Myo Win Tun and Zaw Naing Tun said they were instructed by commanding officers to 'shoot all that you see and that you hear' during 2017 operations. (Image: YouTube screenshot)
Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, is under pressure from rights groups after two deserters admitted its role in mass killings and rape against Rohingya during a 2017 crackdown.
In video testimony, privates Myo Win Tun and Zaw Naing Tun said they were instructed by commanding officers to “shoot all that you see and that you hear” in Rohingya villages, according to Fortify Rights, a Bangkok-based rights group.
In the unpublished confessions, Myo Win Tun describes his involvement in killing Rohingya women, men and children, and admitted to rape in Taung Bazar and surrounding villages in Buthidaung township in September 2017.
Zaw Naing Tun confessed to his involvement in killings, burying bodies in mass graves and other crimes against Rohingya in five villages in Maungdaw township during the Tatmadaw’s clearance operations.
The two deserters gave the names and ranks of 19 direct perpetrators from the Tatmadaw including themselves and six senior commanders who they claim ordered or contributed to atrocities against Rohingya, including a lieutenant colonel, a colonel and three captains.
The video was filmed in July while the soldiers were in the custody of the Arakan Army, who have been engaged in an escalating conflict with the Tatmadaw in Rakhine since December 2018.
Fortify Rights said the filmed confessions appear to be credible and the information is consistent with human rights documentation of the 2016 and 2017 clearance operations by the Tatmadaw against Rohingya in Rakhine.
The two former soldiers were transported to The Hague where the International Criminal Court (ICC) is conducting an investigation into atrocities committed against the Rohingya, according to Fortify Rights and media reports.
The rare confessions mark the first time Tatmadaw soldiers have openly admitted the military's role in killing and rape against Rohingya under the command of their higher officials.
Matthew Smith, chief executive of Fortify Rights, said this is a monumental moment for Rohingya and the people of Myanmar in their ongoing struggle for justice.
“These men could be the first perpetrators from Myanmar tried at the ICC and the first insider witnesses in the custody of the court. We expect prompt action,” Smith said in a Sept. 8 statement.
The Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) said the testimonies by the two soldiers are consistent with survivor testimonies and the observations of the UN Human Rights Council-mandated independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar, which found that the clearance operations were characterized by widespread mass killings, sexual violence, torture, destruction of villages and forced displacement.
The mission claims that the treatment of the Rohingya amounts to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
“My hope is that they will now lead to the prosecution of senior military officers responsible for ordering these young men to commit genocide and other atrocities in Myanmar,” Simon Adams, executive director at the GCR2P, said in a statement on Sept. 9.
Myanmar’s military has dismissed the video recording made by the Arakan Army as “coerced.”
Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun said officials have reviewed the video recorded when the two privates were captured and detained by rebel troops and concluded that their statements are false.
“There is the possibility that they were giving the testimonies as they were taught out of fear of being killed by enemy troops. This is very common in armed conflicts,” said Zaw Min Tun in a Radio Free Asia report on Sept. 10.
Myanmar has faced legal pressure from the world including the International Court of Justice and the ICC over atrocities against the Rohingya and other minorities following the military’s bloody crackdown, which forced over 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.
In January, the UN’s top court ordered Myanmar’s government to take immediate steps to prevent genocide.
The Aung San Suu Kyi-led civilian government, which shares power with the military, has yet to respond to the testimonies by the former soldiers.