Myanmar urged to cooperate in human rights inquiry

UN condemns 'gravity and scale of violations' as probe launched to prove international crimes
Myanmar urged to cooperate in human rights inquiry

Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet at the United Nations in Geneva on Sept. 4. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

The U.N. Human Rights Council has urged Myanmar to cooperate with its Independent Investigative Mechanism (IIM) to ensure justice prevails in the country.

High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet told the 42nd regular session of the council in Geneva on Sept. 9 that she hoped the government would “cooperate … both to ensure justice and consolidate Myanmar’s democratic transition.”

The investigation was established by the U.N. Human Rights Council on Sept. 27, 2018, and welcomed by the General Assembly on Dec. 22.

The Human Rights Council voted to “establish an ongoing independent mechanism to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law committed in Myanmar since 2011.”

Another mandate of the panel is “to prepare files in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings … in national, regional or international courts or tribunals.”

Bachelet announced that the IIM had been declared operational by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in August.

She said two years had passed since horrific violations by the army, including killings and sexual violence, drove nearly a million Rohingya people out of the country.

“The need for accountability is compelling and urgent,” said Bachelet, adding that: “This council session will hear the final report of the U.N. fact-finding mission and I commend it for giving the world a clear picture of the gravity and scale of the violations that have been committed across Myanmar.”

She added that Rakhine State was now experiencing another conflict between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw, resulting in another wave of human rights violations and displacements.

“This is affecting both ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya communities and will make it even harder for refugees and internally displaced people to return,” she declared.

Nicholas Koumjian, head of the IIM for Myanmar, told the council on Sept. 9 that the inquiry would seek to establish exactly what had occurred.

“It will strive to obtain and analyze information that sheds light on whether there is proof, to the high standards required in criminal cases, that individuals are responsible for serious international crimes,” he said.

“The mechanism’s role is not to advocate policies. Rather it is to facilitate fair and independent criminal proceedings.”

He stressed that the success of the IIM would depend on the cooperation and support of all those involved. “Obviously, access to Myanmar would greatly facilitate the search for the truth about alleged crimes,” he added.

Matthew Smith, executive officer at Fortify Rights, a non-profit human rights organization based in Southeast Asia, said perpetrators, commanders and political leaders in Myanmar should think twice before committing atrocities or failing to end them.

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“The independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, an outcome of hard work by many advocates and survivors, is now operational,” Smith said on Twitter.

Myanmar has largely rejected the U.N. reports and those of international human rights groups, and it would not grant permission to members from the U.N. fact-finding mission to access to Myanmar. 

Aung San Suu Kyi’s government and Myanmar’s military have been facing pressure from the international community over atrocities against Rohingya in Rakhine.

The fact-finding mission found that Myanmar’s military committed four of the five acts that constitute genocide against the Rohingya. It said military chief Min Aung Hlaing and five other senior generals must be prosecuted for genocide and war crimes against humanity.

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