One year ago today, the marginalized and essentially stateless Rohingya people in Myanmar (denied full citizenship but also denied the right the leave the country legally), were subject to a brutal campaign unleashed by Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority state security forces.
In response to alleged attacks by Rohingya militants against government forces, security members and allied civilian mobs launched an all-out attack on defenseless Rohingya villagers, cutting off their efforts to escape to safety on foot and firing on them from helicopters and from the ground. The unofficial death toll quickly climbed into the hundreds, taking several decades of brutal and systematic oppression to the next murderous level. By mid-August of 2017, over 76,000 people had attempted a dangerous escape across the border to Bangladesh, through rain swollen areas that left more bodies washed up on riverbanks.
Many of those who eventually reached refugee camps described villages surrounded and families shot systematically and stabbed to death, including children.
A year later, six generals have been named as priority subjects for investigation and prosecution by a United Nations Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar. In a newly released report describing the campaign and its atrocities, their actions have been called “undoubtedly…the gravest crimes under international law.” Here’s the report.
The government of Myanmar has rejected the allegations, claiming that the attacks were warranted. But the three-member panel responsible for the report has attached the most serious allegation, genocide, to the list of charges against the military leaders. The panel finds enough evidence to support accusations of genocidal intent, and members have cited an organized plan for destruction and evidence of an extreme scale of brutality and violence. The panel cites over 10,000 deaths, harrowing witness accounts and over 700,000 refugees by the end of the 2017 actions in Rakhine.
Despite Myanmar’s refusal to allow access or cooperate with the investigation, the report contains hundreds of pages of witness accounts, interviews, satellite data and other information that will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month.
The United Nations human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has previously condemned the army’s actions, but this newly released report will likely increase pressure for immediate international action. After reviewing the report, the UN Security Council may refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or set up an international tribunal. The Council may also impose an arms embargo on Myanmar and penalize those most responsible with travel bans or asset freezes.
But the path toward justice, if one exists, will not be clear. Since Myanmar’s civilian authorities have proven unable and unwilling to investigate or deliver justice on their own, any form of accountability will need to come from the international community. And since international criminal law is a nascent entity at this point, the outcome of any form of condemnation remains uncertain.
A year after the fact, the generals responsible for high crimes and human rights violations and the civilian authorities who enabled them remain both unpunished and unrepentant. Read more here and please join us as we follow the developments surrounding the newly released report.