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UN accuses Myanmar military of Rohingya genocide

Murder, rape, enslavement and other crimes against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims necessitate the country’s military leaders be charged with genocide, the United Nations said Aug. 27.

“Criminal investigation and prosecution is warranted, focusing on the top Tatmadaw generals, in relation to the three categories of crimes under international law,” the U.N. said in a special report, accusing the generals of “genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.”

The accusations are based on the findings of a three-member, independent, international fact-finding mission that gathered more than 800 testimonies and other data, the UN said. The scale of persecution and violence is evidenced by a refugee who reportedly described herself as “lucky” because she “was only raped by three men.”

“The scale, brutality and systematic nature of rape and violence indicate that they are part of a deliberate strategy to intimidate, terrorize or punish the civilian population,” UN team member Radhika Coomaraswamy told reporters at an Aug. 27 press conference in Geneva. “These have principally been committed by the military, the Tatmadaw.”

The report follows the forced exodus of more than 700,000 and the murder of perhaps 10,000 Rohingya Muslims from majority Buddhist Myanmar (also known as Burma) in violence a year ago, according to many reports. As recently as October 2017, Reuters quoted Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s highest military official, asserting on Facebook that Myanmar was not the Rohingya’s native homeland, and referring to the Muslims by the term “Bengali,” considered derogatory.

“The Bengalis were not taken into the country by Myanmar, but by the colonialists,” Reuters quoted Hlaing. “They are not the natives, and the records prove that they were not even called Rohingya but just Bengalis during the colonial period (1824-1948).”

Hlaing and five top military commanders should be charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Kachin, Rakhine and Silan states, the UN said. Other perpetrators include non-state armed groups, the Myanmar Police Force and the Border Guard Police, investigators said, pointing to Myanmar’s government leaders as culpable and calling on the international community to seek justice.

“Myanmar has a heavy responsibility to remedy the situation as a matter of the utmost urgency, or risk destroying its democratic reform process,” the UN said. “The international community also bears responsibility and must take a united stand to both condemn the violations and assist Myanmar in addressing the root causes of its recurrent problems. This begins by ensuring that the perpetrators of crimes are held to account, and by giving hope to victims of a future without the fear and insecurity that have characterized their existence.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in its 2018 annual report, lists Myanmar as a Tier One Country of Particular Concern where religious persecution is most severe. In an April update to its report, USCIRF noted the “deprivation of Rohingya Muslims’ rights” to practice their faith, live as free citizens and access such necessities as food, water, shelter, education, healthcare and income.

Based on study trips to Myanmar in November 2017 and refugee camps in Bangladesh in January 2018, USCIRF noted 140,000 Rohingya in internal displacement camps, rape and other sexual violence, forced starvation, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and other crimes against Rohingya. Religious leaders also faced detention, torture and death, USCIRF said.

“Even if these restrictions and violations in some cases are not motivated by religion or specifically intended to deny religious freedom,” USCIRF said, “they disrupt or interfere with religious practices and threaten Rohingya Muslims’ ability to observe their faith. Also, several Rohingya refugees with whom USCIRF spoke noted that they felt targeted in Burma because of their faith, their ethnicity, and generally for being different.”

Rohingya comprise between 2.3 percent and 4.3 percent of Myanmar’s 51.5 million people, USCIRF said. Nearly 90 percent of the population is Buddhist.

— by Diana Chandler | BP

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