On August 27th, the United Nations released the report of its fact finding mission Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar. The report said that Myanmar’s top military generals, including Commander-in-Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, must be investigated and prosecuted for genocide in the north of Rakhine State, as well as for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States.
The report which is currently available through the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) found patterns of gross human rights violations and abuses committed in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States that “undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law”, principally by Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, but also by other security forces.
The crimes against humanity committed in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine States include murder; imprisonment; enforced disappearance; torture; rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence; persecution and enslavement. In addition, in Rakhine State, the elements of the crimes against humanity of extermination and deportation are also present.
“Military necessity would never justify killing indiscriminately, gang raping women, assaulting children, and burning entire villages. The Tatmadaw’s tactics are consistently and grossly disproportionate to actual security threats, especially in Rakhine State, but also in northern Myanmar,” the report states.
“They are shocking for the level of denial, normalcy and impunity that is attached to them. The Tatmadaw’s contempt for human life, integrity and freedom, and for international law generally, should be a cause of concern for the entire population.”
The Mission also concluded “there is sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Tatmadaw chain of command, so that a competent court can determine their liability for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine State.”
While the Mission was never granted access to Myanmar, the team amassed a vast amount of information from primary sources, including through 875 in-depth interviews with victims and eyewitnesses, satellite imagery and authenticated documents, photographs and videos. Specialist advice was sought on sexual and gender-based violence, psychology, military affairs and forensics. Only verified and corroborated information was taken on board. The Mission travel led to Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the United Kingdom.
“The crimes in Rakhine State, and the manner in which they were perpetrated, are similar in nature, gravity and scope to those that have allowed genocidal intent to be established in other contexts,” the report states. “Factors pointing at such intent include the broader oppressive context and hate rhetoric; specific utterances of commanders and direct perpetrators; exclusionary policies, including to alter the demographic composition of Rakhine State; the level of organization indicating a plan for destruction; and the extreme scale and brutality of the violence.”
The Mission has drawn up a list of alleged perpetrators as priority subjects for investigation and prosecution, whom it believes had effective control and bear the greatest responsibility. Responsibility starts at the top, with the Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing. Five other military commanders are also named in the report: the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Vice Senior-General Soe Win; the Commander, Bureau of Special Operations-3, Lieutenant-General Aung Kyaw Zaw; the Commander, Western Regional Military Command, Major-General Maung Maung Soe; the Commander, 33rd Light Infantry Division, Brigadier-General Aung Aung; the Commander, 99th Light Infantry Division, Brigadier-General Than Oo. A longer list of names will be kept in the custody of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and can be shared with any competent and credible body pursuing accountability in line with international norms and standards.
The report notes that civilian authorities had little scope to control the actions of the Tatmadaw. It also finds that “through their acts and omissions, the civilian authorities have contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes.”
“The State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has not used her de facto position as Head of Government, nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events in Rakhine State,” the report states.
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay rejected the UN’s findings calling them ‘flawed’ because investigators had not visited the affected region in north of the country. The UN report however explains that the Fact Finding Mission was never granted access to Myanmar.
According to a report by the Guardian, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi used her first public appearance after the report was published to talk to students about the merits of Gone With the Wind, and the differences between fiction and non-fiction, never once addressing the UN report.