Myanmar’s Whitewashing of the Truth Must End

“Whilst the denial of our identity as an ethnic group belonging to Myanmar continues, we find it hard to believe that the physical and genocidal destruction of our group will come to an end.”

Rohingya Youth Association (RYA)

A much publicized video of two Myanmar military soldiers confessing to committing grave human rights violations surfaced online, including admissions of mass murder and destruction of villages in Rakhine State in 2017, under the orders of Myanmar military senior officers. This has further escalated widespread calls for accountability for the violations committed against the Rohingya and other ethnic communities at the hands of the Myanmar military. The reaction from the Myanmar military has been to discredit the authenticity of videos and to demand the soldiers to be sent back to Myanmar. Additionally, they have chided international accountability mechanisms, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) for an “intervention in the national judicial process”, claiming the government and military are taking steps to ensure accountability in line with the recommendations of the government-mandated Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE). Such claims are far-fetched given the continued failure of the government to hold perpetrators to account, and their continuing failure to end widespread and indiscriminate atrocities against ethnic and religious minorities.

The ICOE is the latest, and eighth ad hoc commissions or boards the Myanmar government has set up to address the situation of human rights violations in Rakhine State since 2012. The United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (IIFFMM) found none of these commissions, including the ICOE, meet the international standard of an “impartial, independent, effective and thorough human rights investigation.” The spokesperson for the Office of the President claimed that the purpose of the ICOE was to respond to ‘false allegations’ made by UN agencies and the international community. Additionally, the IIFFMM found one of the Commissioners was closely linked to the government’s development project to bulldoze burned down Rohingya villages after the 2017 Myanmar military clearance operation and has made statements denying that ethnic cleansing and genocide occurred in Rakhine State prior to the ICOE’s establishment.

Concerns have increased due to limited transparency and unclear methodology of the ICOE’s report, given that only the executive summary and annexes 16-28 have been made publicly available. Even from the limited available excerpts of the report, the narratives and conclusions are completely contrary to credible and abundant evidence gathered by the IIFFMM, the US State Department, international and local CSOs. The ICOE report rejects allegations of rape and gang rape committed by the Myanmar military as hearsay and constructs a narrative to minimize the military’s disproportionate use of force and egregious and deliberate targeting of Rohingya civilians. Ultimately, the report admits war crimes and human rights violations may have occurred but categorically denies genocidal intent on behalf of the Myanmar military. In a press release, the Rohingya Youth Association (RYA) have condemned the report, which “whitewashes Myanmar’s crimes in an attempt to by-pass the mechanisms of international justice and accountability” and said it believes that “Whilst the denial of our identity as an ethnic group belonging to Myanmar continues, we find it hard to believe that the physical and genocidal destruction of our group will come to an end.”

A further barrier to domestic accountability is the military-drafted 2008 Constitution, which shields military personnel from the civilian justice system and retains all military affairs under the control of the military. While domestic accountability is impossible, the military and other actors are able to continue to inflict violence against ethnic and religious minorities with total impunity. Testament to this is the Myanmar military’s recent military offensive on 3 September, which set ablaze 200 homes, with two civilians dead and leaving 1000 people displaced in Kyauktaw Township, Rakhine State. In their report “Seeking Justice”, the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand and Asia Justice and Rights, bemoan the constitutional impossibility of trying soldiers before a civilian court, which requires the military Commander-in-Chief’s authority. Even in the rare instances where cases have been transferred, undue influence on the judiciary and weak rule of law often leads to acquittals, disproportionate sentences or early parole.

Purported accountability measures taken by the Myanmar government, such as ICOE, are intended to defer, detract and cover up such grave human rights violations. In order to realize accountability, in instances where it is manifestly impossible to prosecute international crimes domestically, there has to be a conscious and concerted effort by the international community to push the United Nations Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC or establish an ad hoc tribunal. Furthermore, the international community must join Canada and the Netherlands in the International Court of Justice case undertaken by the Gambia to ensure Myanmar upholds the Genocide Convention and implement the provisional measures ordered by the ICJ.

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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

ရခိုင်ပြည်နယ်တွင်ဖက်ဆစ်စစ်တပ်မှအကြမ်းဖက်နေမှုများနှင့်ပတ်သက်၍ ဗကသများအဖွဲ့ချုပ်၏ သဘောထားကြေညာချက်

By All Burma Federation of Student Unions

Myanmar: Leaked documents reveal global business ties to military crimes

By Amnesty International

Myanmar: As campaign period begins, freedom of expression violations ramp up

By Article 19

လွတ်လပ်စွာ ထုတ်ဖေါ်ခွင့်များအား တရားစွဲဆိုအရေးယူနေမှုနှင့်ပတ်သက်၍ ထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

Statement on Prosecution of Right to Freedom of Expression

By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

Burma: Drop Charges Against Rakhine Student Activists Immediately

By Burma Human Rights Network

Joint Statement by Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Tunisia, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America after UN Security Council Consultations on Myanmar

By Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Tunisia, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America

17 Months on – Rakhine Journalist Still in Hiding for Reporting on Military’s Human Rights Violations

By Burma Campaign UK

Burma: Drop Charges Against Rakhine Student Activists Immediately

By Burma Human Rights Network

Burma: Drop Charges Against Rakhine Student Activists Immediately

By Burma Human Rights Network

Privacy Amendment welcome but insufficient to address misuse of defamation

By Free Expression Myanmar

Release Imprisoned Ethnic-Karen Activists: Court Sentences Three Human Rights Defenders to 15 Days in Prison for Peaceful Assembly

By Fortify Rights

International Criminal Court: Prosecute and Offer Witness Protection to Myanmar Army Deserters

By Fortify Rights

Statement on Horrivic Killing of Innocent Children and Civilians in Arakan (Rakhine) State

By International Campaign for Arakan

Justice For Myanmar welcomes the intervention of Canada and the Netherlands in Myanmar’s ICJ genocide trial; calls for divestment and sanctions targeting the military cartel

By Justice For Myanmar

Stepping into Uncertainty: Refugee and IDP experiences of return in Southeast Myanmar

By Karen Human Rights Group

Statement on the Impact of Conflict in Western Myanmar

By United Nations Myanmar

reports

Reports

Stepping into Uncertainty: Refugee and IDP Experiences of Return in Southeast 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.” 

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