UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged all UN bodies and the global community to seriously consider the recommendations of the fact-finding mission that accused the Myanmar military of carrying out “gravest crimes” against the Rohingyas under the international law.
The UN mission in a report published on Monday said Myanmar's top military generals, including Commander-in-Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, must be prosecuted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes over their actions against the minority group.
Rejecting the report, Myanmar has termed it one-sided accusation based on one-sided information, while its ally China said exerting pressure was not helpful in resolving the Rohingya issue.
China, backed by Russia, had helped to block a resolution on the crisis at the UN Security Council in the past. It also backed what Myanmar officials call a legitimate counter-insurgency operation in Rakhine State.
The UN mission, however, found that the Myanmar armed forces had taken actions that "undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under the international law" and “grossly disproportionate to actual security threat”.
The UN chief was scheduled yesterday to give a briefing during a Security Council commemoration of the anniversary of the violent crackdown on the Rohingyas. He earlier had described the atrocities in Myanmar as ethnic cleansing.
UN Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday about Guterres' call to UN bodies and international community.
“The secretary-general has for a long time underscored the violations of human rights in Myanmar” and stressed “that accountability is essential for genuine reconciliation”, he said.
In Beijing yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing that the historical, religious and ethnic background of the Rakhine issue was “extremely complex”.
“I think that unilateral criticism or exerting pressure is actually not helpful to resolving the problem,” Hua said, when asked about the UN report, according to Reuters.
Hua said Myanmar and Bangladesh had recently made “positive progress” in talks, in an apparent reference to an agreement to complete the voluntary repatriation of over 725,000 Rohingyas who fled Rakhine State and took shelter in Bangladesh after a brutal military crackdown since August 25, 2017.
“Under these circumstances the international community should continue to play a constructive role in promoting Myanmar and Bangladesh appropriately resolving the Rakhine State issue via dialogue and consultations,” Hua said.
The repatriation of the Rohingyas remains elusive even nine months after the signing of an agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
The deal inked between Dhaka and Naypyidaw in November announced that their return must begin in January 2018, within two months of the agreement signing.
Myanmar's permanent representative to the UN, U Hau Do Suan, told BBC: "As we did not accept the idea of a fact-finding mission from the beginning, we reject their report.
"The human rights abuses are one-sided accusations against us. This is designed at putting pressure on us by the international organisations.
“Their report is based on one-sided information from the people who fled to Bangladesh and the opposition groups."
Meanwhile, the US State Department, which has yet to declare a “genocide” in Myanmar, said the UN report added to a “growing body of information indicating widespread human rights abuses by the Burmese military and other security forces”.
A spokesperson, who was not authorised to be quoted by name and requested anonymity, said the US, with allies and partners, was exploring a “broad range of options” to ensure justice for victims and “appropriate consequences” for perpetrators, reports the Washington Post.
The three-member UN mission found that the Myanmar military carried out mass killing and gang rapes of Rohingyas with “genocidal intent” while the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi allowed hate speech to thrive, destroyed documents and failed to protect minorities from crimes.
In its recommendations, the panel said the UN Security Council should set up an ad hoc tribunal to try suspects or refer them to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The Security Council also should impose an arms embargo on Myanmar and adopt targeted individual sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against those who appear most responsible for serious crimes under international law.
The mission suggested that the international community, through the UN, should use all diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to assist Myanmar in meeting its responsibility to protect its people from genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
REACTIONS FLOW IN
Those responsible for alleged serious and systemic human rights violation must be held to account, said a spokeswoman for the European Commission. “Any further EU step is something that would have to be discussed with the member states."
The report will have a big impact internationally, coming from the main UN-mandated body investigating the violence against the Rohingyas, and also covering armed conflict in Shan and Kachin states, said Richard Horsey, a former UN diplomat in Myanmar and long time Yangon-based analyst.
“Its specific finding that there is sufficient grounds for investigation and prosecution of military commanders for genocide is likely to have particularly serious diplomatic, not only legal, consequences.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will use all information at his disposal, including a US report compiled from refugees' accounts but which has yet to be released, to decide how to “advance accountability” in Myanmar, his spokesman said.
“This month, the United States unveiled a new set of targeted sanctions against military officers who are believed to have directed the violence against the Rohingya. But no member of the country's top brass, such as General Min Aung Hlaing, was named,” reports The New York Times.
Canada, which also imposed sanctions against seven senior Myanmar military officials over their involvement in the violence and persecution on Rohingyas, yesterday welcomed the UN report.
“Canada welcomes the fact-finding mission's conclusion that senior officials in the Tatmadaw chain of command should be investigated and prosecuted in order to ensure a competent court can determine their responsibility for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine state,” Global Affairs Canada said in a statement yesterday.
Commenting on the UN report, UK Minister of State for Asia and The Pacific Mark Field said the mission's conclusions on rights violations in Myanmar since 2011, in particular the truly horrific violence from August last year in Rakhine State, came as no surprise.
There “cannot and must not be impunity” for atrocities in Myanmar, he added.
Michael McGrath, Save the Children country director in Myanmar, said the evidence presented by the fact-finding mission is clear. “Children and their families have been murdered, sexually assaulted and forced to flee burning villages, and they have not yet seen the justice they deserve.”