Myanmar is guilty of genocide against the Rohingya people, according to the verdict of international Permanent Peoples' Tribunal.
A seven-member panel announced the verdict yesterday after considering documentary and expert evidence as well as the testimony of some 200 victims of the atrocities committed against the Rohingya, Kachin and other minority groups in Myanmar, reports The Star Online of Malaysia.
Head judge Daniel Feierstein, who founded the Centre for Genocide Studies in Argentina, read out the findings following five days of hearing held at the moot court of the law faculty of University of Malaya.
On the strength of the evidence presented, the tribunal reached the consensus ruling that Myanmar has the intent to commit genocide against the Kachin and other groups, the tribunal said.
“The State of Myanmar is guilty of the crime of genocide against the Rohingya group.... the casualties of that genocide could be even higher in the future if nothing is done to stop it,” it added.
A preliminary unedited version of the judgment was available on the website of the tribunal last night.
The verdict came at a time when over 4,20,000 Rohingyas fled persecution in Myanmar to Bangladesh in last four weeks.
The influx was triggered by Myanmar army's response to alleged insurgent attacks on 30 police posts and an army base in Rakhine State on August 25.
The UN has denounced the “cruel military operation” against Rohingyas as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
The panel, which included Zulaiha Ismail (Malaysia), Helen Jarvis (Cambodia/Australia), Gill H Boehringer (Australia), Nursyahbani Katjasungkana (Indonesia), Shadi Sadr (Iran) and Nello Rossi (Italy), made 17 recommendations.
It said visas and full access must be granted to the UN investigators for probing the atrocities committed against the Rohingya, Kachin and other groups in Myanmar.
The Myanmar government should amend its constitution and abolish discriminatory laws to give rights and citizenship to the oppressed minorities, it added.
The tribunal recommended imposing an immediate arms embargo on the government of Myanmar.
About the implication of the verdict, eminent war crimes researcher Mofidul Hoque said the verdict is “very significant” and sends a strong moral message to the world.
Also the director of Centre for the Study of Genocide and Justice in Bangladesh, he said the verdict clearly says that what's happening in Myanmar is not just ethnic cleansing; it's a classic example of genocide.
“The verdict gave a clarion call that United Nations and relevant international bodies must act to bring the Myanmar authority to book for committing genocide,” Mofidul, also a trustee of the Liberation War Museum, told The Daily Star.
This is the first time the tribunal delivered a verdict accusing a government having link with a Nobel laureate, he said.
Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and Myanmar's de facto leader, is now facing growing criticism over the Rohingya issue.
Tureen Afroz, a senior prosecutor of the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh, said the verdict established what prominent individuals and different countries and international organisations are saying: Myanmar is committing genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingyas.
“The verdict will help draw international attention to the atrocities,” Tureen, also a law professor of a private university, told The Daily Star.
She, however, called for persuading the prosecution team at the International Criminal Court to initiate trial proceedings against Myanmar for the crimes as the verdict of the people's tribunal has “no legal basis.”
“And, in that case, the tribunal verdict will be helpful,” Tureen said.
The tribunal's findings, judgment and recommendations would be forwarded to international bodies and civil groups, said an organiser.
The international community must provide financial help to countries such as Bangladesh and Malaysia that are hosting the refugees.
Myanmar must prosecute perpetrators of human rights abuses, hate crimes, genocidal massacres, rape, torture, arson and ethnic and religious violence against the Rohingya, Kachin and other groups in its courts. There must be no more impunity for military personnel or militias.
An independent, non-governmental commission should be established to develop a programme for rehabilitation and compensation for victims.
Targeted sanctions, for example freezing of overseas bank accounts and travel ban outside Myanmar, need to be imposed on government officials and perpetrators of human rights abuse.
There should be a plan to escalate sanctions if the government fail in its general duty to protect its people and to stop the human rights violations by the military and private persons and organisations.
An independent, international non-governmental commission should be formed to investigate the causes behind the harms about which the world has now been made aware.
WHAT IS PERMANENT PEOPLES' TRIBUNAL?
PPT was established in Bologna in 1979 as a direct continuation of the Russell Tribunal on Vietnam (1966-67) and Latin America (1973-76), according to its website.
The Russell Tribunal, also known as the International War Crimes Tribunal, Russell-Sartre Tribunal, or Stockholm Tribunal, was a private body organised by British philosopher and Nobel Prize winner Bertrand Russell and hosted by French philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre.
It investigated and evaluated American foreign policy and military intervention in Vietnam after the defeat of French forces in the battle of Diên Biên Phu in 1954 and the establishment of North and South Vietnam.
Since its establishment, PPT is built around an international network of experts, social actors and scholars from several countries of Europe, South America, Asia and Africa, recognised for their independence and competence.
The characteristic of “permanency” and the selection criteria used in the appointment of its judges, renowned for their independence and expertise, have made this opinion tribunal a laboratory of denunciation and interdisciplinary research, it said.
Based in Rome, the tribunal has held 43 sessions on numerous cases involving human rights and genocide. Cases relating to Armenian genocide, war crimes in Sri Lanka, crimes against humanity in former Yugoslavia, among others, were dealt by it.