The latest report by the UN finally used the word “genocide” in condemning the atrocities committed by the Myanmar government against the Rohingya Muslim minority. The scathing UN Fact-Finding Mission report released last Monday accused the country’s military of acting with “genocidal intent” during its brutal campaign against the Rohingya, which has driven more than 700,000 refugees into neighboring Bangladesh in the past year. The investigators concluded that Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, committed atrocities that “undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law” and called for top commanders, by name, to be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court (ICC) or at an alternative tribunal.
As expected, the Myanmar government strongly rebuffed the report, disputed the accusations and rejected the conclusions of the UN Human Rights Council. The main disappointment is in the mystifying silence of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of the country, over the crimes committed and the fact she made no attempt to stop them. In fact, in her public statements she even refused to say the word “Rohingya” and instead defended the military. The UN report noted that Suu Kyi had “not used her de facto position as head of government, nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events.” This clearly puts her within the circle of responsibility.
Until now, UN officials and world leaders had labeled the horrific acts that unfolded in August 2017 as “ethnic cleansing” or “crimes against humanity,” which, unlike “war crimes” and “genocide,” have not been specifically defined under international law and therefore are not prosecuted. Last Tuesday, a day after the report was released, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said at a briefing to the organization’s Security Council that the Fact-Finding Mission’s report deserves “serious consideration,” while Sweden and the Netherlands called on the Security Council to refer Myanmar to the ICC.
Following up on prosecuting the accused in the report is critical for the credibility of the UN body and the international community, and would send a strong message to those who act with impunity in contempt for human life and international law.
Myanmar kept the Rakhine region out of reach, sight and sound of the world while it conducted its “clearance operation” of the Rohingya. It repeatedly denied visas to the three-member Fact-Finding Mission after it was established in March 2017, and did not respond to requests by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to visit.