UN's Myanmar probe: Crimes of the highest order
A United Nations probe into abuses against the Rohingya committed by Myanmar's military, released yesterday, determined the level of brutality employed was "hard to fathom". Here are extracts from the speech delivered by Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar in Geneva, as he unveiled the report.
MYANMAR MILITARY THE CULPRIT
"With a heavy heart and deep sadness we have drawn conclusions, on the basis of the facts, that we never expected would be as grave as they are. What we have found are not only the most serious human rights violations, but crimes of the highest order under international law.
"At the core of every incident and every human rights violation we examined was the extreme brutality of the Myanmar military (known as the Tatmadaw).
"The facts indicate that its operations are consistently and grossly disproportionate to any discernible military objective. It enforces a vision of a Bamar-Buddhist nation that dominates the other 135 officially recognized ethnic minority groups, in which the Rohingya have no place. Moreover, it has no incentives to work towards peace or to respect human rights. This lies at the root of Myanmar's human rights problems, which have been documented for decades.
"We have verified the destruction resulting from Tatmadaw operations in numerous sites across the three States. It is hard to fathom the level of brutality of Tatmadaw operations, its total disregard for civilian life. I invite everyone here to judge for yourself.
A STORY OF UNHEARD BRUTALITY
"The village Min Gyi (also known by its Rohingya name of Tula Toli) is etched in my mind. On the morning of 30 August 2017, Tatmadaw soldiers, accompanied by armed ethnic Rakhine and other ethnic minorities, descended on this Rohingya village, which is bordered on three sides by a river. Without notice, Tatmadaw soldiers entered by land, opening fire and burning houses.
"As villagers fled in the opposite direction, soldiers fired directly on people trapped between themselves and the riverbank. Many people were shot and killed. Those who could not escape were rounded up and separated by sex. The men were systematically killed. Children were shot, thrown into the river or onto a fire.
"The women and girls were taken in groups of five to seven to the larger houses in the village, where their jewellery was taken from them, They were beaten, and viciously raped. Many were stabbed and killed, along with their small children. The houses were then locked and set on fire with petrol brought by Tatmadaw helicopters.
"The destruction was complete. All the Rohingya houses and structures in Min Gyi were burned to ashes. All its inhabitants fled or were killed. Lists carefully compiled by Rohingya community volunteers in the refugee camps suggests that approximately 750 men, women and children died that day. All the interviewees identified Tatmadaw soldiers as the main perpetrators.
"This was not an incident of spontaneous inter-communal violence. The killing of civilians of all ages, including babies, cannot be argued to be a counter-terrorism measure. There can be no military imperative to rape women and girls or to burn people alive. It was a well planned, deliberate attack on a specific civilian population.
RAPE AS A TACTIC OF WAR
"Another feature of Tatmadaw operations is sexual violence. Its scale, cruelty and systematic nature reveal beyond doubt that rape is used as a tactic of war.
"During the 2016 and 2017 clearance operations, 80 percent of rape survivors who were interviewed by the Fact-Finding Mission said they had been gang raped, and of those, over 40 percent were subjected to mass gang rape.
"Many women and girls were physically and mentally tortured while being raped - including being so severely bitten that it left permanent scars - it is difficult to believe that this was not an intentional act and akin to a form of branding. In Kachin and Shan state, women and girls, are commonly abducted for forced labour and raped while detained.
'PERSECUTED FROM BIRTH TO DEATH'
"In the case of the Rohingya, much of the animosity is attributed to historical reasons. The facts, however, indicate that there is more at play. Historical animosities do not explain the generally amicable relations prior to 2012 between ordinary Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine, who together comprise the majority of the population of Rakhine State. Relations deteriorated quickly that year, after hate speech against the Rohingya became more threatening, more vulgar and more pervasive. It was encouraged by the authorities, both civilian and military. It has only become worse since then, particularly since social media began to take root in Myanmar in 2015.
HATE MESSAGES TAUGHT IN THE RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS
"The general public is relentlessly exposed to such hate speech, as well as misinformation from the authorities. Such hateful messages are taught in the religious schools and the military academy, and through traditional media and social media.
"This poisonous environment allows the Tatmadaw to maintain its self-proclaimed role as the 'protector of the nation'. Particularly during the last few years when it appeared that the process of democratization could have diminished its role, the Tatmadaw actively shored up its dominance by promoting the vision of a Bamar-Buddhist identity of the nation, unilaterally breaking ceasefires, and portraying the Rohingya as an existential threat.
NO REPATRIATION WITHOUT RIGHTS GUARANTEES
"The Rohingya are persecuted, from birth to death. Restrictions severely curtail their ability to earn a livelihood, to access health care and education, and to marry and have children, to take but a few examples. The authorities impose severe movement and other restrictions on all manner of daily life activities by the Rohingya. These restrictions have intensified since last year, and are the reasons behind the continuing flow of people to Bangladesh today.
"These are the situation in which the remaining Rohingya are living. We take the occasion to emphasize that the same system of persecution would await any Rohingya who return. Neither the state of the physical environment nor discriminatory system allow for safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation of Rohingya to Myanmar at this time. There must be no repatriation without concrete human rights guarantees, including citizenship."