As Myanmar Evades Accountability for Rohingya Abuses, International Community Must Fulfill its Responsibilities

A flash report by the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) that details widespread and horrific human rights abuses committed by the Myanmar[1] security services in its ‘clearance operations’ in northern Rakhine State has confirmed many people’s worst fears for the situation for Rohingya villagers. In an area that has experienced a lockdown since the 9 October, 2016 attacks on Border Police Posts by an armed group, the OHCHR report states that the retaliation of the security forces on civilians indicate “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.” Given the ineffectiveness and lack of impartiality of the Myanmar Government established commissions to investigate the situation in northern Rakhine State, it is clear that the international community has a responsibility to take action and establish a UN-mandated international independent investigation into recent atrocities in order to pursue accountability for these systematic and widespread human rights violations.

The findings of the OHCHR report are devastating. Based on testimonies from over 200 Rohingyas on the Bangladesh border who had fled northern Rakhine State after the 9 October attacks, the report details a litany of abuses such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture, looting and destruction of property. Among other findings, more than half of the women interviewed – a horrifying 52% – had been a victim of either rape or other forms of sexual violence, 44% of all interviewees reported having being beaten, and 47% reported that a family member had been killed. All the victims’ testimonies report that it was the Myanmar security forces that perpetrated these violations, sometimes in collaboration with ethnic Rakhine villagers. These security forces consist of the Myanmar Army, the Border Guard Police, and the Police Force.

While the information and data from the report is deeply disturbing, it is also corroborated by reports from findings of gross and widespread human rights violations from international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

In response to the OHCHR report, the Myanmar Government has demonstrated a wholly inadequate and ineffective response. Initially, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s office requested more information from OHCHR while the Myanmar Army has since  established its own investigation team to find out if any military personnel committed unlawful acts. This is the third committee set up regarding Rakhine State in recent months and it is becoming very clear that they are merely political tools for the Myanmar Government and the Myanmar Army to hide behind in order to avoid accountability. The Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, established in September 2016 does not have the mandate to investigate human rights abuses. Rather its mandate is “to submit recommendations to the Government on how it may promote reconciliation, strengthen local institutions, advance development, resolve conflict, and provide humanitarian assistance, in Rakhine State.”

The second commission, established in December 2016 – the national level Investigation Commission on Rakhine State – is led by the notoriously hardline former military General, Vice-President Myint Swe. In its interim report released in January 2017, it stated, “the Bengali population residing in Maungtaw region, the increasing population of Mawlawi, mosques and religious edifices are proof that there were no cases of genocide and religious persecution in the region.”

The usage of the term ‘Bengali,’ which is used to deny even the existence of the Rohingya, and the denial of any wrongdoing by the Myanmar Army despite the wealth of evidence and documentation that plainly show otherwise clearly discredits this commission. The third commission established by the very perpetrators of the documented human rights violations – the Myanmar Army – needs no explanation as to why it should not be taken seriously as an impartial investigation.

The grave human rights violations, the very real possibility of crimes against humanity, and the ineffective, inadequate response on behalf of the Myanmar Government necessitates a collective response by the international community. As the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng stated; I am concerned that the Government Commission, which had unhindered access to the location of the incidents, found nothing to substantiate the claims, while OHCHR, which was not given access to the area, found an overwhelming number of testimonies and other forms of evidence through interviews with refugees who had fled to a neighbouring country. The existing Commission is not a credible option to undertake the new investigation. I urge that any investigation be conducted by a truly independent and impartial body that includes international observers.”

I am concerned that the Government Commission, which had unhindered access to the location of the incidents, found nothing to substantiate the claims, while OHCHR, which was not given access to the area, found an overwhelming number of testimonies and other forms of evidence through interviews with refugees who had fled to a neighbouring country. The existing Commission is not a credible option to undertake the new investigation. I urge that any investigation be conducted by a truly independent and impartial body that includes international observers.”

Thus, Progressive Voice supports and calls for the UN Human Rights Council, which meets in March 2016, to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the widespread human rights violations and to catalyze further action that seeks accountability, justice and promote measures to end the persecution of the Rohingya in Rakhine State.

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[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week

actions

Statements and Press Releases

ND-Burma 2016 Report Finds Dramatic Increase Human Rights Violations
By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

ND-Burma မွ ျပဳစုုထားသည့္ ၂၀၁၆ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရးအေျခအေန အစီရင္ခံစာအရ လူ႔အခြင့္အ ေရးက်ဴးလြန္ခ်ိဳးေဖာက္မႈမ်ား သိသိသာသာ မ်ားျပားလာျခင္း
By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

ဦးကိုနီလုပ္ႀကံခံရျခင္းအေပၚ ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကျငာခ်က္
By Arakan National Council

News from our Regional Offices
By Universal Periodic Review

International Organizations Urge Burma/Myanmar Govt: Stop the Hate
By 34 International Organizations

Statement by Adama Dieng/United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide following OHCHR’s report on the situation in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar
By Adama Dieng / United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide

Statement by His Eminence Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Cardinal Archbishop of Yangon
By Cardinal Charles Maung Bo

Burma: Security Forces Raped Rohingya Women, Girls
By Human Rights Watch

Statement from Karen Women’s Movement – Second Karen Women’s Seminar
By  Karen Women’s Organization

reports

Reports

Mountain of Trouble: Human Rights Abuses Continue At Myanmar’s Letpadaung Mine
By Amnesty International

Rangers Lead the Way – We Are Ready to Go
By Free Burma Rangers

Report on the Human Rights Situation in Burma: January – December 2016
By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

ျမန္မာႏုိင္ငံလူ႔အခြင့္အေရး အေျခအေန အစီရင္ခံစာ (၂၀၁၆ ခုႏွစ္၊ ဇန္န၀ါရီ- ဒီဇင္ဘာ)
By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma


Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”

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