‘Increasing evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes’ in Myanmar: UN investigator

Activists protesting the military junta in Yangon. Photo by Saw Wunna on Unsplash
Activists protesting the military junta in Yangon. Photo by Saw Wunna on Unsplash

At a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) yesterday, the head of a team set up to investigate rights abuses in Myanmar briefed the council on evidence indicating the military junta that took control of the country 18 months ago had committed numerous crimes against humanity and war crimes.

In his statement, Nicholas Koumjian, the head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), told the council: “Since the military coup in February last year, there is increasing evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, torture, deportation and forcible transfer, persecution, imprisonment, and targeting of the civilian population.

https://twitter.com/UN_HRC/status/1569302901452931072

The Human Rights Council established IIMM in 2018 in response to reports of human rights abuses against the country’s persecuted Rohingya minority by the previous government, with the goal of gathering evidence that could be used to prosecute them in international courts of law. Since the coup, it has focused on documenting abuses by the junta government, particularly those affecting women and children.

“We have gathered reports of children in Myanmar having been tortured and arbitrarily detained, sometimes to target their parents. There is also increasing evidence of sexual and gender-based crimes against both women and men.” Koumjian said.

He also noted that there was evidence that the junta was executing prisoners without due process, as in the case of four democracy activists who were executed in July after they were convicted of committing “terror acts” during a closed-door trial.

Koumjian said gathering hard evidence of such crimes was challenging given IIMM’s lack of access to the country, with the junta consistently refusing their requests to enter Myanmar and for information relevant to the crimes they are investigating.

However, he noted that IIMM has still made “notable progress” in gathering evidence thanks to “many brave individuals, NGOs, and other entities”, many of whom they have interviewed to gain first-hand information about the regime’s crimes.

He said another source of information has been Facebook, which has shared “millions of items from networks of accounts that were taken down by the company because they misrepresented their identity – the accounts were actually controlled by the Myanmar military”.

Facebook owner Meta has been accused of allowing its social network to be used to spread misinformation and hate speech about the Rohingya, fuelling acts of persecution and violence against the minority group. The company has admitted that its platform was used to incite such violence and has pledged to take steps to prevent similar misuse in the future.

Koumjian ended his statement with a call for “all states committed to ending the worst violence in Myanmar to support our work”. 

“Perpetrators of the most serious international crimes committed in Myanmar must know that we are united in our efforts to break the cycle of impunity and to ensure that those responsible for such crimes will face justice.”

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