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Human rights panel: Myanmar military committed war crimes, genocide

Rohingya refugees play at Balukhali Refugee Camp in

Rohingya refugees play at Balukhali Refugee Camp in Bangladesh on Monday. Credit: AP / Altaf Qadri

UNITED NATIONS — An independent human rights panel has concluded that military leaders in Myanmar have committed war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity during a violent yearlong crackdown on the Rohingya minority, and that the soldiers must face prosecution for their crimes.

The UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar found consistent patterns of criminal actions, primarily committed by the military, also called Tatmadaw, that “undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law,” said the report released Monday.

“Military necessity would never justify killing indiscriminately, gang raping women, assaulting children, and burning entire villages,” it said. “The Tatmadaw’s tactics are consistently and grossly disproportionate to actual security threats, especially in Rakhine State, but also in northern Myanmar.”

The mission was empaneled by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in March 2017.

It also recommended the case be referred to the International Criminal Court, a UN body based in The Hague that prosecutes war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The UN Security Council, which visited Myanmar from late April to early May — and which meets Tuesday to discuss Myanmar — refers cases to the ICC, but prominent human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Fortify Rights and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect have all called on the Security Council to refer the crisis to the International Criminal Court.

A full report on the panel’s findings will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on Sept. 18.

Last September, the UN’s former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, called the actions by the military in Myanmar a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

The report cited several military personnel, including such top leaders as Commander-in-Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, Vice Senior-General Soe Win, Lieutenant-General Aung Kyaw Zaw, Major-General Maung Maung Soe; Brigadier-General Aung Aung and Brigadier-General Than Oo.

The report also noted that Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, who serves as State Counsellor, “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 Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, has endured a crisis that led to as many as 750,000 people fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh due to a scorched-earth policy that began in late August 2017 after Rohingya militants attacked police posts in norther Rakhine State, killing about a dozen members of the security forces.

The retaliation campaign includes the burning of villages, mass rape and murder, techniques that amounted to ethnic cleansing, UN officials and activists have said.

The fleeing Rohingya have assembled in refugee camps in Bangladesh, most notably Cox’s Bazar, and the ambassadors on the Security Council said they were struck by the scale of the humanitarian crisis and remain gravely concerned by the current situation.”

The accusations of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity from the independent panel come as 19 non-governmental organizations released a statement asking the Security Council to pressure authorities in Myanmar to improve conditions for the 600,000 Rohingya who remain in the country.

“Rohingya still left in Myanmar face daily discrimination and human rights abuses, making conditions unsafe for refugees to return,” read the statement by international NGO’s including Oxfam International, Care International, Christian Aid Mercy Corps and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

The groups “urge the Security Council to use the one-year anniversary as an opportunity to step up pressure on the government of Myanmar to take action on three critical areas: addressing the root causes of the crisis in Rakhine State; ensuring accountability for human rights violations and improving humanitarian access.”

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