First published in The Nation on 28 August 2018 and accessible at: http://www.nationmultimedia.com/detail/opinion/30353106
In a damning report by the United Nations, Myanmar’s military has been accused of committing genocide against the Rohingya Muslims. The report, which is based on a fact-finding mission, said the armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw, were also responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity against other minorities across the country.
The report found conclusive evidence that the Tatmadaw’s activities had amounted “the gravest crimes under international law” in Rakhine, as well as in Kachin and Shan states, which sit along the Chinese and Thai borders, respectively. It accused the government soldiers of “killing indiscriminately, gang-raping women, assaulting children and burning entire villages” in these three states. Needless to say, the government of Myanmar must address these accusations head-on. There is no way around it. The report singled out several individuals, including Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Tatmadaw, as the responsible parties.
The report was ordered by the UN Security Council following a visit by officials to the country last March to investigate the atrocities that resulted in the uprooting of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who had been forced to cross the border into Bangladesh. About 25,000 of them were killed in this campaign of violence, which indeed was nothing less than a crime against humanity.
The mission also backed calls for Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, to be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC). It shouldn’t matter if the country does not happen to be under the jurisdiction of the court based in The Hague. One way or another, Myanmar must be held accountable for the actions of state authorities.
State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi has in recent days been trying to justify the Tatmadaw’s actions, saying those taken in Rakhine were appropriate because they were in response to “terrorist” attacks. Whatever moral authority this former icon of democracy once had is no more. She, too, must be made to answer these allegations. Her newly established inquiry into the crisis in Rakhine has said there would be no “finger-pointing, blaming, to say ‘you’re accountable’.”
Because of her unwillingness to put her foot down, the international community is left with no choice but to take action separately. In short, the Burmese generals must be taken to court. And furthermore, Thailand as well as others who kept silent—by refusing to back calls for Myanmar to be judged before the ICC—are in effect protecting the Tatmadaw and obstructing justice.
No one is asking Thailand and the other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to intervene in Myanmar’s domestic affairs. But it is important that the Thai government set aside proper diplomatic language if necessary to describe the situation precisely as it is. This is not the time to hide behind comfortable, amicable, or convenient language. The atrocities committed in Myanmar constituted nothing less than genocide.
Suu Kyi and her generals must know that any attempt to whitewash these crimes by setting up one inquiry after another will no longer buy them time. It has become clear that whatever hope the world maintained that she would do the thing has now evaporated. She does not represent the ‘last hope’, but rather a problem in her own right because of her refusal to take action. Now, it is the ICC that’s looking more and more like the Rohingyas’ last, best hope for justice.
The world cannot stand idly by and watch an entire people being wiped from the face of the earth.