Myanmar Times-Sept 18

     Commander-in-Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing and the five other individuals named by the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar’s report “must be investigated and prosecuted,” UN investigators said today. The UN team stressed that impetus for accountability must come from the international community and that the Rosario Manalo-led Commission of Enquiry recently set up by the government lacks “independence, impartiality and rigor”.

Indonesian lawyer Marzuki Darusman, chair of the Mission, gave a statement at the 39th session of the Human Rights Council in Switzerland. The publication of the full report follows the release of its 20-page report to the Human Rights Council of its key findings on August 27. Last month, U Hau Do Suan, Myanmar’s ambassador to the UN, rejected the report, saying Nay Pyi Taw has serious questions about the Mission’s objectivity, impartiality and sincerity.

Marzuki Darusman said “at the core of every incident and every human rights violation we examined was the extreme brutality of the Myanmar military. The facts indicate that its operations are consistently and grossly disproportionate to any discernible military objective.”

In addition, he said, it enforces a vision of a Bamar-Buddhist nation that dominates the other 135 officially recognised ethnic minority groups, in which the northern Rakhine Muslims “have no place”. “Moreover, it has no incentives to work towards peace or to respect human rights. This lies at the root of Myanmar’s human rights problems, which have been documented for decades.”

More than historical animosity

The chair said in the case of the northern Rakhine Muslims, “much of the animosity is attributed to historical reasons” but “there is more at play.” Historical animosities do not explain the generally amicable relations prior to 2012 between ordinary Rakhine Muslims and ethnic Rakhine.

Mr Darusman said that relations deteriorated quickly in 2012, after hate speech against the northern Rakhine Muslims became “more threatening, more vulgar and more pervasive”. The hate speech was encouraged by the authorities, both civilian and military and has only become worse since then, particularly since social media began to take root in Myanmar in 2015.

A particular dimension of hate speech specific to the northern Rakhine Muslims is the emphasis on their not belonging in Myanmar.

“They are commonly denigrated as ‘illegal immigrants’, ‘Bengalis’, and ‘kalar’, which means ‘dark’ or ‘dark-skinned’, another term that denotes foreignness.

“Soon after the attacks of 2017, soldiers were boasting on Facebook of having finally had the chance to kill ‘kalar’,” he said, adding that arbitrarily deprived of their citizenship, those Muslims in northern Rakhine “are now de facto stateless”.

The general public is relentlessly exposed to such hate speech, as well as misinformation from the authorities, the lawyer went on.               “Such hateful messages are taught in the religious schools and the military academy, and are transmitted through traditional media and, particularly, social media. Thus, if the reality is perceived differently inside Myanmar than outside, there is good reason for it,” the lawyer said.

“This poisonous environment allows the Tatmadaw to maintain its self-proclaimed role as the ‘protector of the nation’. Particularly during the last few years when it appeared that the process of democratisation could have diminished its role, the Tatmadaw actively shored up its dominance by promoting the vision of a Bamar-Buddhist identity of the nation, unilaterally breaking ceasefires, and portraying” the northern Rakhine Muslims “as an existential threat”, he stated. The result for those Muslims is that “they are persecuted, from birth to death”.

Tatmadaw above all

“The reality is that there is no law and no institution in Myanmar that is above the Tatmadaw. Its supremacy is guaranteed in the Constitution. As such, it enjoys complete impunity for its actions. This must change,” Mr Darusman stated.

“Along with a detailed presentation of its command structure, our report demonstrates that the Tatmadaw exercises effective control over its troops, as well as over other security forces deployed in military operations, such as the Myanmar Police Force and the Border Guard Police. In Rakhine, it also mobilised and armed ‘civilian’ militia that acted under its authority.

“Our analysis leads us to conclude, on reasonable grounds, that in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States, the underlying acts of crimes against humanity have been committed, including: murder; enslavement; forcible transfer of a population; rape, sexual slavery and sexual violence; imprisonment, torture and enforced disappearance; and persecution. These acts were committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed at civilian populations,” he continued.

The report named six individuals with control over the operations during which these acts have been committed, including the Tatmadaw chief. “He and the others we identified must be investigated and prosecuted,” the chair said.

Accountability from intl community

The UN team said the country’s justice system and domestic investigations will not work.

“Let us be clear here: any hope that Myanmar’s national justice system will provide justice and truth for human rights violations committed by the military would be unfounded… Far from uncovering the truth, Myanmar’s domestic justice system will, on the contrary, punish those who seek it.

“Similarly, the many domestic investigations undertaken into allegations of the most serious human rights violations have lacked independence, impartiality and rigour, without exception. There have already been eight ineffective inquiries into the situation in Rakhine State alone since 2012 and now the Government has appointed a ninth. The members of the new Commission of Enquiry said that its purpose is to combat the ‘false narratives of the international community’.

“The impetus for accountability must therefore come from the international community. The Fact-Finding Mission recommends a five-point framework for accountability,” the lawyer concluded.

Addressing the report, Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar Bob Rae said that “the extent of the human rights violations alleged in Rakhine State has shocked the international community.