On August 24th, the United Nations has released a report holding Myanmar military Tatmadaw accountable for multiple massacres and gang rapes against the Rohingya minority people in the Rakhine, Kachin, and Shaw regions. According to The Guardian, the report cites multiple cases of murders, imprisonments, enforced disappearances, torture, rapes and used sexual slavery, with evidence of mass extermination in the north area of Rakhine. According to Al Jazeera, these findings may join the likes of Bosnia, Darfur, and Rwanda to meet the legal, stringent definition of genocide. These findings have been accepted by UN Security Council members, specifically Britain, France, Sweden, and the United States. China and Russia, however, have taken a more moderate response, preferring to meet with officials before addressing the issues. Since Myanmar is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court, it is unclear if they have jurisdiction.
In a statement by government official, Zaw Htay in state-run newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar has called the report false, arguing that the government, “…didn’t allow the FFM (the UN Fact-Finding Mission) to enter into Myanmar, that’s why we don’t agree and accept any resolutions made…”. In an ironic twist, Htay conversely argued that the state instead boasts a zero-tolerance policy for such violations thanks to supposedly accountability frameworks for human rights issues. Myanmar Ambassador to the UN Hau Do Suan questioned the validity of such reports, insisting the investigation was extremely biased. According to Al Jazeera, mission chairman Marzuki Darusman’s research is the result of over 875 interviews and satellite photos and videos. Particularly, Darusman stated that the victim accounts illustrated, “amongst the most shocking human rights violations.” Amnesty’s director of crisis response, Tirana Hassan, highlighted the urgency of such a matter, where,“the international community has the responsibility to act to ensure justice and accountability,” and that failing to act will allow the Tatmadaw, “ to commit such atrocities again.”
The case of Myanmar illustrates the difficulty of dealing with fledgling, delicate democracies. To be so passive would only enable leaders to further abuse their power. To be aggressive would risk debilitating the state by making it dependent on foreign assistance. In this case, international leaders have opted for the former. At the end of the day, if a state’s democracy is best preserved while staying silent on accounts of atrocities, then it is an institution not worth saving. While it is vital to address the corruption and abuse of the state, more immediate attention should also be paid towards the many who have found solace in Bangladesh and the living conditions they face. There are large environmental repercussions with such an exodus; because of this, thousands of acres of natural forests have been cleared. What were once areas filled with elephants are now barren tent cities. In such an area where landslides and monsoons are imminent, this also poses a great safety risk. More efforts must be done to both relieve the resulting dense population in the Ukhia and Teknaf and to better assimilate these people throughout Bangladesh.
According to Foreign Policy, between 2012 and 2017, the United States and UN reports had warned of such conflicts in the region. In late 2012, US ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell had visited the region and found, “the Rohingya community continues to suffer disproportionately and remains isolated, vulnerable and unable to access education, adequate healthcare or livelihoods.” These reports were instead silenced, believing that it would stymie the country’s transition to a democratic society; however, through diplomatic negotiations, it became clear that such an ethnic cleansing was imminent. In that time, the Myanmar governments have been notorious for regularly referring to the Muslim-majority Rohingya people as illegal Bengali immigrants. This discrimination reached a spike in 2012, thanks to escalated tension between the ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya people. Directly after, over 140000 people were forced into camps, an action which many have compared to Kristallnacht in 1930s Nazi Germany. In the past year, the government had launched a campaign of violence against the minority, resulting in over 700,000 people finding refuge in neighboring Bangladesh.
Moving forward, one can only hope that such a damning evidence can bring to light the particular travesties that the Rohingya people have endured, but the action is needed to maintain this momentum. The immediate priority must be to ensure equitable access to health and education for these individuals, while continuous work must be done to bring military officials to face the International Criminal Court. It falls on everyone in the international community to maintain a united front on this matter to effectively communicate that such atrocities will not be unpunished.