The Myanmar government should “fully cooperate” with a forthcoming United Nations Fact-Finding Mission into the human rights situation in at least Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan states, demanded a collective of 23 international organizations in an open letter released today.
“This mission is in the interests of the authorities and the entire country,” said Matthew Smith, CEO at Fortify Rights, which signed the open letter. “It’s an opportunity for the government to demonstrate a commitment to the rule of law and preventing atrocity crimes in ethnic states.”
A UN Resolution passed at the 34th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March established the mandate of the forthcoming Fact-Finding Mission. It calls for the UN Human Rights Council to “dispatch urgently an independent international Fact Finding Mission…to establish the facts and circumstances of the alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces…with a view to ensure full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.”
Human Rights Council president Mr. Joaquín Alexander Maza Martelli is expected to soon appoint members to the expert body.
“We believe the Fact-Finding Mission must be led by experts, including on international human rights and humanitarian law, who should receive free and unfettered access to ensure the process is thorough, equitable and capable of achieving its stated goals,” the open letter states.
The Burma Human Rights Network initiated the open letter, and signatories include Human Rights Watch, Refugees International, Amnesty International, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, and others.
The letter calls on various governments “to strongly encourage the Myanmar government to fully cooperate with the forthcoming Fact-Finding Mission.”
Fortify Rights and other signatories to the letter have documented how Myanmar state security forces in northern Rakhine State committed extrajudicial killings of ethnic Rohingya Muslims, including infants and children, raped and gang-raped ethnic women and girls, looted property, and razed entire villages, including religious structures and food stocks.
In testimony presented during a hearing before the US Congress in March, Fortify Rights stated: “State security forces carried out these violations in a consistent manner in disparate locations, indicating the systematic nature of the attacks. Fortify Rights believes this indicates that the soldiers’ actions were not spontaneous and were likely based on guidance or orders.”
The Myanmar military’s “clearance operation” in northern Rakhine State was led and directed by Major General Maung Maung Soe, the chief of the army’s Western Command, according to Reuters. The Western Command reports to the Bureau of Special Operations in Naypyidaw, which reports to Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
Fortify Rights also documented how Myanmar Army soldiers targeted, attacked, and killed civilians with impunity in ongoing fighting against ethnic armed groups in Kachin State and northern Shan State since 2011. The Myanmar Army, Police, and Military Intelligence also arbitrarily detained and tortured civilians in Kachin State in a widespread and systematic manner in recent years, Fortify Rights said.
Myanmar authorities, including the civilian-led government, continue to effectively restrict humanitarian aid groups and human rights monitors from operating freely in Kachin State and northern Shan State, resulting in avoidable deprivations of food, healthcare, and other humanitarian provisions for displaced communities. In January 2017, the Myanmar government denied UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee access to certain conflict-affected areas of Kachin and Shan states.
“This is a critical moment for Suu Kyi’s government and military leadership,” said Matthew Smith. “Any failure to cooperate with this mission could signal more atrocities and impunity.”