UN Council Adopts Resolution to Launch Probe of Rights Abuses in Myanmar

Special to BenarNews
170324-BU-spokesman-620 Myanmar's presidential spokesman comments on a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution to launch an international investigation of alleged rights violations in Rakhine state, in Naypyidaw, March 24, 2017.
Radio Free Asia (RFA)

The United Nations Human Rights Council said Friday it would dispatch an independent, international fact-finding mission to investigate alleged recent rights violations by the Myanmar military and security forces in western Rakhine state.

The mission will be looking into reports of murder, rape, torture, and arson by security forces in Rohingya Muslim communities in the northern part of the state during a four-month crackdown, which began last October following deadly attacks on border guard posts that were blamed on Rohingya militants.

The council’s announcement followed a report published last month by the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, which said that killings, rapes and other abuses allegedly committed against Rohingya by Mynmar security forces indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

“The forcible displacement of persons from an ethnic or religious group as a consequence of acts of violence committed against them such as killings, torture, arbitrary detention, rape and sexual violence and the destruction of houses and places of worship has been described in other contexts as ethnic cleansing,” said the U.N. report based on interviews with Rohingya sheltering at refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh.

About 1,000 people died during the military operations and more than 77,000 Rohingya fled, mostly to neighboring Bangladesh.

Myanmar disassociated itself from the draft of a European Union-backed resolution, and specifically from the call for the urgent dispatch of a fact-finding mission, according to a statement by the U.N. Human Rights Council (OHCHR).

The country said it was committed to finding a sustainable solution to the situation in Rakhine state and that, based on the findings and recommendations of a national investigation commission and an advisory commission for Myanmar, would put in place a long-term peace-building plan for Rakhine state.

On Friday, Presidential spokesman Zaw Htay told the Myanmar Service of Radio Free Asia (RFA) – a sister entity of BenarNews – that it was not fair for the council to send a separate mission to look into the allegations of rights abuses, given the country’s national-level commission led by Vice President Myint Swe and a Rakhine advisory commission headed by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan.

“It is totally unfair and counter to international practice that other countries have decided to send a separate mission to investigate violations when we haven’t completed our own investigations,” he said.

“Their action shows a lack of respect to the host country.”

He added that the Myanmar government would keep promoting and defending human rights as recommended by the United Nations, and is implementing the country’s human rights policy.

“We’ll take action against the perpetrators,” he said in a reference to anyone found to have committed human rights abuses during the crackdown in Rakhine.

Zaw Htay said the country had to deal with other factors related to the recent crisis in Rakhine State along with important issues such as achieving national peace and reconciliation after decades of ethnic separatist civil wars.

“At this juncture, this U.N. resolution will not help our efforts to resolve these issues,” he said. “Therefore, we cannot agree with the resolution, and we have dissociated ourselves from it. We cannot accept this resolution.”

Institutional discrimination

The resolution also states that Myanmar should continue to address systematic and institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya and other ethnic and religious minorities in the country.

Zaw Htay said Myanmar’s Human Rights Commission would issue a report soon and that national leaders would continue to work for a long-lasting solution to the problems in Rakhine state.

The state is home to more than 1.1 million Rohingya, who are denied citizenship and access to basic services because Myanmar considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Communal violence with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in 2012 left more than 200 people dead and displaced about 140,000 Rohingya, who were forced to live in appalling conditions in internally displaced persons camps.

The independent mission, which will be appointed by the council’s president, will submit an update on its work during the body’s autumn session.

China disassociated itself from the draft resolution, saying the international community should look at the progress Myanmar had made in human rights and respect the country’s sovereignty by creating a favorable environment for the parties to resolve their differences through dialogue.

Rights groups applauded the move, with New York-based Human Rights Watch calling it a “step toward preventing future abuses and brining justice for victims” in Myanmar.

“The Human Rights Council’s authorization of an international fact-finding mission is crucial for ensuring that allegations of serious human rights abuses in Burma are thoroughly examined by experts, and to ensure that those responsible will ultimately be held accountable,” said John Fisher, HRW’s director in Geneva, Switzerland.

“Burma’s government should cooperate fully with the mission, including by providing unfettered access to all affected areas,” he said.

East Asia-based Fortify Rights called the move a “landmark resolution” and urged the Myanmar government to fully cooperate with it.

“We commend the Human Rights Council for this initiative. It’s long overdue,” said Matthew Smith, the group’s chief executive officer. “While this mission isn’t a silver bullet, it’s a welcome and positive move toward prevention and accountability.”


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