Mr. President, High Commissioner, distinguished delegates, experts, ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the three experts serving on the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar – Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Mr. Christopher Sidoti, and myself as Chair – I am honoured to address the Special Session. I regret that I cannot be there in person, due to scheduled activities of the Fact-Finding Mission.
In September, I spoke before the Council on the parameters of our work and the methodology we would follow. I said at that time that we would follow international best practices in human rights fact-finding, and we are doing so. We will continue to uphold our independence and objectivity. We will go where the evidence leads us.
While devoting considerable energy to the current crisis, our focus is on the facts and circumstances of allegations in Myanmar as a whole since 2011. We aim to present the Council a final report that gives an accurate assessment of that situation in its proper context.
We recently issued a public Call for Submissions. We encourage everyone with relevant factual information to respond to our Call.
We continue to endeavour to engage with Myanmar. We have requested full and unhindered access to the country, and we maintain hope that it will be granted early in 2018.
That said, the lack of access has not impeded our work, apart from denying us the Myanmar Government’s perspective. We have already collected significant information from outside the country and we are continuing to do so. We have conducted in-depth interviews with members of the Rohingya and other groups in the camps around Cox’s Bazar and elsewhere.
Victims and witnesses recounted to us acts of extreme brutality against the Rohingya, especially since August. We heard numerous testimonies alleging killings, arbitrary detentions, sexual violence, torture, disappearances, and arson of entire villages. We fear that the number of casualties might be very high indeed.
Some of our most distressing interactions have been with children who constitute more than half of the camp population. They told us of witnessing their fathers killed, their mothers and sisters raped, and their siblings burned to death. One twelve year old boy we met is in the camp, without adult family members, entirely responsible for his four siblings aged four to ten. He told us that his parents and baby sister were killed.
We have heard testimonies of young girls raped, having their throats slit or being burnt to death after being raped, or simply gang-raped to death. Women described mass rapes in the jungle and the mutilation of victims. In some cases, the site was alleged to be military barracks. All of those interviewed by the Fact-Finding Mission displayed signs of severe trauma.
The allegations are numerous and many of extreme severity. Some have concluded that genocide or crimes against humanity have taken place. We have not yet come to any conclusion on these issues but we are taking such allegations very seriously and are examining them in depth.
The recent violence is occurring in an atmosphere in which hate speech against certain groups – in particular the Rohingya – is regarded as acceptable. We are very concerned over the surge in dehumanizing ethnic slurs, which are commonly used on social media in Myanmar to refer to the Rohingya people, fanning racial and religious hatred.
This must end. The state should cease dubbing entire population groups as “extremist” or “terrorist.”
In our interviews with victims of the recent violence, the Fact-Finding Mission asked what they wanted for the future. Generally, they wished to return to Myanmar, but conditioned on guarantees that their personal security and human rights will be protected. They asked that their citizenship and identity be recognized, that they be allowed to return to their villages of origin and compensated for their destroyed property.
Others could not imagine going back because they had nothing – no homes, no family – to return to. With news spreading in the camps in southern Bangladesh about the bilateral repatriation arrangement, there is high anxiety among the Rohingya there about the possibility of being forced back to the same conditions that they were forced to flee. We ask the two concerned Governments to give them reason to lay their anxiety to rest.
However, information at our disposal indicates that their concerns are well-founded. We have credible information that the burning of properties in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships has continued, with fires detected as recently as 25 November.
I have alluded to many allegations – they are but a small sample of the information we are gathering. We take none of it at face value. Rather, we are making every effort to fulfil our mandate with the required rigour, to hear all sides and to verify the facts. We will communicate our findings in due course.
However, urgent action in several areas is needed now.
- Immediate cessation of the violence in Rakhine state, with credible guarantees of non-recurrence.
- State action, including an official, nationwide campaign to counter the rise of hate speech and incitement to violence.
- Repatriation only with full guarantees of safety and human rights protection and under the supervision of international and national human rights monitors and the relevant UN agencies. Forced repatriation must not be allowed, nor repatriation to unsuitable sites or IDP camps, nor any re-victimization of the returnees.
The Fact-Finding Mission respectfully suggests that Myanmar may wish to liaise with it through a task force, composed of representatives of the relevant ministries and the security forces. We have many unanswered questions, such as about the attacks of 25 August that allegedly sparked the “clearance operations” in Rakhine, and about any prior operations by security forces undertaken there. The proposed task force would be a means of direct communication by which to receive the official account of these events, including from the military.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank those countries that have facilitated our work. Various stakeholders have been generous with their insights and research. The continued concern and interest of this Council is key. We are pleased that many UN mechanisms are being mobilized, here and in New York. The gravity of the situation calls for every one of us to do our part to help Myanmar break the cycles of violence and heal the wounds of its peoples – all of them.
I thank you for your attention.
View the original statement HERE.