Fortify Rights, survivors target Myanmar generals in German lawsuit

Survivors gather near the locations of mass graves in 2017 in Northern Rakhine State. Photo: VOA
Survivors gather near the locations of mass graves in 2017 in Northern Rakhine State. Photo: VOA

Five years ago, soldiers with Myanmar’s Tatmadaw streamed into a Rakhine state village, burning homes and preventing anyone from escaping. They beat a woman in a room while others raped her son’s wife in an adjacent room. Ultimately, the soldiers murdered seven people in her family and scarred her permanently with a knife.

That was the testimony of a 51-year-old Rohingya woman presented this morning in Bangkok by victims of the military, who gathered to call attention to a lawsuit filed in Germany by an international human rights group.

“The complaint finds new evidence that the military systematically tortured, killed, raped, and committed crimes against humanity,” Fortify Rights chief officer Matthew Smith said Tuesday morning at the the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. “Our primary objective is for the German federal prosecutor to open an investigation, collect and preserve evidence for prosecution and issue arrest warrants for those responsible for heinous crimes.”

The group filed suit on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity under the legal concept of universal jurisdiction, which enables prosecution of mass atrocities anywhere in the world regardless of where they took place or the nationalities of those involved.

Smith and other Fortify Rights reps were present with one survivor and one witness today in Bangkok, just days before the second anniversary of the Tatmadaw-led coup d’etat that seized power. 

The lawsuit, which names senior junta officials and their subordinates, was filed with federal prosecutors in Germany. 

The complaint, more than 250 pages, provided evidence of those responsible for crimes including rape, torture, and imprisonment. 

Crimes include the Rohingya genocide in Rakhine state in 2016 and 2017, and post-coup atrocities carried out throughout Myanmar since the Feb. 1, 2021 putsch. 

Half of the six female and 10 male plaintiffs chose to remain anonymous. They are members of multiple ethnic groups that have taken up arms against rule by the general in Naypyidaw, such as the Arakanese, Burman, Chin, Karen, Karenni, Mon, and Rohingya people. Those who revealed their identities are living abroad in Germany.

All were in Myanmar and directly experienced the atrocities.

“All complainants live in a constant state of fear despite living outside of countries,” said Fortify lawyer Pavani Nagaraja Bhat. “What they witnessed and survived is horrific. Almost all of them talked about extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, sexual violence, torture, shelling, destruction of civilian property, suppression of freedom speech.”

The junta has denied any wrongdoing and has said it is battling lawlessness. 

Similar suits have been filed in several other countries. The International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice are investigating complaints against Myanmar’s generals. 

Diamond, a Burman-Muslim party to the lawsuit who was in Bangkok today, said international law had to prevail.

“This is the time to end perpetrator impunity, to ensure that they no longer get away from their crimes,” Nickey said. “This is not only a responsibility, but also an obligation of the international law.”

Smith said the biggest hurdle to advancing the case was getting a referral to the International Criminal Court from the U.N. Security Council. Last month, the council issued a rebuke in a resolution expressing “deep concern” about the violence but stronger action was opposed by China and Russia, which hold veto power.

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