The writer is a Burmese coordinator of the Free Rohingya Coalition and a fellow of the Genocide Documentation Center in Cambodia.
After having co-presided with the visiting Chinese president Xi Jinping over the signing of 33 agreements, including bilateral trade deals, Memorandums of Understanding, strategic partnership agreements, and technical cooperation, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi was all smile again this Monday.
On the official website of Myanmar's Independent Commission of Enquiry, smiley Ms Suu Kyi was seen posing for cameras as the former Deputy Foreign Minister of the Philippines Ms Rosario Manalo presented her with the final report of the Myanmar-established Independent Commission of Enquiry which the Philippines diplomat chaired.
The Free Rohingya Coalition, an international network of Rohingya refugee activists and their supporters, issued a statement, refuting the findings of the commission that there is “no” or “insufficient” evidence to establish the genocidal intent behind Myanmar’s destruction of the Rohingya community in Rakhine state and the mass deportations of estimated 800,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh in 2016-2017.
Nay San Lwin, the co-founder and coordinator of the coalition, said: “This is yet another Myanmar commission set up to deny and dismiss credible findings of the decades-long and ongoing genocide of our Rohingya people. The Commission has not established facts, but merely handed over a thick pack of lies, distortions and denial for Myanmar’s use at various international tribunals.”
Despite it being billed as “independent” from the political interference by Suu Kyi, the report echoes the line of defense offered by Suu Kyi in her capacity as Myanmar Agent, and her legal counsels, in Gambia vs Myanmar case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Dec. 11-12, 2019.
Both the commission’s report and legal counsels argued that Myanmar security forces may have used “disproportionate” force, committed war crimes and other human rights violations, but that there were no acts of genocide.
These findings play into the hands of the perpetrators who are fully aware that prosecuting them for war crimes and crimes against humanity will not fall within the jurisdiction of the court. For ICJ, the UN's highest court, handles only legal disputes among the UN member states and does not prosecute individual state leaders and officials.
The report’s admission of Myanmar’s wrongdoings -- that war crimes, serious human rights violations, and breaking of domestic law took place during the security operations in Aug. 25-Sept. 5, 2017 -- merely reiterates Myanmar’s legal argument. By weighing in on the ICJ case, the report had also contradicted the statement previously made by commission Chair Manalo, in which she claimed that her commission was not concerned with accountability. In her words: “It is not a diplomatic approach…to be doing finger-pointing, blaming -- to say ‘you’re accountable’."
In addition, the credibility and reliability of the claim by the commission has long been a subject of serious concern among Myanmar watchers, UN human rights investigators as well as Rohingya refugees and activists.
In the midst of mounting worldwide allegations of Myanmar’s ongoing genocide against Rohingya, the country’s President Win Myint, who serves as Suu Kyi’s proxy, established the Independent Commission of Enquiry on July 30, 2018. It is chaired by Manalo, and made up of three additional commissioners, including former Director General of Myanmar's Supreme Court Mya Thein, former Director General of Myanmar's Health and Business Administration Ministry Aung Tun Thet, and former Japanese Ambassador to the United Nations, also ex-Senior Vice-President of Japan International Cooperation Agency Kenzo Oshima.
Both Japan and the Philippines have over the last several years voted against annual UN resolutions on Myanmar condemning the Asian pariah state for its grave crimes in international law and calling for international accountability. In addition, the Burmese Commissioner Aung Tun Thet is a highly controversial chairman of the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine (UEHRD), a Myanmar government entity established by Suu Kyi. The UN investigators have accused the UEHRD of consolidating the "consequences of war crimes" as it confiscates vast tracts of land that belonged to Rohingya who had been genocidally purged in 2016-2017, builds infrastructures on that land and primes its commercial and industrial-scale agricultural developments.
As expected, the commission’s report found, according to its official press release, that there was no “pattern of conduct from which one could reasonably conclude that the acts were committed with ‘genocidal intent'.” It claimed to have covered “the context and historical background of Rakhine State.”
Yet legal and human rights research studies that have covered the same context and historical background of Rohingya of Rakhine have reached the conclusion that Myanmar has a well-documented policy of discrimination, disenfranchisement, persecution and violence against the Rohingya as a group, with its own distinct identity, culture, language and faith over the last 40 years.
Among the institutions that have published studies which document and establish this pattern of Myanmar’s systematic and identity-based group destruction of Rohingya, a UN-protected group, are the University of Washington Law School (2014), Queen Mary University of London international State Crime Initiative (2015), Yale University Lowenstein International Human Rights Law Clinic (2015) and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (2017).
Independent of one another, these credible research institutions have established the common finding -- that Myanmar has adopted a policy of genocidal destruction against Rohingya as a group. The UN-mandated International Independent Fact-Finding Mission and its two major reports of 2018 and 2019 have only reinforced the findings of the aforementioned legal, human rights and genocide studies.
The patterns of Rohingya persecution include the de-nationalization of Rohingya as a national minority, forced labour, chronic deportation campaigns, ghettoization, denial of life’s essential services such as access to primary and emergency medical services, severely restrictive marriage and birth control measures, summary execution, widespread sexual violence, internment, mass incarceration, severe restriction of movement, and the state-directed propaganda campaign that Rohingya do not exist despite the official and historic documents to the contrary.
Finally, Suu Kyi’s Independent Commission of Enquiry framed mass deportation, mass deaths and mass destruction of Rohingya as the result of “disproportionate use of force” in response to the “internal armed conflict” between the then-fledgling Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and Myanmar Armed Forces and Police, without the intent to destroy the Rohingya community, in whole or in part.
Myanmar is a country born out of the World War II and is home to the world’s longest armed conflicts between the ethnically Burmese governments and their central military and virtually all national minorities. There are altogether over 20 armed ethnic organizations, which have sprung up since independence from Britain in 1948 throughout all regions of national minorities. Myanmar has not been subject to other ethnic groups, no matter how fierce the armed conflicts are, to the kind of persecution and destruction comparable to what it has against Rohingya.
In a single year of 2019, the Arakan Army of Rakhine Buddhists has fought 600 battles with Myanmar security forces and claimed to have killed 3,000 Myanmar army and police personnel, something which Myanmar's Defense Ministry has not denied. Pro-Arakan Army Buddhist Rakhine communities have not been subject to the same systematic group destruction. In contrast, the poorly armed Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army managed to kill only 12 Myanmar security personnel in its 30 raids -- never independently verified -- at Myanmar military and police outposts in Aug. 25-Sept. 5, 2017.
Myanmar’s immediate reaction resulted in the genocidal purge of three quarters of a million Rohingya of whom estimated 300,000 are school-aged children and young adults; the total destruction of 390 Rohingya villages, complete with 38,000 physical infrastructures including mosques, shops, homes, rice warehouses, public halls and so on; the deaths of an unknown and uncounted Rohingya deaths believed to run into tens of thousands, including babies, toddlers and elderly villagers; and the rape of thousands of women.
Myanmar leaders may be feeling buoyed by Xi Jinping’s two-day visit to Naypyidaw during which China had reiterated its protection of Myanmar at any UN fora, having framed the quest for international accountability for Myanmar’s international state crimes as a threat to sovereignty and a bullying act of “intervention”.
But Suu Kyi and her partners in crimes should know that denial is a part of genocide. This latest report by Myanmar’s “independent” enquiry commission speaks volumes about how low Myanmar’s coalition government of the civilian National League for Democracy (NLD) government and the Burmese military will sink, in their joined efforts at covering up their heinous crimes of genocide. The international community must ensure that all global and national justice mechanisms are mobilized to make Myanmar leaders pay for their genocide, and genocide denial.
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