The Myanmar government has rejected the findings of an investigation that claims there is “strong evidence” of a genocide coordinated by the Myanmar government against the Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine State.
Minister of Information U Ye Htut told Mizzima Weekly that the government “rejects the accusation completely.”
Fortify Rights is calling for a full and independent investigation into the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State following their official release on October 29 of the report entitled, “Persecution of Rohingya Muslims.”
The report was compiled by the rights group, in conjunction with Allard K Lowenstein International and Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School over a period of three years.
The report claims there is “strong evidence” to “infer genocidal intent by security forces, government officials, local Rakhine, and others.”
The findings were released alongside a year-long Al Jazeera report and investigation that highlights the abuse of Muslims in Rakhine State and some incidents perpetrated against Muslims in other parts of the country, primarily Meiktila.
Where this report goes further than any earlier investigations, including those of the United Nations human rights envoys is in investigating whether there is evidence of government involvement in the violence and threats made against the Rohingya community.
Former United Nations Rapporteur on Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana, featured in the Aj Jazeera report, has called for President U Thein Sein and the ministers of home affairs and immigration to be investigated for genocide.
Speaking to Mizzima, U Ye Htut said the government rejects the accusations, saying that in the incident, “both sides suffered. We handle the case of both sides through the law. We do it fairly and equally for both sides.”
The Myanmar government refers to Muslim Rohingya as “Bengalis” and claims there are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Many Rohingya claim their families lived in the territory of Myanmar well before independence.
U Ye Htut said that as the elections are approaching, “they make it (the report) intentionally to make the situation complicated in Rakhine State. The Myanmar government (rejects the suggestion of ) genocide.”
U Ye Htut said that in Rakhine State, many international groups and organizations are working freely there. You can get information from them. You can hear from them. If you go and look at the situation on the ground, you will find it incorrect. It is an intentional plot when the election is approaching.”
Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, told Mizzima:
“The only plot at hand is to prevent further acts of genocide and end the large-scale human rights violations continuing against the Rohingya. If there are no abuses ongoing in Rakhine State, then the government should be open to cooperating with a Commission of Inquiry, which would help establish the facts. The reality on the ground is that humanitarian space is severely limited by design, and while the minister encourages outsiders to visit Rakhine State, the nearly one million Rohingya themselves are denied freedom of movement. The elections provide an opportunity for a new administration to cooperate with a commission of inquiry to establish definitively what has occurred in Rakhine State, and why.”
Mr Smith said: “Rohingya face existential threats and it's incumbent upon UN member states to respond. The report by the team from Yale Law School isn't the first to discuss genocide, but it's the first to apply the law of genocide to the situation in Rakhine State. Their findings are significant. There is strong evidence the government of Myanmar and various state actors are responsible for the crime of genocide against Rohingya.”
“Anti-Muslim sentiment pervades Myanmar officialdom. That means the broader Muslim community faces threats, and it also speaks to the government's intent in the case of Rohingya,” he said.
Mr Smith added: “It's telling that some who posed the most significant threat to entrenched military power in Myanmar--monks, in 2007--now appear to be doing the military's bidding. The real transition in Myanmar has been the way in which some pro-democracy monks now preach ideologies of hate.
“We see what's happening to Muslims in Myanmar and feel compassion and concern for average Buddhists. The Buddhist religion is being used by nefarious interests as a deadly political tool, and that's tragic,” he said.
The key findings of the report found the major riots that broke out in 2012 in Rakhine State were not communal riots. The findings of the report indicate the attacks on the Rohingya community were “orchestrated” with armed Buddhist men bussed in, fed and supported, and both police and military forces stood idly by, allowing the violence to unfold.
Highlights from the report include:
- The 78-page legal analysis is the first to apply the law of genocide to the situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar.
- It's based on nearly three years of research provided by Fortify Rights to the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, including eyewitness and survivor testimony, internal government documents, internal UN documents, and other sources.
- It alleges the Myanmar government committed abuses against the Rohingya with the intent to destroy the Rohingya "in whole or in part."
- It names several responsible parties, including specific state security agencies, and establishes links to the central government, in committing genocidal acts.
- It clarifies the distinction between motivation and intent under international law, to show that the intent requirement (as required to demonstrate genocide versus another crime, such as ethnic cleansing) may be met even when a perpetrator is motivated by unrelated goals, such as political or economic gains (or driving Rohingya from the country).
Fortify Rights is calling for the UN Human Rights Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry (COI) into international crimes committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar, including the crime of genocide. Looking at precedents in other contexts and based on conversations with certain UN officials, the likelihood of seeing a COI for the Rohingya is not as improbable as it maybe once was, says the NGO.
The NGO says this legal analysis assesses whether the abuses of Rohingya Muslims’ human rights in Myanmar’s Rakhine State amount to genocide. Part I presents a detailed historical account of the situation of the Rohingya since Myanmar’s independence. Part II applies the law of genocide to the treatment of Rohingya in Rakhine State. This Part considers three questions: First, do Rohingya constitute a protected group under the definition of genocide? Second, do the acts perpetrated against Rohingya fall into the categories enumerated in the Genocide Convention? Third, does the requisite “intent to destroy” Rohingya exist? This analysis concludes that Rohingya constitute a protected group and that the group has suffered enumerated acts. Although the analysis does not support a definitive answer to the third question, the information the Lowenstein Clinic has considered, assuming it is credible and comprehensive and accurately reflects the situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar, provides a strong foundation from which to infer genocidal intent by security forces, government officials, local Rakhine, and others. Thus, this paper finds persuasive evidence that the crime of genocide has been committed against Rohingya Muslims.
The NGO says the legal analysis highlights the urgent need for a full and independent investigation and heightened protection for Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
As Fortify Rights points out, this analysis does not conclude definitively whether genocide is occurring. Such a conclusion would require a full and independent investigation by an appropriately authorized institution with investigatory powers and provisions for the accused to respond to allegations, the group says. However, assuming that the information to which the Lowenstein Clinic has had access is credible and comprehensive and accurately reflects the Rohingyas’ situation, the paper finds strong evidence that genocide is being committed against Rohingya.
The Genocide Convention, which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948 and entered into force in 1951, declares that genocide is a crime under international law. It imposes affirmative legal obligations on states to prevent genocide from occurring and to punish perpetrators of genocide.