By CLARE HAMMOND | FRONTIER
YANGON – Members of the United Nations Security Council have told Myanmar’s leaders there must be a “proper investigation” into a military crackdown in Rakhine State last August, which displaced almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh.
British envoy to the UN Security Council, Ms Karen Pierce, said there were two routes to achieving this. “One is an ICC [International Criminal Court] referral. The second would be for the Burmese government to do it themselves,” she said.
Her remarks came at a press conference in Nay Pyi Taw on Tuesday, which marked the end of a high-profile UN Security Council visit to Bangladesh and Myanmar. This was the council’s first visit to Southeast Asia since ambassadors visited East Timor in 2012.
The delegation visited northern Rakhine State yesterday by helicopter, where they met local government representatives and members of civil society.
Pierce said council members had raised the need for an independent inquiry during separate meetings with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in Nay Pyi Taw on Sunday.
Aung San Suu Kyi was helpful and asked the council to share evidence with Myanmar authorities, she said, adding that the Security Council would reflect on how best to respond to the State Counsellor’s Office, including an investigation mechanism to provide it with evidence.
She did not comment on Min Aung Hlaing’s response.
The military chief posted a summary of his meeting with the UN envoys on his official Facebook page, in which he attributed the refugee crisis to “terror acts of extremist Bengali terrorists”.
He denied that soldiers under his command had committed sexual violence during the crackdown, contradicting hundreds of testimonies recorded by international organizations in Cox’s Bazar.
“No sexual violence happened in the history of Myanmar Tatmadaw,” he added, telling UN envoys they should study documentary evidence supplied to them by the military in order to learn the truth.
Over 750,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar since October 2016, when Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army militants launched coordinated attacks on police outposts. The military responded with “clearance operations” that have seen it accused of atrocities, including murder, rape and the destruction of scores of villages.
Since then, Washington has been conducing an examination that could be used to prosecute the armed forces for crimes against humanity.
Reuters reported last week that US investigators have been documenting accusations of murder, rape, beatings and other possible crimes through more than 1000 interviews with Rohingya men and women in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
The examination, led by the State Department, is modelled on a forensic investigation of mass atrocities in Sudan’s Darfur region in 2004. That investigation led to a US declaration of genocide and the imposition of economic sanctions against the Sudanese government, the news agency said.
Myanmar is aware of the investigation, U Aung Kyaw Zan, deputy permanent secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Frontier earlier this week. He said he did not believe the Trump administration would pay serious attention to the findings.
“We already have a top-level connection between Myanmar and the US, to discuss how to solve the Rakhine crisis, including these cases,” he said, referring to the alleged atrocities. “So the investigation cannot have that much impact.”
Kuwait’s ambassador to the UN Mr Mansour Ayyad Al-Otaibi told reporters yesterday that the Security Council wants refugees to return to their homes in Rakhine State, but this cannot take place until Myanmar officials remove conditions and restrictions on their return.
Most of the Rohingya, whom the government refers to as Bengalis, are stateless and have been denied access to citizenship under Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law, which critics say is discriminatory.
Myanmar has asked the Rohingya to accept National Verification Cards, which some refugees have said are inadequate because they do not guarantee citizenship.
Al-Otaibi stressed the necessity of UN involvement in the repatriation process and negotiations between Myanmar and the UN refugee agency on potential cooperation. “What we really want is just to speed up the process of the … safe and voluntary, dignified return,” he said.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a bilateral agreement last November that recognised the need for a long-lasting and comprehensive solution to the crisis and the voluntary return of refugees under international law. In January, the two countries agreed to complete the process in two years.
On November 6, the UN Security Council adopted its first presidential statement on the country since 2008, condemning the Rakhine attacks and the ensuing violence and calling on the government to address the root causes of the crisis.