Nobel Laureate Could Face Charges


Nick Cumming-Bruce

c.2019 The New York Times Company


GENEVA — Their statement was a new sign of how far the leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, had fallen from grace in the three years since she took office, overshadowed by the military’s campaign against the Rohingya.

She was first acclaimed as an icon of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar, having won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and endured many years of house arrest. Now she has become an international pariah for her government’s response to brutal oppression by Myanmar’s military. In a report to the U.N. top human rights body in Geneva on Tuesday, a panel of investigators, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, said the 660,000 Rohingya people who remain in Myanmar face systematic persecution.

“Myanmar is failing in its obligation to prevent genocide, to investigate genocide and to enact effective legislation criminalizing and punishing genocide,” Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the fact-finding mission and a former attorney general of Indonesia, said in a statement.

The policies and practices that laid the basis for the military and allied militia campaigns of 2017 are still in place, he told the Human Rights Council. “Impunity continues. Discrimination continues. Hate speech continues. Persecution continues,” he said.

Myanmar on Tuesday rejected the fact-finding mission’s report as “one-sided allegations” and “misinformation.” Its ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Kyaw Moe Tun, accused the panel of lacking impartiality and said its reporting would cause economic hardship to millions of people.

Since Suu Kyi took office in 2016, she has drawn fierce criticism for failing to challenge the military, known as the Tatmadaw, over its atrocities in Rakhine state, home to many Rohingya Muslims. Critics have also assailed her for the repression of political freedoms.

Yanghee Lee, a U.N. expert monitoring developments in Myanmar, has said that under Suu Kyi, the list of political prisoners and people facing politically motivated charges has increased in recent years, as has the number of people charged with defaming the military.

The investigators said that Suu Kyi had no control over the actions of the Tatmadaw, but as head of a party that controlled 60% of the seats in Myanmar’s Parliament, she led a government that had the power to change every law except the constitution. Consequently, they said, she had extensive responsibilities for the prevailing conditions and human rights.

The Myanmar armed forces and allied militias have continued to use torture in operations against Kachin, Shan and other ethnic minorities in northern Myanmar, the investigators said, and sexual violence was a prominent part of the campaign.

“The longer this goes on, the more impossible it is for the civilian side of the government to escape international criminal responsibility for the human rights situation in Myanmar,” Christopher Sidoti, an Australian lawyer and panel member, told reporters.

The panel said last year that Myanmar’s army commander and other top generals should face trial for genocide and atrocities committed in 2017 against the Rohingya Muslims, driving nearly three-quarters of 1 million people across the border into Bangladesh.

The human rights council also recently heard from Lee that the military was using helicopter gunships, heavy artillery and land mines in civilian areas of Rakhine state, as part of the operations against local rebels by the armed forces.

Violence in the state is escalating, Lee said, citing what she described as credible reports that Rakhine men had been fatally tortured and Rakhine villages burned.

Many Rohingya Muslims remain trapped in camps where they are cut off from education or health care, cannot make a living, and remained subjected to discriminatory citizenship laws that amount to a “tool of persecution,” the fact-finding mission said.

Denying Myanmar’s Muslims access to basic services such as education was “one element of the crime against humanity of persecution that we are seeing in Rakhine state against the Rohingyas,” said Sidoti, the panel member.

In these circumstances, the return of close to 1 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh was “simply impossible,” said Darusman, the mission’s chairman, contradicting claims by Myanmar authorities that they were creating a favorable environment for repatriation.

“There is nowhere safe and viable for them to return to. Rohingya lands and villages have been destroyed, cleared, confiscated and built on,” he said.

The mission has identified more than 150 people linked to “numerous international crimes,” he added. It has also turned over the evidence it accumulated over two years to an investigative organization responsible for preparing case files for potential criminal prosecutions.

In the meantime, the panel has called for a moratorium on investment and development assistance to Rakhine state and exhorted international businesses to shun dealings with companies controlled by the military.