UN mission urges financial isolation of Myanmar’s military

The United Nations fact-finding mission on Myanmar has urged the international community to cut off all financial and other support to the Southeast Asian country’s military, saying its commanders need to be isolated and brought before a credible court to answer charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The Commission’s Chairperson, Marzuki Darusman, said the measures were needed because Myanmar has not done enough to resolve the country’s conflicts and protect human rights, including those of over a million ethnic Rohingya civilians who have been forced into exile.

“There has been no movement toward a resolution of the crisis,” Darusman said at the conclusion of a 10-day visit to Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

“The situation is at a total standstill,” he added.

The Commission’s 444-page report, submitted to the Human Rights Council in September 2018, documented how Myanmar’s military brutally and systemically violated the human rights of ethnic minorities throughout the country, according to the Council’s statement. It focused on the military’s ‘clearance operations’ against the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State in 2017, when security forces killed thousands of Rohingya civilians, raped and sexually abused women and girls and burned their villages in an explosion of violence that forced the exodus of more than 700,000 people in two months. Both military and civilian sides of Myanmar’s government persistently deny the facts and disclaim any responsibility for crimes under international law.

Following this violence, Myanmar authorities have leveled empty Rohingya villages with bulldozers, effectively destroying criminal evidence, while making no substantive progress in resolving the ethnic animosities that have helped fuel the crisis, it said.

The report also condemned ethnic armed organizations for violating international humanitarian law and committing human rights abuses.

In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the Commission visited Kutupalong Camp, which houses Rohingya refugees who have been fleeing Myanmar since the early 1990s. The Experts met scores of refugees to gather more testimony, brief them on the status of the FFM’s work, and update them on efforts to advance accountability of Myanmar’s generals. The refugees told the FFM they need justice, education, work and the ability to return safely home in dignity.

Darusman told the refugees that, when the the Commission’s mandate expires in September 2019, it will hand over its information, documentation and evidence to the new Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar, established by the Human Rights Council to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings against perpetrators of crimes under international law in Myanmar.

“In short, this is not the end of the story,” Darusman told them. “Please have hope that this will lead to eventual accountability of those who are responsible for what took place against the Rohingya community.”

Darusman said that operations conducted by Myanmar security forces in Rakhine State in 2017, as well as earlier violence directed at Rohingya communities there in 2012 and 2016, were not isolated incidents. Rather, they “were the result of structural problems fueled by the absence of a political and legal system that is willing to accommodate diversity. This is an issue affecting ethnic minorities throughout Myanmar,” Darusman said. “Any solutions should directly address the structural problems.”

Darusman also said that Myanmar’s government should “focus on the real betterment of the remaining Rohingya community in Myanmar.” Many there live in fear of security forces and more than 120,000 are still restricted to displacement camps they were forced to flee to after violence in 2012.

During their visit to the region, which began on 3 May, the Commission experts met with government officials, UN agencies, regional actors and humanitarian workers. They also met representatives from Chin, Kachin, Shan and Rakhine communities who reported their fears of returning to Myanmar due to continued violence and fighting, uncertainties around the peace process and the dire humanitarian situation in large parts of the country.

“Meeting with these different ethnic communities only underscored our findings that the Tatmadaw (the Myanmar military) has over time committed similar atrocities against many of the ethnic groups living within the borders of Myanmar. Acknowledging that human rights violations have been committed, holding people accountable and reforming the Tatmadaw is the only way forward,” Expert member Radhika Coomaraswamy said.

“The repatriation of refugees remains remote unless and until the Myanmar government takes concrete measures to provide conditions that are conducive for voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return, including full and equal inclusion in Myanmar society,” she added.

The Commission reiterated its interest in engaging in dialogue with the Myanmar government to advance accountability, ensure justice and promote the right to safe, voluntary and dignified return.

Expert member Christopher Sidoti emphasized, however, that the Commission “has seen no evidence that the Myanmar government is acting in good faith to resolve the crisis or facilitate the safe return of refugees. The situation demands an increase in international pressure.”

“Due to the gravity of the past and continuing violations, attention must be given to the political, economic and financial ties of the Myanmar military – to identify who and what should be targeted so we can cut off the money supply as a means of increasing the pressure and reducing the violence,” Sidoti said.

The Commission will present its final report to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2019.