Statement 71 Views

Statement by Mr. Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, at the 78th Session of the Third Committee of the General Assembly

October 23rd, 2023  •  Author:   Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar  •  3 minute read
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23 October 2023

Mister Chair,

Excellencies,

It is an honour to appear before this Assembly for the first time to update you on the progress of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar.

In 2018, this Assembly welcomed the Human Rights Council creating the Mechanism with the mandate to collect and analyse evidence of the most serious international crimes committed throughout Myanmar.

We put particular emphasis on collecting evidence of crimes against the Rohingya population that led to hundreds of thousands fleeing the country. We have collected and analysed compelling evidence of the widespread burning of Rohingya villages, the confiscation of property, assaults and killings of civilians and horrific accounts of sexual crimes.

Since the military coup in February 2021, the Mechanism has collected and verified evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed throughout Myanmar. Tragically, in the last year such crimes have only increased in frequency and intensity. We have evidence of brazen attacks on civilians, including mass executions, intentional burning of villages, and more frequent aerial bombings and indiscriminate shelling. We are also investigating reports of widespread arrests without due process, torture, sexual violence, deportation, and forcible transfer.

Mr. Chair,

We are grateful to this Assembly for calling on Myanmar and Member States to fully cooperate with the Mechanism. However, military authorities have ignored our repeated requests for information and access. We also face challenges in conducting investigative activities in other countries, including in the Asia Pacific Region, where most witnesses and information providers are located.

To compensate, we have embraced innovative technology to propel our investigations. Our Open-Source team, for example, uses advanced software to analyse and verify copious quantities of material, such as videos, photographs and geospatial imagery posted on social media. This is then cross-checked against the information received so far from at least 725 sources, including more than 250 eyewitness accounts. The quantity of evidence and information we have been able to collect to date from individuals and organizations is unprecedented and frankly, unanticipated.

Mr. Chair,

We do not intend for the evidence we collect to gather dust in storage; we seek to use it to facilitate justice and accountability in courts and tribunals willing and able to prosecute these cases. We are currently sharing evidence and analysis for three ongoing proceedings focused on crimes committed against the Rohingya, at the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and in Argentina. This includes three analytical reports focused on the military chain of command in Rakhine State; the failure of Myanmar authorities to investigate or punish sexual and gender-based crimes; and the organized spread of hate speech content on Facebook by the Myanmar military during the 2017 clearance operations.

I am grateful to the courageous survivors of crimes who have shared their testimonies, and to the many individuals and organizations who provided us with information, often at significant risk. We prioritize ensuring that our interactions with them have the highest level of security and confidentiality.

With the constant increase in the number of incidents we are investigating, our operations have become increasingly complex. The Mechanism needs adequate resources to protect witnesses, ensure the safety and security of personnel and deliver on our mandate.

Mr. Chair,

I am grateful to this Assembly for its support. The cycle of impunity in Myanmar has emboldened the military to commit ever-more brazen attacks on the country’s people. The Mechanism is committed to breaking this cycle, and we are focusing all our efforts to ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes will one day face justice.


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