Urgent Action Needed to End Ongoing Atrocity Crimes
In his briefing to the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 24 October, 2018, the Chair of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, Marzuki Darusman, called the situation in Rakhine State “an ongoing genocide,” and reminded the Council of its responsibilities to ensure accountability. “The Rohingya and all of Myanmar’s people, in fact the entire world, is looking at you to take action,” Marzuki Darusman told the Council. Indeed, the world is watching to see whether the UNSC will live up to its responsibility to preserve international peace and security by ensuring accountability for the atrocity crimes committed against the Rohingya, Kachin, Shan, Ta’ang and other ethnic minorities by the Myanmar military.
The UNSC briefing follows a meeting of the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee to discuss a resolution on Myanmar. Marzuki Darusman and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, briefed the Third Committee on 23 October, 2018. Yanghee Lee expressed her disappointment in the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led Government of Myanmar, noting that the Government “is increasingly demonstrating that it has no real interest in establishing a fully-functioning democracy where all its people equally enjoy all their rights and freedoms. It is not doing what is necessary to bring about true peace and reconciliation.” In terms of domestic measures for accountability, Yanghee Lee stated that “despite the repeated refrain that if presented with evidence, the Government will investigate allegations of human rights violations, it is clear to me that this is not the case.”
Indeed, it is hard to imagine what more evidence would satisfy Myanmar’s demands. Instead, the call for more evidence must be seen for what it is – attempts to deny the allegations and delay accountability. For decades, Myanmar authorities have refused even to acknowledge serious human rights violations committed by the military, let alone ensure accountability. As documented in a recent report by the Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma (ND-Burma), entitled “You Cannot Ignore Us,” victims of human rights violations over the past decades still suffer from the impact of the violations and they have yet to receive any form of justice.
The crimes committed against the Rohingya, Kachin, Shan, Ta’ang and others are not in the past. As Marzuki Darusman noted, they are ongoing. What Myanmar calls preparations to receive Rohingya from Bangladesh are simply extensions of the apartheid system under which Rohingya have been living for years. “Shutting down the IDP camps or planning to repatriate the refugees from Bangladesh without restoring the Rohingya’s rights to full citizenship, freedom of movement, education, health and other fundamental rights further segregates the Rohingya community in their own country into an apartheid-like condition,” said Razia Sultana of Rohingya Women’s Welfare Society in a joint statement with Progressive Voice and the Kachin Women’s Association – Thailand. The system of apartheid is sustained by repressive laws including the military-drafted 2008 Constitution, the 1982 Citizenship Law and the four Race and Religion Protection Laws. These laws must be reviewed, amended or repealed in order to ensure that whenever Rohingya return, they do not return to what Sultana called a “killing field” under a discriminatory, apartheid system.
Meanwhile, crimes against civilians in armed conflict areas in northern Myanmar continue and stubborn demands by an intransigent military continue to pose stumbling blocks in the peace process. As noted in a briefing paper by Progressive Voice, Altsean-Burma and International Federation for Human Rights, peace talks have not led to a reduction in attacks on civilians, and the military’s refusal to compromise have led to a stalemate in political dialogue. Thus, many have looked to international accountability after losing faith in the domestic process. During a recent visit to Kachin State by the UN Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener, the Kachin Youth Movement presented the Special Envoy with a letter calling for the UN to support an International Criminal Court (ICC) referral for Myanmar. Such brave calls for accountability from ethnic and religious communities that have endured systematic and institutionalized discrimination, persecution and violence for decades must be accompanied by urgent action from the international community before more lives are lost.
In the face of denial and delay that echoes the tactics of past military governments, the international community must recognize that Myanmar is both unwilling and unable to pursue genuine accountability. As the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Netherlands stated to the UNSC after Marzuki Darusman’s briefing, “We cannot allow Myanmar to play for time while the fate of the Rohingya remains unchanged. […] It is time this Council takes its responsibility. We need to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.” Other Council members, including the UK, US, Germany and France must join the growing calls for accountability by supporting UNSC referral of Myanmar to the ICC, with full realization that the domestic Commission of Enquiry is simply a delaying tactic and not a genuine step toward accountability.
The UNSC must fulfill its responsibility to international peace and security and refer Myanmar to the ICC so the full extent of the military’s crimes can be examined. The upcoming General Assembly resolution on Myanmar also presents an opportunity for a unified, inclusive process to fill the international accountability gaps, including by supporting the HRC’s decision to establish an Ongoing Independent Mechanism to collect and preserve evidence in preparation for criminal prosecutions, and provide support to victims. Meanwhile, countries must do what they can to ensure accountability in Myanmar, including increasing targeted sanctions on the individuals responsible for the crimes, particularly the top military leadership, following and expanding on the sanctions recently announced by Switzerland and Australia.
 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 Karen National Union Headquarters
By Karenni National Progressive Party
By Progressive Voice, Rohingya Women Welfare Society and Kachin Women’s Association – Thailand
By Shan Human Rights Foundation
By Shan Human Rights Foundation
By World Kachin Congress
By Free Burma Rangers
By Ken MacLean (Clark University)
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.”