Myanmar launches court martial for alleged Rohingya abuses

Some believe move is retaliation for three overseas lawsuits accusing the country of genocide
Myanmar launches court martial for alleged Rohingya abuses

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and military chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing are personally accused of complicity in atrocities against Rohingya. The military has now launched its own court martial against soldiers. (Photos: AFP)

Myanmar has begun court martial proceedings against its own soldiers following an investigation into atrocities in Rakhine state, where a military crackdown led to thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing into Bangladesh.

The office of military commander-in-chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, said on Nov. 25 that the court of inquiry, chaired by Maj. Gen. Myat Kyaw and established in accordance with the Defense Services Act and the Defense Service Rules, submitted its opinion that some incidents that happened in Gu Dar Pyin village should immediately be tried by court martial.

It added the proceedings against the accused would start the next day at a military regiment in Buthidaung township in northern Rakhine.

On Aug. 31, the military announced that it had visited Rakhine and found that soldiers had shown “weakness in following instructions in some incidents” in the village.

An Associated Press report in February 2018 alleged that at least five mass Rohingya graves had been found there and accused soldiers and Buddhist vigilantes of attacking villagers with guns, knives, rocket launchers and grenades before dumping bodies into pits and dousing them with acid.

Estimates from survivors in Bangladesh put the death toll in the hundreds, according to the AP report.

Government officials denied the claim at the time, saying only 19 terrorists had died and that their bodies had been carefully buried. 

Cases mount against Myanmar

The military’s rare move comes as Myanmar is facing international pressure over alleged atrocities against Rohingya in Rakhine.

Only this month, three separate cases were filed accusing Myanmar of atrocities against Rohingya Muslims.

The Gambia named several leading figures, including de facto prime minister Aung San Suu Kyi, in a case filed at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), a case she has since vowed to attend personally and defend.

Rights groups filed another lawsuit in Argentina, while the International Criminal Court also gave its full authorization to a Rohingya probe.

Rights groups have doubted the sincerity of the military’s court martial proceedings as soldiers are continuing to commit violations.

Matthew Smith, chief executive at Fortify Rights, said the massacre at Gu Dar Pyin was only one of many they documented in three northern Rakhine townships and there had been no real accountability.

He said the military was merely feigning an attempt to be accountable after being backed into a corner. Other than this mock court martial, he said, the military was doing nothing but issuing full-on denials.

“The authorities are attempting to bolster their defense in The Hague but the reality is that the situation in Rakhine is now urgent,” Smith told ucanews.

He added the government had deployed more than 11,000 soldiers in operations against Rohingya that began in August 2017 and that military chief Min Aung Hlaing had been their chief architect. 

“Governments should support The Gambia in the ICJ case and do whatever is necessary to stir the Security Council into action. Every possible accountability mechanism should be used urgently,” Smith said.

The Tatmadaw previously admitted that members of the security forces had helped to kill 10 Rohingya in Inn Dinn village in September 2017.

Four officers and three soldiers were sentenced to 10 years in jail with hard labor but were reportedly released in less than a year.

A UN fact-finding mission found last year that the military had committed four of the five acts constituting genocide against Rohingya and called for Min Aung Hlaing and five other senior generals to be prosecuted for genocide and crimes against humanity.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh from Rakhine due to a bloody crackdown by Myanmar’s military that started in August 2017 following attacks on border posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

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