A U.N. fact-finding mission has recommended that Myanmar military leaders be investigated for genocidal acts against Rohingyas in the Rakhine state and crimes committed against Christians and other minorities in two other states.
In what is said to be the harshest U.N. condemnation of the situation in Myanmar, a new 20-page report from a mandated three-member fact-finding mission documented systemic murder, rape, sexual enslavement and other human rights abuses committed by the nation's military forces (Tatmadaw) in the Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states.
The report, based on over 847 interviews, concludes that there is sufficient evidence to warrant the investigation and prosecution of six senior military officials in the Tatmadaw chain of command to "determine their liability for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine state."
Myanmar officials have claimed that there attacks on the communities were responses to security threats from rebel groups.
"These policies and practices violate Myanmar's obligations under international law and amount to criminal conduct. They are also unwarranted; military necessity would never justify killing indiscriminately, gang raping women, assaulting children, and burning entire villages," the mission report states. "The Tatmadaw's tactics are consistently and grossly disproportionate to actual security threats, especially in Rakhine state, but also in northern Myanmar."
In the Rakhine state, over 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to neighboring Bangladesh after the beginning of a planned government-led onslaught on Aug. 25, 2017. The U.N. mission stresses that the crimes committed in the Rakhine state "may also amount to the crime of apartheid."
The mission concretely asserts that crimes against humanity "have been committed" in the Kachin, Rakhine and Shan states mostly by the Tatmadaw. The report states that estimates show that 100,000 people are living as internally displaced persons in Kachin and Shan states on top of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas that fled to Bangladesh.
In Kachin, which borders China and India, thousands are seeking shelter inside Baptist churches. Since a cease-fire ended between the military and Kachin rebels in 2011, over 400 Kachin villages are said to have been destroyed. Previous reports have indicated that in the last 18 months, as many as 60 churches have been destroyed and several of them have been replaced with Buddhist pagodas.
"For Kachin and Shan states, these include crimes against humanity of murder; imprisonment; enforced disappearance; torture; rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence; persecution; and enslavement," the U.N. report states.
In the Rakhine state, the report stresses that additional crimes against humanity were committed that had the "elements of extermination and deportation" that could possibly amount to the "crime of apartheid."
"For both northern Myanmar and Rakhine State, the acts were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack on a civilian population," the mission found.
The military leaders the mission recommends for prosecution include Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, his deputy commander-in-chief and commanders of four military divisions, including the 33rd and 99th infantry divisions that were sanctioned by the U.S. government earlier this month.
The mission noted that while some nonstate armed groups have also committed crimes against civilians, the Tatmadaw "was the main perpetrator of serious human rights violations and crimes under international law" in those three states.
In Rakhine state, the Myanmar Police Force, Border Guard Police, local authorities, militias, militant "civilian" groups, politicians and even monks participated in human rights violations to some extent against the predominantly Muslim Rohingya community, the report explains.
The mission calls on the U.N. Security Council to respond by referring the situation to the International Criminal Court or by creating an "ad hoc international criminal tribunal." The mission also calls for an arms embargo on Myanmar and sanctions to be placed against those who are "most responsible" for the crimes.
The report criticized Myanmar's civilian leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Although civilian authorities have little control over military operations, the mission found that "nothing indicates that civilian authorities used their limited powers to influence the situation in Rakhine state where crimes were being perpetrated."
"The state Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has not used her de facto position as head of government, nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events, or seek alternative avenues to meet a responsibility to protect the civilian population," the report states. "On the contrary, the civilian authorities have spread false narratives; denied the Tatmadaw's wrongdoing; blocked independent investigations, including of the fact-finding mission; and overseen destruction of evidence. Through their acts and omissions, the civilian authorities have contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes."
Human rights advocates praised the report, as it emboldens their plea for the U.N. Security Council to recommend the Myanmar military officials for prosecution by the International Criminal Court.
"The U.N. report appropriately designates the situation in Burma as a genocide and crimes against humanity. Burmese generals should be referred to the International Criminal Court, now the U.N. has a duty to refer Burma to the ICC," Malik Mujahid, chair of the Faith Coalition to Stop Genocide in Burma, said in a statement shared with The Christian Post. "Aung San Suu Kyi is criticized, but rightfully so. Her office welcomed the deployment of the 33rd and 99th infantry. She is fully complicit. It's time for President [Donald] Trump and Secretary [Mike] Pompeo to act, full sanctions on Burma excluding food and medicine."
The U.N. report comes on the heels of an extensive 160-page report by the human rights group Fortify Rights on the genocidal acts committed in Rakhine state earlier this summer. Researchers interviewed over 250 survivors and military personnel and found that the military planned the systemic attack against the Rohingya community, a minority of which is Hindu.
The report states that the Tatmadaw trained neighboring civilian populations to attack the Rohingya.
Fortify Rights CEO Matthew Smith called the new fact-finding report "highly significant."
"This will necessarily shift the thinking of U.N. member states — business as usual is no longer an option," Smith said in a statement. "The next logical step is for member states to ensure those responsible are held accountable."
However, a referral to the ICC would require the backing of the five permanent member states of the U.N. Security Council. Member nation China could likely stand in the way of making an ICC referral a reality.
The fact-finding mission is planning to release a more detailed report on Sept. 18.
The U.S. State Department is also expected to release its own report on the situation in Myanmar in the coming days or weeks.