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UN expert urges sanctions against Myanmar military

General Assembly told that a serious risk remains of genocide recurring against Rohingya

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UN expert urges sanctions against Myanmar military

United Nations special rapporteur Yanghee Lee says an end to impunity in Myanmar remains 'a lofty, far-off goal.' (AFP photo)

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A United Nations human rights expert has called for targeted sanctions against Myanmar’s military commanders and their affiliated companies over atrocities against Rohingya and other minority groups.

Yanghee Lee, the special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, told the UN General Assembly in New York on Oct. 22 that she sees “no discernable improvement to the situation in Myanmar.”

Lee also called on the Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or establish an international tribunal to try alleged perpetrators of international crimes.

She said structural impunity continues to obstruct people across Myanmar from claiming the rights to which they are entitled.

“An end to impunity in Myanmar remains a lofty, far-off goal,” Lee said. “However, the international community must maintain its resolve and do more if that goal is to become within reach.”

Lee added that she “remains resolute in my belief that it is unsafe for Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar until the fundamental circumstances leading to their expulsion are remedied.”

Last month, she said, up to 30 Rohingya were arrested just because they left Rakhine state. They were denied access to lawyers, she said, and a court sentenced 21 adults to two years in prison and sent eight children to a detention center, while a five-year-old boy went to prison with his mother.

“This abhorrent treatment is completely antithetical to Myanmar’s human rights and child rights obligations, and is indicative of the risk that any returning Rohingya would face if they wished to exercise the freedom of movement that they are demanding,” Lee said.

Myanmar has rejected previous UN reports as untrue and has banned Lee from entering the country since December 2017.

Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the UN’s Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, told the General Assembly that the culture of impunity was fueling reprehensible conduct by security forces.

“There is a strong inference of continued genocidal intent on the part of the state in relation to the Rohingya and there is a serious risk of genocide recurring,” Darusman warned.

He said the return of nearly one million Rohingya refugees to Rakhine is “simply impossible” under the current circumstances.

Military abuses of ethnic minorities

Myanmar’s military is continuing to wage fresh atrocities against ethnic minorities in the conflict-torn Shan state, according to a report by Amnesty International.

The report released on Oct. 24 details harrowing accounts of ethnic Kachin, Lisu, Shan and Ta’ange civilians being arbitrarily arrested, detained and tortured by armed forces.

It also highlights the abusive tactics used by ethnic armed groups as they confront the military and each other to exert control in the region.

Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s director for East and Southeast Asia, said: “The Myanmar military is as relentless and ruthless as ever, committing war crimes against civilians in northern Shan state with absolute impunity.

“Soldiers, and more importantly commanders, are subjecting civilians to the military’s hallmark brutality in the absence of any form of accountability.”

Civilians told Amnesty International that the military’s 99th Light Infantry Division was involved in war crimes and other serious violations in northern Myanmar in 2016 and 2017.

Bequelin said those responsible for war crimes should face justice, all the way up to Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the military’s commander-in-chief.

“For too long the UN Security Council has stood by as civilians were abandoned to a ceaseless cycle of violence. It is time for the council to stop dragging its feet and refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court,” Bequelin said.

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