UN: Myanmar’s Top Generals Should Be Tried for Genocide, War Crimes
Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where thousands of Rohingya Muslims have sought refuge after fleeing violence in Myanmar.
A year after a brutal campaign launched by Myanmar’s military drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from the country, a United Nations panel of experts published a report on Monday calling for senior officials in Myanmar’s military to be investigated and prosecuted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
It named Myanmar’s commander-in-chief, Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing and five other military leaders as the alleged perpetrators of crimes against international law, and called for the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court or create an ad hoc international criminal tribunal.
The military has maintained that the campaign, which began on Aug. 25, 2017 after a militant group known as Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked police posts and an army base in the state of Rakhine, was a counter-insurgency clearance operation against terrorists.
However, the report, the result of a yearlong fact-finding mission and hundreds of interviews, concluded that the campaign that began last August was a “foreseeable and planned catastrophe” that was “grossly disproportionate” to security threats.
The UN findings corroborate a recent FRONTLINE investigation into the military campaign in Myanmar’s Killing Fields. Correspondent Evan Williams uncovered footage secretly shot by activists and tracked down survivors and witnesses who showed that the military had targeted the Rohingya for widespread slaughter, burning their villages, killing and raping. Like the UN’s fact-finding mission, FRONTLINE found that the military’s campaign began after Rohingya Muslims were subjected to years of increasing discrimination and marginalization.
The report detailed the impact of the military’s campaign: people were killed by gunfire, large bladed weapons, and arson, and women were raped or gang-raped, and children were maimed, subjected to sexual violence and killed. Based on the information the mission collected, the report said “the estimate of up to 10,000 deaths is conservative.” It said at least 392 villages were partly or totally destroyed.
“The nature, scale and organization of the operations suggests a level of preplanning and design on the part of the [Myanmar military] leadership consistent with the vision of the Commander-in-Chief, Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing,” the report said.
It quoted the general calling the Rohingya issue “unfinished” business. The report said his words suggest that the military’s campaign was not a response to ARSA’s attacks on Aug. 25, but rather aimed at “solving” the “long-standing” Rohingya issue, as the general put it.
The report also faulted Myanmar’s civilian authorities, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, for blocking independent investigations and denying wrongdoing on behalf of the military, and therefore contributing to the commission of atrocities.
“We are deeply disappointed that State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has not used her position or her moral authority to stem, prevent or condemn the unfolding events in Rakhine state,” Radhika Coomaraswamy, one of the investigators, said in a press conference.
Myanmar’s military has denied wrongdoing against civilians in its campaign in Rakhine state, and on Monday, a top government official rejected the report. “As we did not accept the idea of a fact-finding mission from the beginning, we reject their report,” Myanmar’s permanent representative to the UN, U Hau Do Suan, told BBC Burmese. “The human rights abuses are one-sided accusations against us. This is designed at putting pressure on us by the international organizations. Their report is based on one-sided information from the people who fled to Bangladesh and the opposition groups.”
The report went further, finding the military committed crimes against humanity against other ethnic minorities in Kachin and Shan states. It also found ARSA committed serious human rights abuses, including killing informants and burning a village in Rakhine.
The International Criminal Court does not have jurisdiction over crimes inside Myanmar’s territory. All five permanent members of the UN Security Council could refer Myanmar to the ICC, but observers note China is unlikely to agree.
Like the accounts in the UN report, the stories FRONTLINE gathered from survivors paint a harrowing picture. In June 2017, before the ARSA attack, authorities in Myanmar pushed Rohingya people to register for a new identity document called the NVC. The Rohingya feared the document would help classify them as illegal Bengali immigrants.
Ahmed Hussein was a village leader in Chut Pyin. He said in early August 2017, a commander summoned Rohingya leaders and delivered an ultimatum: register for the NVC card or be killed.
“He told us, ‘You are not from this country. You came from Bangladesh.’ He said, ‘If you don’t take the NVC card, we will kill you. We will wipe you out, starting with the children, then the men and women.’”
Survivors from Chut Pyin would later tell FRONTLINE of mass rape, and of babies being thrown into fires. A village leader who was keeping a record of all the missing said he had identified 358 people he believed were killed in the attack.