Last week, investigators working for the United Nations (UN) came forward and declared that Myanmar’s top military officials should be prosecuted for their actions against the Rohingya people, which they claim were performed with “genocidal intent.” In a move the Associated Press noted as “unusual,” the report specifically identified six military officials – the nation’s commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and five other generals – as the ones responsible for the crimes against humanity and war crimes. This report comes roughly a year after the initial military crackdown against the Rohingya in the Rakhine state of Myanmar, which led to the deaths of over 10,000 people and caused over 700,000 more to flee the country and seek refuge in neighboring Bangladesh.
The report and the language used in it come as a bold move from the UN. Referring to the persecution of the Rohingya as a “genocide” was not done lightly. There is a strict legal definition that must be met to fully consider the military’s actions “genocidal” in nature. Human rights activists note that “genocidal intent” is a hard criteria to meet, so the UN is clearly confident in its case against the military officials. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and other UN members have strongly condemned the atrocities, while neglecting to use the term “genocide.” Haley has stated: “The facts of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya must be said, and they must be heard.” UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the Rohingya crisis as “one of the world’s worst humanitarian and human rights crises.” With this new report out, we will hopefully see UN member nations now using the term “genocide” to describe the situation in Myanmar, further pushing the issue forward.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s State Counsellor, has long remained silent on the issue, and even following this report has failed to condemn the military’s actions. Aung San Suu Kyi is the nation’s first State Counsellor, a position similar to Prime Minister in other nations. Thus, she effectively leads the civilian government, but has no control over the military or its actions. Nonetheless, the UN report directly calls out the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s inability to use her “position as head of government, or her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events.”
The Rohingya have long been a persecuted people, being predominantly Muslim in a nation that is approximately 90% Buddhist, but the recent atrocities stem from border clashes in the northern Rakhine state, which first started in October 2016. The conflicts began when Rohingya insurgents of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army fought government forces in the area. In response to the insurgency, Myanmar’s military began its intense crackdown of the Rohingya, which reached its peak during August 2017. The military defends this crackdown as a justified response to the clashes, but as The Independent points out, hundreds of Rohingya in exile spoke to the UN’s fact-finding team about the burning of entire villages, gang rape of women, and mass extrajudicial killings of civilians. The report notes that in no situation would these actions be described as “military necessities.” Thus, actions like these prompted the UN to deem the situation “genocidal.”
Should prosecution of the six military leaders move forward, the report recommends that the case be presented to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Myanmar is not a member of the ICC, nor the Human Rights Council, which makes it more difficult to try the nation’s generals in that setting. To make matters worse, Myanmar’s government has been adamant about not cooperating with the ICC, which may mean a special tribunal is required for the matter. Nonetheless, numerous human rights activists and the Rohingya refugees themselves are pleased by the release of this report. Considering the UN has for so long limited itself to merely condemning the atrocities without any actual intervention, this report is a huge step in the right direction toward achieving justice on the matter. The Rohingya genocide will sit on the back-burner no longer, and is finally getting the attention it deserves following this monumental report.
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