A three-person fact-finding mission found four acts of genocide and evidence of genocidal intent against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar
UN urges clampdown on Myanmar military leaders
The UN report accusing the Myanmar military's commanders of genocide and criticising Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of the government, for failing to stop the violence against the Rohingya last year is the strongest indictment of the atrocities against the minority since the crisis broke out last year.
“The gross human rights violations and abuses committed … are shocking for their horrifying nature and ubiquity. Many of these violations undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law,” the report said.
"Myanmar’s top military generals, including Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, must be investigated and prosecuted for genocide in the north of Rakhine State, as well as for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States," it added.
Yet the report released by the UN Human Rights Council's fact-finding mission on Monday is just the latest indictment of the Myanmar government and senior military officials, who are believed to have committed an array of gross human rights violations despite repeated warnings from the international community.
And it is unclear if the report will actually have any effect on the actions of the military.
At a press conference, the mission said the actions in Myanmar account to the "gravest crimes under international law", stating that "criminal prosecution is warranted" under the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The mission also warned that to expect justice from a domestic investigation in Myanmar is "simply naive, there is no accountability and there is no impartiality".
Some 25,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed and roughly 700,000 fled Myanmar for Bangladesh since last August as the army launched a vicious assault on the minority, with accounts of widespread murder, rape and arson. The army has consistently denied the allegations and said it was responding to Rohingya insurgents threatening national security.
"The crimes in Rakhine State, and the manner in which they were perpetrated, are similar in nature, gravity and scope to those that have allowed genocidal intent to be established in other contexts," the report said.
The report added: “There is sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Tatmadaw [Myanmar army] chain of command." It said the army’s destructive tactics were "consistently and grossly disproportionate to actual security threats”.
It also held Ms Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, responsible for failing to use her authority to prevent the violence.
The report found that Ms Suu Kyi had not used her “moral authority to stem or prevent the unfolding events, or seek alternative avenues to meet a responsibility to protect the civilian population”.
"We are very much happy with [the report's] undeniable conclusions, and the terms they have used in their report. As this was official report of the UN, UNSC must take action. I believe it will make much of an impact. As the UN is the world's largest organisation and a legitimate body, all governments will consider now the crimes of the Myanmar military committed during the genocide against Rohingya," Ro Nasy San Lwin, a leader of the Free Rohingya Coalition, told The National.
"Now is the right time to take actions against Myanmar military and government. Genocide victims deserve justice - the UNSC must refer Myanmar criminals to ICC," he added.
The UN said civilian authorities had spread false news, failed to acknowledge the crimes of the army, prevented independent investigations and overseen destruction of evidence.
“Through their acts and omissions, the civilian authorities have contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes,” the report found. It did, however, acknowledge that the government had little control over the military.
Genocide has a complex definition under the Genocide Convention, which Myanmar has ratified. The report found evidence of four out of five possible genocidal acts, and said "the necessary genocidal intent is present in Rakhine state".
The four genocidal acts that were found were killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting on a group conditions with intent to bring about its physical destruction, and measures to prevent births within the group.
Examples of genocidal intent included oppressive context, hate rhetoric, exclusionary policies, a high level of organisation, and the extreme scale and brutality of the violence.
The commander-in-chief of the army said the "clearance operation was defined as completing an unfinished job of solving the long-standing Bengali problem", which the mission said is an example of genocidal intent. However, as with most cases of genocide, there is no "smoking gun", it said.
Myanmar’s justice system was described as woefully ineffective with “impunity deeply entrenched” in the country’s law. According to the report, the army “can independently adjudicate its own matters, with the commander-in-chief having the final word. The rare cases, brought mostly before military courts without transparency, are wholly insufficient to counter the overall trend of impunity.”
A recently created government inquiry commission was deemed unable to provide a real path to accountability and said the military was completely removed from the justice system. The report said that a complete overhaul of the domestic security services and legal system were required.
So incompetent was the government of Myanmar deemed, the report said the UN and the international community had to take the lead in protecting locals from genocide and crimes against humanity.
Read our special report on displaced Rohingya Muslims in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh:
The UK government, which has a long history with Ms Suu Kyi, quickly commended the report and urged the Myanmar government to act on it.
“Anyone like myself who has been engaged directly in this terrible crisis, or has spoken to Rohingya refugees, knows the Burmese military is primarily to blame for such appalling human rights violations as the widespread rape and murder of the Rohingya people.The fact finding mission provides yet more damning evidence of their culpability,” said Mark Field, state minister for Asia and the Pacific.
“There cannot and must not be impunity for such acts, which the mission has concluded warrants the investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Tatmadaw chain of command, so that a competent court can determine their liability for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine State,” he said.
The UN said the desperate situation would preferably be referred to the International Criminal Court, despite Myanmar not being a signatory to the Rome statute and therefore not under the jurisdiction of the court.
Facebook was also deemed a key outlet in which hate speech was propagated against the Rohingya Muslims, the mission's report said. The social media platform worked with the mission and has made attempts to take down hate speech.
A longer report is to be published in the coming weeks and will be presented to a UN council on September 18.