International pressure has reached new heights in recent weeks as human rights organizations push for a credible investigation into the human rights abuses of Rohingyans in Myanmar.
On February 3rd, the United Nations (UN) released a report finding instances of the Myanmar government’s failure to protect its most persecuted ethnic minority. The report cited military mass rapes, extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and families burnt alive in torched houses.
An investigation by Human Rights Watch (HRW) corroborated the UN report. One example of the HRW’s research found frequent sexual violence against ethnic Rohingya women and girls, as young as 13, by Myanmar’s government and military forces. This is all while conducting security operations in northern Rakhine State in late 2016.
UN Special Rapporteur for Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, stated she will push for an inquiry into the ongoing reports of atrocities against Rohingyans when presenting her report to the council in Geneva on March 13th.
“It’s gone beyond the point of depending on the government to do a credible investigation,” Lee told IRIN. “It didn’t even have a methodology of approaching this investigation.”
The Myanmar government has lost considerable credibility in recent months in its response to the abuses. State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi repeatedly denies the allegations and is reluctant to enforce military cooperation with an independent investigation.
Following the release of the latest UN report, the Myanmar government refused to conduct media interviews,. However, several days later they released a statement on the front page of their state-run newspaper called Global New Light. The statement said the government was “deeply concerned about the report,” and “considers the allegations contained in the report very serious in nature.”
More than 87,000 Rohingyans have been displaced since the military launched a crackdown in western Rakhine state in October 2016. The latest report cited interviews with 70,000 displaced Rohingya people residing in squalid camps in Bangladesh after fleeing Rakhine. One interview included a mother being gang raped while her baby’s throat was slit.
Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told Voice of America, “it is very important that people here signal from the very top that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable and that there will be accountability.”
“It may be too soon to say whether this will be the ultimate breakthrough for the Rohingya in Myanmar, but we believe it is heading in that direction. There is a momentum towards a breakthrough on this issue,” Shamdasani added.
Despite its refusal to cooperate with the Myanmar government, the military would be under extreme pressure to accommodate a UN-led commission of inquiry. This is due to the fact that the generals themselves have worked hard over the past several years to implement reform in order to increase Myanmar’s international credibility.
In Myanmar, Rohingya are considered a stateless minority and are not recognized by the government as an ethnic group. Human rights abuses against Rohingyans reentered international discourse in 2012 after ongoing riots and a refugee crisis. International media reported that Rohingyans had been stripped of citizenship and had to seek permits to marry, move or travel from one town to another. They were also excluded from rights to healthcare and education, and faced forced labor, birth control and taxation.
A UN commission is now imperative and member states should endorse an independent, international investigation. The commission must take the first step in determining instances of crimes against humanity and look towards a viable solution to a complex humanitarian crisis.
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