Crime and Punishment?
The fallout continues from the release of the UN-mandated Independent International Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar’s (IIFFMM) report that concludes that the Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar military, Min Aung Hlaing, and other top generals, should be investigated and prosecuted for the crime of genocide for the violence committed against the Rohingya, and crimes against humanity and war crimes in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine States. Meanwhile, ethnic people in conflict-affected areas continue to bear the brunt of the Myanmar military’s crimes, as they have done for decades. Reports of deliberate blocking of humanitarian aid to displaced people, breaches of ceasefire agreements, and the call from Karen communities for referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) only reinforce the IIFFMM’s findings and demonstrate the depth and breadth of the military’s crimes.
The report by the IIFFMM, states that crimes against humanity were committed in Kachin and Shan States, specifically “murder; imprisonment; enforced disappearance; torture; rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence; persecution; and enslavement.” Such crimes are well-known among many ethnic communities in Myanmar. For many years it was the ethnic Karen who bore the brunt of the worst military offensives and suffered from the exact same crimes that the IIFFMM found to have occurred in Kachin and Shan States. As Karen communities worldwide expressed in a statement, “Having suffered for decades the same patterns of violations perpetrated in Rakhine, Kachin, Karen and Shan States, and recently, in Mutraw District of Karen State facing again new attacks and abuses, we deplore the international community (sic) refusal to act.”
While a bilateral ceasefire has been in place since 2012, and the Karen National Union (KNU) has been a signatory to the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) since 2015, this has not stopped the human rights violations from being committed in Karen State. The Karen Human Rights Group in a report released on 29 August, 2018, demonstrated how, since these ceasefires, the land rights of indigenous peoples in Karen State are being violated as businesses move in to take advantage of the reduced fighting to exploit the land and natural resources. As the report states, “Today’s land confiscations are a threat to long-term peace in Southeast Myanmar, because they increase social and political instability.” The spectre of outright war returning is still very real, as clashes occurred again this year as the Myanmar military entered KNU territory, violating the terms of the NCA.
As ever, it is civilians that suffer the most from the Myanmar military’s genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. For those displaced, the Myanmar government and the military have purposefully blocked the delivery of essential humanitarian aid. Human rights organization Fortify Rights has found in a report released on 30 August, 2018 in Yangon that “the government has willfully imposed restrictions on access to food, healthcare, shelter, water, and sanitation to tens of thousands of Kachin displaced by ongoing war.” They conclude that the authorities have “weaponized” humanitarian aid, only worsening the suffering for some of the most marginalized communities in Myanmar. This echoes concerns and recommendations raised over the years by Kachin civil society, community-based, and faith organizations working on the ground in conflict-affected parts of Kachin and Shan States.
For the Rohingya, it has now been over a year since the worst bout of violence that drove over 700,000 out of their homes into Bangladesh. Over one million are residing in cramped and underfunded refugee camps, enduring the monsoon rains while the Myanmar government continues to deny, deflect, and fabricate to avoid admitting responsibility. Meanwhile, for the remaining Rohingya in Rakhine State, they live in fear, and struggle to access food and health and education services while their freedom of movement is strictly controlled.
It is vital that as the international community takes immediate action in the light of the IIFFMM’s damning report. The widespread, systematic and brutal use of violence by the Myanmar military is not isolated to the Rohingya, and thus a response commensurate with such a depth of violence must be taken. This must include a resolution at the upcoming 39th session of the Human Rights Council that reflects the dire conditions on the ground and need for accountability in Myanmar. As the IIFFMM report recommended, the UN Security Council must refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC for all the crimes stated in their report – genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. All the people of Myanmar deserve justice, and with the momentum and spotlight hitting Myanmar in the wake of the IIFFMM’s report, it is time that the international community prioritizes accountability and justice over geopolitical and/or economic short-term gains. Particularly, it is time that the UNSC demonstrates that the UN organ with the highest authority proves itself worthy of its mandate and role bestowed upon it for world peace and humanity by exercising its mandate by referring Myanmar to ICC. It is time to stand on the right side of history.
 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
Statements and Press Releases
By Arakan Rohingya National Organisation
By Christian Solidarity Worldwide
By Fortify Rights
By Fortify Rights
By Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
By FORUM-ASIA, Progressive Voice, Equality Myanmar, Kachin Women’s Association Thailand, and Rohingya Women’s Welfare Society
By Government Offices of Sweden
By Human Rights Watch
By Karen Communities Worldwide
By Karen Human Rights Group
By Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia
By Save the Children
By UN Fact Finding Mission, UN Human Rights Council
By Burma Human Rights Network
By Fortify Rights
By Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar
By Karen Human Rights Group
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.”