledge of crimes committed by subordinates, a failure to take necessary and reasonable measures to prevent and punish crimes and the casual link between these failures and that atrocities committed indicate that individual criminal liability would extend beyond individual perpetrators and to their hierarchical commanders.”

The report notes that the civilian authorities have limited powers to control the Tatmadaw, and the Mission did not find anything to suggest that they directly planned or implemented the security operations. However, the report also identifies how the civilian authorities did contribute to the commission of atrocity crimes, through its acts and omissions. It also expresses deep disappointment in the State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, for not using her position or her moral authority to do anything in the face of the unfolding events in Rakhine State.

In establishing the facts, the Mission hopes to contribute to the realization of the right to the truth of victims and the people of Myanmar as a whole. “Without the truth, Myanmar will not be able to ensure a prosperous and stable future for its people, all its people”, said Marzuki Darusman.

“The military as an institution has never been held accountable,” added Christopher Sidoti. “The provisions of Myanmar law, the structure of the legal system and the judiciary’s lack of independence and of legal competence, make it impossible for the domestic legal system to deliver justice for victims of human rights violations by the military.” The report concludes that the impetus for accountability must therefore come from the international community.

The report recommends decisive action by the international community including: for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or create an ad hoc international criminal tribunal, to adopt targeted individual sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes against those who appear most responsible, and an arms embargo on Myanmar. It also proposes the establishment of a UN trust fund to support victims.

“[This mission] was undertaken with a view to recommend an accountability mechanism to be put in place, subsequent to our report,” said Darusman. “We hope that this will be immediate…and that the UN will then carry on where we left off. We hope the truth will finally come out.”

It responded within minutes of the report’s publication by removing accounts belonging to the country’s military.

“We want to prevent them from using our service to further inflame ethnic and religious tensions,” the company said.

The Fact-finding Mission also criticised the UN itself for not doing enough to address human rights concerns and called for an inquiry into the UN’s involvement with Myanmar since 2011. The Mission said it would release a more detailed report on 18 September.

The Mission did not have access into Myanmar to compile its report, but instead used satellite evidence, interviews with refugees, and photographs and video footage to determine its findings.

To use the term genocide, the Mission had to prove “genocidal intent”. It argued that its findings of crimes, and the manner in which they were perpetrated, in Rakine state could be compared to other conflicts where such intent had been established.

The report also says that some abuses were committed by armed ethnic groups in Kachin and Shan states, and by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in Rakhine.

Myanmar’s representative to the UN has rejected the report, saying that it was based on “one-sided information”. China has also said that putting pressure on Myanmar is “not helpful”.

THE language of the United Nations investigation of the “clearances” of Rakhine state by the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar military, is remarkably measured, given the atrocities that it lists in its assessment of events since August 2017: “The crimes in Rakhine State, and the manner in which they were perpetrated, are similar in nature, gravity and scope to those that have allowed genocidal intent to be established in other contexts.” In other words, there is clear evidence that genocidal acts were deliberately carried out against the Rohingya people. The report lists the hallmarks of the Tatmadaw action, that caused hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas to flee, without food, water, or shelter, into Bangladesh: the targeting of civilians, sexual violence, exclusionary rhetoric (often through the medium of Facebook, which, finally, since having been criticised in the report, has blocked key military accounts), and impunity. Far from being held accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the military perpetrators have enjoyed enhanced popularity. The violence, the UN report says, “has been used by the military to reaffirm itself as the protector of a nation under threat, and further cement its political role” ­— a remarkable reversal, it says, given the democracy movement’s long struggle against its rule. The silence of Myanmar’s once-iconic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has led to accusations that she is complicit in the violence. “[She] has not used her de facto position as head of government, nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events in Rakhine state” the UN report says.

There is no prospect of immediate return for the refugees, however much they and their Bangladeshi hosts might wish it. It will require not only a reversal of intention in the military government to ensure their safety, but a complete change of mood in the country, where the Buddhist majority are, in general, pleased to see the back of the Muslim “Bengalis”. Although the problems are essentially ethnic and political, such a change of heart falls into the realm of religion. Buddhism is no different from Christianity or Islam in its ability to turn a blind eye to violence when it is given a nationalistic gloss, or when the other side is portrayed as the aggressor; but it is to be hoped that the incontrovertible evidence from the UN gives religious leaders in Myanmar pause. Otherwise it will be necessary to conclude that the military action was completely successful.

The existence of up to a million refugees in camps in Bangladesh — surviving on only one third of the donations said by the UN to be needed — is a clarion call for sacrificial generosity by people in the developed world as a mark of their thankfulness at living away from such violence. How hard it is, therefore, to hear the British Prime Minister announce on Monday: “I am unashamed about the need to ensure that our aid programme works for the UK.” Theresa May described the aid budget, of which the UK Government has previously been so proud, as an “investment” that will now “support our own national interest”.

BurmaOther quotations:

I will not go back until they recognize our rights like others in Myanmar. I would Rather prefer to die here

The Tatmadaw soldiers don’t treat us like humans, they treat us like animals. They look at us like we shouldn’t even exist.

There were no rebels in my village. But the army just came and attacked the people.

Since my son was forcibly recruited in 2016, I have not heard from him. I always check Facebook to see if I will recognise him in a post, either dead or alive.

I am not a very educated person but I hope the United Nations has the ability to get us justice by making sure that the Government of Myanmar can be questioned about what they did to us

It’s online here.

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