An independent panel has concluded war crimes were committed by Myanmar forces during security operations, but it stopped short of talking of genocide against Rohingya.
An independent commission appointed by Myanmar’s government said Monday that war crimes were likely committed against the Rohingya ethnic minority by Myanmar security forces during counterinsurgency operations.
The “Independent Commission of Enquiry,” (ICOE) was formed in 2018 in response to international calls for accountability from Myanmar over the Rohingya crisis.
Although the ICOE statement implies that Myanmar’s security forces are guilty of major abuses, which is more direct than previous public statements by Myanmar’s government, the panel said there is “no evidence” of genocide.
More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017. More than 900,000 Rohingya continue to live in refugee camps in southern Bangladesh.
The UN has said Myanmar’s military operations targeted Rohingya areas, with gang rapes and mass killings and destruction of villages carried out with “genocidal intent.”
A statement released by the ICOE said the “killing of innocent villagers took place during an “internal armed conflict” provoked by Rohingya attacks on police outposts. It said the response was “disproportionate” but did not amount to genocide.
“War crimes, serious human rights violations, and violations of domestic law took place during the security operations … There are reasonable grounds to believe that members of Myanmar’s security forces were involved.”
ICJ to rule on Myanmar genocide
In November, the Gambia filed a case with the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing Myanmar of an “ongoing genocide” against the Rohingya, and urging the court to take emergency measures. The ICJ in The Hague will issue a decision on the request Thursday.
A Myanmar-appointed panel concluded on Monday (Jan 20) that some soldiers likely committed war crimes against its Rohingya Muslim community but the military was not guilty of genocide, findings swiftly condemned by rights groups.
The “Independent Commission Of Enquiry (ICOE)” released the results of its probe just ahead of a ruling on Thursday by the UN’s top court on whether to impose urgent measures to stop alleged ongoing genocide in Myanmar.
It conceded some security personnel had used disproportionate force and committed war crimes and serious human rights violations, including the “killing of innocent villagers and destruction of their homes”.
But the crimes did not constitute genocide, the panel decided.
“There is insufficient evidence to argue, much less conclude, that the crimes committed were undertaken with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical (sic), racial or religious group.”
Military operations from August 2017 forced about 740,000 Rohingya to flee over the border into sprawling camps in Bangladesh.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar has always maintained the crackdown by the armed forces, or Tatmadaw, was justified to root out Rohingya insurgents after a series of attacks left a dozen security personnel dead.
But refugees carried consistent accounts of widespread murder, rape, torture and arson with them and have so far largely refused to return for fear of their safety.
‘FAR FROM TRANSPARENT’
This is the furthest any Myanmar investigation so far has gone in accepting atrocities occurred.
But Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) dismissed the findings as a “blatant PR exercise” to deflect attention from the International Court of Justice’s ruling.
In a muddy field in western Myanmar, hundreds of Chinese shipping containers fitted with single narrow windows stand in neat lines, empty of the refugees they were designed to host.
The gray boxes were sent by China two years ago as quick and cheap housing for some of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar for Bangladesh during a military-led crackdown in 2017 that the United Nations said was conducted with genocidal intent.
The empty containers, situated near the town of Maungdaw in Rakhine state, reflect months of failed efforts to entice the Rohingya to return to Myanmar despite a diplomatic drive by the country’s close ally and neighbor, China.
In a sharp departure from its official policy of non-interference in the affairs of other countries, China has positioned itself as the key mediator in resolving the protracted crisis. But like the Indonesian and United Nations envoys who previously attempted to mediate between the parties, China is finding the business of diplomacy tough going, with little signs that the crisis will soon be resolved.
The main sticking point is a disagreement over whether the refugees will be safe in Myanmar.
Myanmar says it has created safe conditions for the Rohingya’s return, but Bangladesh and the United Nations say that fighting in Rakhine and a lack of human rights guarantees make a return for the refugees dangerous. The Rohingya, meanwhile, say they will not go back without guarantees of rights they are currently denied, including citizenship and freedom of movement.
UN court’s decision on measures to prevent more harm against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority expected on Jan 23.
The International Court of Justice, the United Nations’ highest court, will issue a decision on a request for emergency measures in a genocide case against Myanmar on January 23, the Gambian Ministry of Justice said on Twitter on Monday.
The mainly Muslim West African country filed the suit in November, alleging Myanmar was committing “an ongoing genocide” against its minority Muslim Rohingya population.
The ICJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gambia has accused Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention in a military campaign that expelled more than 730,000 Rohingya from the country.
It asked the ICJ to order “provisional measures” to prevent more harm, a first step in a legal case that is expected to go on for years.
Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, travelled to The Hague last month to defend her country against the charges.
She denied that genocide was taking place and said the court has no jurisdiction to hear the case.
Aung San Suu Kyi, once championed in the West for her decades-long fight for democracy for Myanmar, said Myanmar did investigate and prosecute soldiers and officers accused of crimes.
She said that under those circumstances, the court should not intervene.
The Gambia lodged its lawsuit after winning the support of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has 57 member states. Only a state can file a case against another state at the ICJ.
The violence and abuse against the Rohingya population in Myanmar led to 750.000 refugees entering Bangladesh in less than three months at the end of 2017. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) referred to the attacks as “textbook ethnic cleansing”.
Today, the district of Cox’s Bazar, only a few kilometres from the Myanmar border, houses one of the world’s largest refugee camps, with close to 900,000 refugees living in temporary shelters.
The concentration of people in these camps is amongst the densest in the world and the conditions are poor. People lack proper shelters, toilet facilities, clean water and food.
The national authorities in Bangladesh and Myanmar have established a repatriation agreement, but few Rohingya are willing to return to Myanmar as long as the Myanmar government does not guarantee them citizenship and protection from further violence.
“The continued uncertainty of the Rohingya’s status and right to return to their homeland, coupled with a lack of education, learning and working opportunities in the camps, put them in an extremely vulnerable position. Although the Bangladeshi government have been very generous in accommodating the refugees, we need to find a long-terms solution for the Rohingya as well as the Bangladeshi host communities”, says Benedicte Giæver, Executive Director of NORCAP.
The Myanmar government faced increasing pressure during 2019 for international justice for its human rights violations against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020. Respect for free expression and assembly also declined sharply during the year as the authorities escalated their use of repressive criminal laws.
“Myanmar’s failure to hold its military accountable for atrocities against the Rohingya is finally turning the wheels of international justice,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Two international courts are now examining whether Myanmar committed genocide and who should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity against the Rohingya.”
In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future.
Myanmar appeared before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on December 10-12 to respond to a complaint filed by Gambia for alleged violations of the Genocide Convention. Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi rejected the genocide allegations, claiming that there was no orchestrated campaign of persecution despite considerable evidence of military atrocities against the Rohingya.
The Gambia yesterday said Aung San Suu Kyi’s “silence” over allegations of sexual violence and rape carried out against Rohingya people “says far more than” her words, a day after the Nobel peace laureate defended Myanmar against genocide charges at the UN’s top court.
Prof Philippe Sands QC told the court: “Not a word [has been said by Aung San Suu Kyi] about the women and girls of Myanmar who have been subjected to these awful serial violations. Madame Agent [her status in court], your silence says far more than your words.”
Myanmar has not disputed at the ICJ hearing reports that 392 villages were destroyed in military clearance operations, or commented on widespread allegations of organized sexual violence and rape, the court was also told.
Sands was speaking for the Gambia, which has brought the charge that Myanmar’s military carried out mass murder, rape, and destruction of Rohingya Muslim communities. Yesterday was the last day of the three-day hearing at the top UN court.
The African country alleges there have been “extrajudicial killings… sexual violence, burning of homes and destruction of livestock… calculated to bring about a destruction of the Rohingya group in whole or in part.”
“The word ‘rape’ did not once pass the lips of the agent,” added Sands, as Suu Kyi sat impassively in the courtroom, wearing traditional Burmese dress and flowers in her hair, reports The Guardian.
Later in her closing arguments at the hearing, she urged the UN judges to throw out the genocide case against Myanmar, warning it risked reigniting the crisis that forced nearly three-quarters of a million Rohingya Muslims from their homes.
Suu Kyi also cautioned that allowing The Gambia’s case against Myanmar to go ahead could “undermine reconciliation”, reports AFP.
The de facto civilian leader even showed pictures of a football match recently played in the area affected by the violence in 2017 as evidence that was peace was returning
In a speech on Wednesday at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that lasted about 30 minutes, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi defended her country’s military against allegations of genocide.
The case, filed by The Gambia, accuses Myanmar of violating the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, with regard to a bloody crackdown in 2017 in which thousands of Rohingya were abused, displaced and killed.
The hearing concludes on Thursday, but a final judgment could take several years.
In her opening statement, the former human rights icon denied “genocidal intent” on the part of the military and outlined the history of tensions in Rakhine state.
She promised that civilians and members of the military who attacked innocent people would be prosecuted, but repeatedly termed the 2017 crackdown as “internal conflict”, saying Myanmar’s military was responding to attacks by armed local groups, such as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
But she failed to use one word in the 3,379-word speech to describe the minority, an ethnic group that has been persecuted for years in Myanmar and denied citizenship rights – Rohingya.
She only used the word Rohingya when referring to ARSA.
Critics said her refusal to use the word is part of Myanmar’s attempt to strip the minority of their identity and rights.
“It’s routine for Rohingya to be called Bengalis and even described as Kalars, a slur referring to their darker complexion, to deny that they’re native to Rakhine,” Kaamil Ahmed, a journalist who has reported on the Rohingya and is writing a book about the minority, told Al Jazeera.
“Aung San Suu Kyi doesn’t use the terms but she has suggested that they’re not from Myanmar and she has refused to call them Rohingya, even claiming it’s a polarising term.
Hannah McKay was on her first foreign assignment, just three months after joining Reuters, photographing Rohingya Muslims in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Then she and other photographers heard around 5,000 more people were heading to the area, trying to find their way across the border from neighbouring Myanmar. Here is her account of what happened next:
“We were standing, looking out over paddy fields and grasslands – lots of water and one thin path leading to the border with Myanmar.
“In the distance we could see a huge group of people. But they weren’t moving. It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon with only two hours left of daylight. So we decided to move towards them.
“It took us about an hour along the muddy path, meeting border guards and persuading them to let us pass. Then we saw thousands of refugees just sitting there, with more Bangladeshi border guards telling us to go back.
“We could see something was going on behind the crowd. So we waited for an opportunity to move closer, and that’s when we saw them.
“The crowd was sitting on a riverbank and behind them, about three meters below, in the river itself, there were just hundreds of refugees coming across every minute. It was non-stop. There was no end to the people. People carrying babies. Elderly people being escorted through the water and mud, more than knee-deep. And we were just photographing everyone coming towards us.
“Then this woman appeared. She got to the point where she needed to get up to the footpath where we were. But she was just exhausted. She didn’t have anything left to get herself up. Two refugee men on her level were trying to push her up, which was when we reached out to help. Another Reuters photographer, Adnan Abidi, took a hand. Another photographer took another and I got her leg when she got within range. It was a case of dragging her.
During three days of hearings starting December 10, it will ask the 16-member panel of UN judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to impose “provisional measures” to protect the Rohingya before the case can be heard in full.
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since a 2017 military crackdown, which UN investigators found in August to have been carried out with “genocidal intent”. Myanmar vehemently denies allegations of genocide.
The office of Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has said she will lead her country’s defense personally. Myanmar’s legal team is expected to argue that genocide did not occur, that the top UN court lacks jurisdiction and that the case fails to meet a requirement that a dispute exists between Myanmar and Gambia.
Gambia’s request for a provisional injunction is the legal equivalent of seeking a restraining order against a country.
“If the court feels there is sufficient threat and it needs to step in, it can order Myanmar to cease and desist in terms of military operations and violence so that civilians are protected,” said Priya Pillai, an international lawyer with the Asia Justice Coalition, an NGO.