Statement to the Human Rights Council by Mr. Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, on the 48th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council

September 13th, 2021  •  Author: United Nations  •  4 minute read
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13 September 2021

Madam President,

Excellencies,

It is an honour to present the third annual report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar.

In accordance with its mandate from this Council, the Mechanism continues to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law committed in Myanmar since 2011 and to prepare files focusing on the criminal conduct of persons responsible.

Tragically, serious crimes and violations of international law continue to be committed in Myanmar. The nation’s long history of impunity continues to impact the lives of its people. Men, women and children from diverse regions and ethnic groups are suffering. Four years since the military’s 2017 clearance operations in Rakhine state, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya remain living in temporary shelter in Bangladesh, their lives on hold hoping to return to homes many of which have been burned and bulldozed. Since the military seized power in February this year, the Mechanism has received reports on the use of unjustified force against peaceful protestors, arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearances and killings.  Thousands of people have fled their homes in various regions, devastating the economy of Myanmar and straining the resources of neighboring states. More than ever, there is a need to end impunity and to break this cycle of violence.

To date, the Mechanism has collected over 219,000 information items related to post-coup events. Our initial analysis indicates that these crimes are both widespread and systematic in nature. Preliminary evidence shows that about a thousand civilians have been killed, including in Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw, Bago, Mandalay, Magway and Sagaing. The evidence shows security forces acting in a coordinated manner across different regions, systematically targeting specific categories of persons, such as journalists and medical professionals. Many thousands have been detained without due process of law.

Under international law, crimes such as killings and arbitrary detentions committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population are crimes against humanity and thus fall within our mandate. The Mechanism is working to verify and analyse the available evidence concerning these events, and to identify individuals who bear criminal responsibility.

Madam President,

In the past year, the Mechanism has:

  • established a secure and state-of-the art information management system;
  • engaged in outreach to key stakeholders;
  • recruited personnel with a diverse range of expertise and specializations; and
  • collected and processed over 1.4 million information items.

We are mobilizing additional resources to enhance our capacities, especially those related to the analysis of open-source and financial information. We are pursuing innovative strategies for collecting evidence, which we consider essential given that the authorities in power in Myanmar have denied us access to crime scenes and potential witnesses.

We are committed to ensuring that the Mechanism always upholds the core principles of independence and impartiality. We pursue accountability irrespective of the race, ethnicity, religion or political affiliation of the victims or the perpetrators.

We place particular attention on the investigation of sexual and gender-based crimes and crimes against children because while very prevalent in conflict situations and devastating to societies, these crimes are often under-reported and under-prosecuted in criminal justice systems. These investigations require particular skills and sensitivities, and our recruitment and training policies reflect our determination to build such capacities.

We seek to always ensure the safety and privacy of victims, witnesses and information providers by emphasising the confidentiality of our work, ensuring the security of information and obtaining the informed consent from those we contact regarding how we will use any information that they share.

Our mandate is to collect evidence and build case files that can facilitate criminal prosecutions in national, regional or international courts. Many challenges remain. Building files on serious international crimes is a complex, time-consuming process. It requires proof to the high standards necessary for criminal convictions. Since the Mechanism is not a court, accountability for the crimes we investigate depends upon finding competent authorities willing and able to hold the perpetrators accountable in fair proceedings. We will then share our evidence as we have begun to do for proceedings in the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.

Madam President,

I wish to express my sincere gratitude to all those who have helped with the Mechanism’s efforts to collect and verify evidence, including victim and survivor groups, civil society organizations, businesses and many brave individuals. With the support of this Council, we will continue to do all we can to collect evidence of the most serious international crimes so that one day, there will be justice for victims from Myanmar and all will know that impunity for such crimes will no longer be tolerated.


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