Last week marked four years since the military in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) conducted a sweeping and brutal campaign against the Rohingya minority community in far west of the country. The UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar called for the top military generals including the Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, to be investigated and prosecuted for genocide in the north of Rakhine State, as well as for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States. Instead, having jailed the democratically elected civilian government, the suspected genocidaires and criminals against humanity want the world to recognize them as the legitimate government of Southeast Asia’s largest mainland country. Welcome to the so-called rules-based international order.
Up until the Feb. 1 coup six months ago, the campaign against the Rohingya seemed to have support among the general population. The mainstream narrative was to deny that Rohingya are Myanmar, describing them as “Bengali immigrants.” Since the coup, the military, led by the same clique that carried out the atrocities in 2017, have been using similar brutal and bone-crushing tactics used against Rohingya against anyone who has dared protest against their power grab.
This week the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (Burma) reports that the military has killed 1,026 anti-coup protesters and arrested 7,627 people. The Armed Conflict Location and Event reports that the Myanmar military’s decision to seize power triggered a wave of resistance across the country. “By the end of June, over 4,700 anti-coup demonstration events were reported in Myanmar. The military has responded with a campaign of violence and mass arrests. Despite the crackdown, anti-coup activists have continued to demonstrate, and some have armed themselves in self-defense. The military coup has also re-started conflicts in areas of the borderlands where fighting had previously receded. Myanmar people’s calls for international action have been increasing, overseas Burmese have organized and joined demonstrations around the world in solidarity with those inside the country.
Initially, the coup was met with widespread peaceful protests. But after the military responded violently to the Myanmar public’s rejection of the coup, some protesters are joining armed struggles. Making things even worse, Myanmar went through three waves of the coronavirus pandemic. Nobody trusts the military to respond adequately to the growing health crisis, after soldiers arrested and killed health workers over the past months of violence. The impact of the coup across all sectors of society is only going to be felt even more deeply. Resistance to the coup – both armed and unarmed – is likely to continue as most people in the country reject the military junta and their campaign of violence.
“There is sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Tatmadaw chain of command, so that a competent court can determine their liability for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine State.” The assessment of the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar in 2018 sets the case out clearly, even though they were never permitted to visit the country itself.
“The crimes in Rakhine State, and the manner in which they were perpetrated, are similar in nature, gravity and scope to those that have allowed genocidal intent to be established in other contexts,” the report states. “Factors pointing at such intent include the broader oppressive context and hate rhetoric; specific utterances of commanders and direct perpetrators; exclusionary policies, including to alter the demographic composition of Rakhine State; the level of organization indicating a plan for destruction and the extreme scale and brutality of the violence.”
The report notes that civilian authorities had little scope to control the actions of the Tatmadaw (the Burmese name for the military). It also found that “through their acts and omissions, the civilian authorities have contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes.”
It found that the State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, had not used her de facto position as Head of Government, nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events in Rakhine State.
Unfortunately, justice will not come from within the country. Impunity is deeply entrenched in Myanmar after long decades of military rule. The Tatmadaw is effectively above the law.
Having met many Rohingya refugees in the camps in Bangladesh, I find it even more extraordinary that no one has been brought to account, and that the very people accused of “mass killings, the scorching of Rohingya settlements and large-scale gang rape and other sexual violence by Tatmadaw soldiers” are on the verge of being recognized as the government by the very same international community that is providing basic services to the more than one million people in need of aid in Bangladesh.
“I was lucky, I was only raped by three men,” one survivor said, laying bare the monstrous extent of sexual violence: “Rapes were often in public spaces in front of families, including children.” The Mission also met many children with visible injuries matching accounts of being shot, stabbed or burned. Satellite imagery corroborates accounts of widespread, systematic, deliberate and targeted destruction, during which Rohingya-populated areas were burned down with nearby ethnic Rakhine settlements left unscathed.
It said the security forces’ response to the ARSA attacks in August 2017 started within hours, “was immediate, brutal and grossly disproportionate,” suggesting “a level of preplanning and design” consistent with Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing’s stated vision to finish “the unfinished job” of solving “the long-standing Bengali problem.”
In 2021, this is the very same man who has appointed himself Prime Minister and who wants the UN to recognize his power grab as legitimate.
All governments and people have the power to award or deny the genocidaires and criminals. Last Friday, the government of South Korea announced it will continue to back the restoration of democracy in Myanmar/Burma through close cooperation with the international community and, crucially, to engage the parallel National Unity Government. This, in response to a public petition signed by more than 268,000 of its citizens. Other countries – yours and mine – can and should follow and follow soon. The next few months will be critical.
Disclaimer: Justice for genocide FROM A DISTANCE - Veronica Pedrosa - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view