Now is the Time for Justice and Accountability

“For the cycle of violence to end, it is crucial that all those responsible for the genocide – whether they wear a uniform or not – are brought to justice.”

Tun Khin, president of Burmese Rohingya Organisation (BROUK)

After years of effort to bring accountability for atrocities committed against Rohingya, Myanmar[1] is now facing its first ever legal case for genocide. Gambia last week filed a case against Myanmar at the UN’s top court for violating the UN Genocide Convention, and in the same week, Rohingya and Latin American human rights groups filed a separate lawsuit in Argentina against Myanmar military officials as well as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the government for their complicity in the grave human rights violations. While these events were already significant steps towards accountability, this was followed by the announcement from the International Criminal Court (ICC) that it has approved a full probe into Myanmar’s alleged crimes and atrocities against the Rohingya. Myanmar government and the military continue to deny that such violations ever took place regardless of the overwhelming support and documentation provided by international communities, rights groups and other ethnic groups to the contrary.

On 11 November 2019, Gambia, on behalf of 57 states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), filed a case at the Hague based International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing Myanmar of breaching the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Both Gambia and Myanmar have signed the Genocide Convention, which allows member states to file a case at the ICJ against a member which fails to uphold the obligation to prevent and punish the crime of genocide within its country. There is clear and abundant evidence to claim Myanmar has violated the Genocide Convention. In September 2019, the UN-mandated Independent International Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar (IIFFMM) has concluded in their final report that “Myanmar is failing in its obligation to prevent genocide, to investigate genocide and to enact effective legislation criminalizing and punishing genocide.” Gambia’s move has drawn wide support as countries such as Canada and ethnic groups such as the Kachin National Organisation have welcomed the case. In addition, the Rohingya Refugee Networks in Bangladesh have called on all UN member states to support the move made by Gambia.

In the same week, only two days after Gambia filed its case at the ICJ,  Rohingya and Latin American human rights groups, represented by Tomas Ojea Quintana – the former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar – filed a lawsuit in Argentina under “universal jurisdiction,” a legal concept that allows national courts to prosecute individuals for serious crimes against international law – such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. Unlike the ICJ, the case filed in Argentina targets top officials of the Myanmar military, including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and both the current and previous Myanmar presidents. Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation (BROUK) stated, “For decades, Rohingya have faced severe oppression inside our own country, where women, men and children live in hellish conditions.” He continued, “For the cycle of violence to end, it is crucial that all those responsible for the genocide – whether they wear a uniform or not – are brought to justice.”

In response to the cases brought against them at the international courts, unsurprisingly the Myanmar government and the military have denied all accusations. Instead, the government spokesperson Zaw Htay blamed the Bangladesh government for the failure of repatriating Rohingya refugees. The government shows no willingness to cooperate with the international courts to address accountability as Zaw Htay also said “Prosecuting Myanmar will not solve the problem.” In addition to the government and the military, the morally bankrupt  Myanmar National Human Rights Commission has echoed the calls of the Myanmar military, denying the grave crimes committed against the Rohingya, while referring to them as ‘Bengalis’ – a derogatory and discriminatory word used to describe Rohingya.

The Myanmar military have enjoyed their longstanding impunity for decades, and despite the so-called reforms, the country’s domestic accountability mechanism and justice system have continued to fail to hold perpetrators of grave crimes to account. Such failure to address the ongoing impunity of the Myanmar military has led to further violence, most recently in Rakhine and Chin States where up to 65,000 people have been displaced since January due to the fierce fighting between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military. Meanwhile, fighting between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar military continue in Shan State with local ethnic communities seeing no end to the ongoing civil war. For decades, ethnic groups have experienced oppression and violation of their rights and have been fighting for their self-determination and equal rights against the military and government that have long been controlled under the Bamar majority status-quo, emboldened by decades of military rule. The joint resolution by the EU and OIC, which was recently adopted by the UN General Assembly has called for an end to impunity for mass atrocity crimes committed in Myanmar and offers support to the newly operational International Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar. While welcoming the flood of international efforts to bring accountability and justice for Rohingya, it is crucial to continue the call for stronger action that addresses the grave crimes committed against other ethnic minorities and the ongoing impunity of the Myanmar military. To this end, it remains vital that the UN Security Council refer Myanmar to the ICC. Now is the time to pursue all possible pathways towards accountability and justice for the people of Myanmar in order to ensure that the perpetrators are held to account for the crimes they have committed.


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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

Joint letter on Plans to Move Rohingya Refugees to Bhasan Char Island

By 39 Organizations

43 Chin Organizations Demand The Immediate Release Of U Hawi Tin From Detention By AA On False Charges

By 43 Chin Organizations

Burma Campaign UK Welcomes New Universal Jurisdiction And ICJ Genocide Cases

By Burma Campaign UK

Argentinean Courts Urged to Prosecute Senior Myanmar Military and Government Officials for the Rohingya Genocide

By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

EU Introductory Statement – United Nations 3rd Committee: Human Rights of Rohingya Muslims and Other Minorities in Myanmar

By European Union

U.N. Member States: Support Case on Myanmar Genocide at International Court of Justice

By Fortify Rights

ICC Judges Authorise Opening of an Investigation into the Situation in Bangladesh/Myanmar

By International Criminal Court

ျမန္မာအမ်ိဳးသားလူ႔အခြင့္အေရးေကာ္မရွင္အား ပိုမိုအားေကာင္းလာေစရန္ ခ်က္ခ်င္းအေကာင္ထည္ေဖာ္ႏိုင္ ေသာျပဳျပင္ေျပာင္းလဲေရး အစီအစဥ္ေလးရပ္။

By International Commission of Jurists

Four Immediate Reforms to Strengthen the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission

By International Commission of Jurists

Beyond the Horizon: Local Perspectives on Peace, Justice and Accountability in Southeast Myanmar

By Karen Human Rights Group

လက္လွမ္းမမွီႏိုင္ေသးေသာ အမွန္တရားမ်ား – ျမန္မာျပည္အေရွ႔ေတာင္ပိုင္းရွိ ၿငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရး၊ တရားမွ်တမႈနွင့္ တာဝန္ယူမႈတာဝန္ခံမႈအေပၚ ေဒသခံမ်ား၏ အျမင္သေဘာထားမ်ား

By Karen Human Rights Group

Kachin National Organization: Press Statement

By Kachin National Organization

Canada Welcomes the Gambia’s Action to Address Accountability in Myanmar

By Minister of Foreign Affairs , Government of Canada

Canada Welcomes the Gambia’s Action to Address Accountability in Myanmar

By Minister of Foreign Affairs , Government of Canada

Gambia Brings Genocide Case Against Myanmar: International Court of Justice to Address Atrocities Against Rohingya

By No Peace Without Justice, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights, Global Justice Center, Parliamentarians for Global Action, Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice

Rohingya Refugee Networks in Bangladesh Welcome the Gambia’s Move Bringing the Case Against Myanmar for Genocide at the International Court of Justice

By Rohingya Refugee Networks in Bangladesh

Yawnghwe Office in Exile

By Yawnghwe Office in Exile

reports

Reports

‘Beyond the Horizon’: Local Perspectives on Peace, Justice and Accountability in Southeast Myanmar

By Karen Human Rights Group

Four Immediately Implementable Reforms to Enhance Myanmar’s National Human Rights Commission

By International Commission of Jurists


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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