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HRW: Myanmar obstructing international probe

  • Published at 01:31 pm August 24th, 2019
Rohingya refugees arrive in Bangladesh, September 2017Syed Zakir Hossain
File photo: More than 700,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine State since late August of 2017 after the security forces launched a brutal crackdown on the ethnic minority Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

August 25, 2019, marks two years since the Myanmar military began a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Rakhine state

The Myanmar government should stop obstructing international efforts to investigate widespread crimes committed against Rohingya Muslims, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.

The international rights organization said it in a report on August 22.

August 25, 2019, marks two years since the Myanmar military began a campaign of what the UN dubbed ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity that drove 740,000 Rohingya to neighbouring Bangladesh. 

HRW said the donors and concerned governments should press Myanmar to protect their basic rights, facilitate international justice for victims, and ensure that any returns of Rohingya refugees are voluntary, safe, and dignified.

A United Nations-backed Fact-Finding Mission found sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior military officials for grave crimes, including genocide, in Rakhine State.

“Two years since the Myanmar military carried out ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population, the government still denies its troops committed any atrocities,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW's Asia division. 

The government restricts access to Rakhine State by news media and aid workers and since June 21 has imposed an internet blackout across nine townships, including one in Chin State. 

The government should immediately amend its discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law to provide Rohingya equal access to Myanmar citizenship. The government should also take necessary steps to ensure the security of the Rohingya population from abusive security forces and other groups.

In September 2018, the UN Human Rights Council created the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar to collect and preserve evidence of crimes for possible use in future criminal proceedings. 

The Myanmar government should cooperate with this body and with other UN bodies, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, is seeking an investigation into the crime against humanity of deportation, since Rohingya were deported to Bangladesh, a party to the ICC. 

However, even if the judges grant her request, an ICC investigation would not cover most of the crimes committed in Myanmar. The UN Security Council should refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC so that all ICC crimes can be considered.

The Security Council and other governments should also impose or expand targeted sanctions on Myanmar military leaders and key military-owned enterprises. 

Sanctions should include travel bans, asset seizures, and restrictions on access to financial institutions, as well as a comprehensive military embargo.

Many of the refugees with whom Human Rights Watch spoke said they feared returning under the current conditions. They said they did not feel safe going back to a country where they faced systematic persecution and violence. 

Human Rights Watch and other human rights and humanitarian groups have determined that conditions for voluntary, safe, and dignified return of Rohingya refugees to Rakhine State do not currently exist. 

The Myanmar government has restricted UNHCR from reaching or monitoring areas where the Rohingya would return, and so the UN agency has not publicly stated that conditions are suitable for their return. 

Before any refugee returns, the Myanmar government should significantly improve conditions and address the root causes of the crisis, including systematic persecution and violence, statelessness, and military impunity for grave violations.

An estimated 500,000 Rohingya remain in appalling conditions in Rakhine State. 

Security forces have confined them to camps and villages and severely restricted their freedom of movement. 

The government has denied them fundamental freedoms and deprived them of access to sustainable livelihoods and basic humanitarian services including adequate food, medical care, and education.