Rohingya migrants drift on a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman Sea in May 2015. The International Criminal Court on Nov. 14, 2019, gave the green light for a long-awaited full probe into Myanmar's alleged crimes against Rohingya Muslims including violence and forced deportations. (Photo: AFP)
Myanmar’s military may again be carrying out crimes against humanity in Rakhine and Chin states in the conflict-ravaged country, a United Nations rights expert has warned.
Yanghee Lee, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, accused the military of ignoring a call for a ceasefire and instead carrying out an armed offensive “inflicting immense suffering on the ethnic communities” in the two states.
“The Tatmadaw is systematically violating the most fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and human rights. Its conduct against the civilian population of Rakhine and Chin states may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Lee, who is stepping down from her position after six years, said in an April 29 statement.
In August 2018, a UN fact-finding mission called for senior Myanmar military officials to be prosecuted for genocide and war crimes against Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minorities.
A renewed conflict has raged in Rakhine and Chin states since December 2018 between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army.
Rakhine also has a separate conflict that has seen more than 700,000 Rohingya flee to Bangladesh since August 2017 due to military offensives.
In recent weeks, the Tatmadaw has ramped up attacks against civilians. More than 157,000 people have been displaced and hundreds including women and children killed and wounded since the conflict started.
Lee said the Tatmadaw is targeting all civilians in the conflict area, including people from the Rakhine, Rohingya, Mro, Daignet and Chin communities.
“Their alleged crimes must be investigated in accordance with international standards, with perpetrators being held accountable,” she said.
Lee stressed that accountability was critical to ending the conflict. “Having faced no accountability, the Tatmadaw continues to operate with impunity.”
Rights groups have accused the Tatmadaw of air and artillery strikes in civilian areas in Rakhine and Chin that have killed and injured scores of adults and children. Schools, houses and a Buddhist temple have been burned or destroyed — even an entire village of up to 700 homes.
“In one artillery attack on April 13, the Tatmadaw killed eight civilians, including at least two children, when it targeted Kyauk Seik village in Ponnagyun township with artillery from its nearby Battalion 550 base,” Lee said.
Aid workers targeted
The Tatmadaw is blocking aid from reaching certain areas including Paletwa township in Chin state where over 8,000 displaced people, with dire consequences for local populations, according to Lee’s report.
She cited one incident of a severely injured teenage boy who died at a military checkpoint in Rakhine after the Tatmadaw forced the vehicle transporting him to wait there on the way to hospital.
Lee also raised concerns over aid workers having been targeted in the conflict as a driver from the World Health Organizaation was killed and another healthcare worker was injured after their UN-marked car was shot at.
“Humanitarian workers should not be a target: attacking them is a serious violation of international humanitarian law,” said Lee, adding that there must be an investigation into who was responsible for the attack, with perpetrators held accountable.
Lee called on the United Nations to step up its efforts to protect civilians in Rakhine and Chin and ensure that there is not another “systemic failure” like in 2017.
She said Myanmar and its security forces must abide by the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures and its own presidential directive to respect the Genocide Convention.
Myanmar has faced mounting pressure from the international community over rights abuses against Rohingya in Rakhine as the ICJ has filed genocide charges.
Next month Myanmar is due to report back to the ICJ to present the measures it is taking to protect the ethnic minority.
Myanmar has barred Lee from the country since December 2017 after claiming her reports were biased.