Statement to the Human Rights Council by Mr. Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, on the 45th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council
14 September 2020
It is an honour to present to the Council the second annual report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar.
In the first full year of existence, the Mechanism has made significant progress in several areas.
We have built a team and infrastructure capable of implementing our challenging mandate – to collect, preserve and analyse evidence of the most serious international crimes committed in Myanmar since 2011 and to build case files that address individual criminal responsibility.
We have prioritised the recruitment of personnel with a diverse range of expertise and specializations, who will help us address the challenges we face, including:
- ensuring the protection of witnesses and information providers;
- building a digital evidence management system;
- combatting cybersecurity and information security risks; and
- ensuring that the Mechanism has the capacity to engage with its interlocutors and stakeholders, who speak a myriad of languages.
We have also added to our team experts in international law, criminal investigations and prosecution, military analysis; sexual and gender-based crimes and violence; and crimes against children.
Aware of the challenging financial situation currently facing the organization, we have adjusted our structure so that it is more effective and efficient, enabling us to propose a leaner budget for 2021.
We have made public outreach a priority. Effective communication promotes greater understanding of the complex work of the Mechanism and is necessary to gain the confidence and cooperation of relevant stakeholders. I am also convinced that by raising awareness of the Mechanism’s accountability mandate we can deter perpetrators from committing new crimes.
Therefore, I am pleased to report that in May, we issued the Mechanism’s inaugural Bulletin providing an update on our activities. We plan to issue further Bulletins at regular intervals to inform stakeholders of relevant developments. In July, we launched our official website, iimm.un.org, in both the English and Myanmar languages.
The past six months, the COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately restricted the Mechanism’s ability to travel to engage with relevant stakeholders and collect evidence. However, we are using innovations and technology to adjust our operations to allow us to make progress despite difficult circumstances.
In furtherance of our evidence collection mandate, the Mechanism has identified and contacted potential information sources to request relevant materials. Because sources often have their own security and privacy concerns, discussions can become complicated. These discussions are also typically confidential so I am not able to go into details. But I am pleased to report that we have seen these efforts begin to yield results.
For example, as has been recently publicly reported, the Mechanism has been in discussions with Facebook for over a year. They agreed some time ago to preserve material at our request and recently have begun sharing materials that partially comply with our requests. Our discussions are ongoing and I am hopeful it will lead to much more relevant material becoming available.
We also continue to reach out to the Government of Myanmar to seek access to relevant information. By conducting our evidence collection efforts objectively and professionally, we hope to convince all that only those responsible for crimes have anything to fear from the Mechanism.
In parallel, we have been building our systems so that we can safely and securely store the evidence received and analyse what it proves regarding individual criminal responsibility.
In resolution 43/26 of 22 June 2020, the Human Rights Council called for close and timely cooperation between the Mechanism and any future investigations by national, regional or international courts, including the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.
I can report that in response to requests, the Mechanism has been sharing appropriate information with The Gambia and Myanmar, Parties to the proceedings before the International Court of Justice. We believe it is important that the judges on that case have access to all relevant evidence.
Given that the mandate of the Mechanism is ongoing, we are closely following ongoing events in Myanmar and reports of violence that might qualify as war crimes or crimes against humanity. We are watching and those perpetrating violence should know that evidence is being recorded and preserved.
Perhaps my most memorable moment with the Mechanism was meeting with victims and community representatives in Cox’s Bazar last November. They told me how their families were affected by the violence they experienced and of their desire for justice. They said they wanted to return to their homes but only once it was safe to do so. I believe an essential step to a safe and voluntary return of refugees is an end to impunity for those responsible for violence.
We understand the deep importance of accountability for victims of crimes in Myanmar. We are committed to fulfil our role in that process, but we cannot do this alone. We need the continued support of all parts of the international community, in particular Member States in the region, in order for the Mechanism to fully achieve the purpose for which it was created.