Rights Groups Call for Commission of Inquiry on Genocide in Myanmar

Rohingya refugees from Rakhine State in Myanmar recently arrived in Malaysia via human traffickers. April 2, 2015. Photo courtesy United to End Genocide.

Rohingya refugees from Rakhine State in Myanmar recently arrived in Malaysia via human traffickers. April 2, 2015. Photo courtesy United to End Genocide.

There is strong evidence that the government of Myanmar is responsible for genocide against Rohingya Muslims, according to a legal analysis prepared by the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School. In light of the findings, rights groups say the United Nations must immediately establish a Commission of Inquiry into widespread and systematic human rights violations in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, including into whether the crime of genocide has occurred.

“Allegations of genocide should not be taken lightly,” said Matthew Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights, a Bangkok-based human rights research organization which organized the report. “Rohingya face existential threats, and their situation is worsening. Domestic remedies have failed. It’s time for the international community to act.”

U.S. human rights advocacy group United to End Genocide calls on the Obama administration to support an international Commission of Inquiry through the UN Human Rights Council on genocide against the Rohingya ethnic minority of Myanmar.

“The Yale Law School report is consistent with our findings and reports of conditions facing the Rohingya of Myanmar,” said former U.S. Congressman Tom Andrews, President of United to End Genocide. “It is past time for concerted international action in light of the overwhelming evidence that the Rohingya of Myanmar are under siege and facing disaster.’’

The 78-page legal analysis — Persecution of the Rohingya Muslims: Is Genocide Occurring in Myanmar’s Rakhine State? A Legal Analysis— draws on nearly three years of research and documentation provided to the Lowenstein Clinic by Fortify Rights, including eyewitness testimonies, internal government documents as well as UN data, reports, and information.

The publication is the first to apply the law of genocide to the situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar. It concludes that strong evidence exists to establish the elements of the crime of genocide: that Rohingya are a protected group as defined under the Genocide Convention; that Rohingya have suffered acts of genocide as enumerated by the Convention; and that those acts were committed with the intent to destroy Rohingya as a group, in whole or in part.

The systematic persecution and repression of the Rohingya will likely continue regardless of the outcome of next month’s national elections in Myanmar, End Genocide says. Not surprisingly, the Rohingya are prohibited from voting in these elections and are denied all citizenship rights.

The government of Myanmar has openly attempted to prevent Rohingya births, in policy and legislation. It denies freedom of movement to more than 1 million Rohingya, and at least 140,000 internally displaced Rohingya are confined to more than 60 internment camps throughout Rakhine State. The government is responsible for denying Rohingya access to adequate humanitarian aid, sanitation, and food, and these abuses have led to avoidable deaths. Authorities have effectively forced Rohingya to take deadly journeys by sea, particularly since 2012, knowing the risks of death they face in doing so.

“The plan of the government is to finish our people, to kill our people, but they cannot kill us all by the bullet,” a Rohingya man, 52, told Fortify Rights. “What they can do is deny us food and medicine, and if we don’t die, then we’ll opt to leave the country. [In these cases] the government has used a different option to kill the people. We must understand that.”

The Lowenstein Clinic identifies specific state actors—including the Myanmar Army, the Police Force, and the now-disbanded NaSaKa—as responsible for acts that could constitute genocide. It also exposes links between perpetrators and the central government in Naypyidaw.

Fortify Rights and the Lowenstein Clinic call on the UN Human Rights Council to urgently adopt a resolution mandating an international Commission of Inquiry to fully assess the totality of the situation in Rakhine State, including human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims as well as Rakhine Buddhists. A Commission should objectively evaluate the facts, identify responsible perpetrators, and provide clear recommendations for action to effectively address and prevent further abuses in Rakhine State, Fortify Rights said.

Operationally, a commission should collate existing UN data, hold hearings, interview victims, survivors, government officials, political operatives, leaders of the Buddhist sangha, and others in Myanmar and Southeast Asia.

The UN Human Rights Council, Security Council, General Assembly, Secretary General, and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights all have authority to establish commissions of inquiry. Examples of such commissions exist throughout the world. Most recently, the UN established inquiries into serious human rights violations in Libya, the occupied Palestinian territory, Syria, North Korea, Sri Lanka, and the Central African Republic.

“The UN should truly put human rights up front in Myanmar,” said Matthew Smith, referring to the UN Secretary General’s Human Rights Up Front initiative—an effort to prevent and respond to large-scale violations of human rights. “UN member states should stop tolerating these abuses and take action.”

The Yale Law School’s Clinic’s findings reinforced United to End Genocide’s own research in Myanmar. In a report based on a fact finding mission to Myanmar’s Rakhine State last year, United to End Genocide concluded that nowhere in the world are there more know precursors to genocide than in Myanmar today.”

Last week Andrews testified at a Congressional hearing on Myanmar that the Obama administration was failing to take appropriate action to address the deteriorating conditions in Myanmar and to hold anyone in the government accountable for backsliding on its commitments to uphold human rights.  

‘’Our nation is complicit in the march to genocide in Myanmar if it is not actively working to stop it. At the very least, our U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, should be raising her voice on behalf of the United States and calling for the UN Human Rights Council to open a formal inquiry into genocide in Myanmar,’’ United to End Genocide said.

Sullivan recently traveled to Malaysia where he met with several recently arrived Rohingya families. Sullivan also visited the IDP camps in Rakhine State, Myanmar in March 2014 after which United to End Genocide released the report Marching to Genocide in Burma.

The main finding from both of these trips, Sullivan said, ‘’was that nowhere in the world are there more known precursors to genocide than in Burma today. In terms of the Rohingya refugees we met with in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia last month, several had only arrived days before, including one woman who still bore a black eye from being sexually assaulted. From our conversations with the recently arrived refugees, aid workers helping in Malaysia, and other regional experts it is clear that the Rohingya are faced with a horrible choice between risking their lives at sea in the hands of dangerous human traffickers or staying in Burma to face the highest risk of genocide in the world.’’

Some 140,000 Rohingya remain displaced within Myanmar and over 100,000 have risked their lives at sea in recent years.

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