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Bad news from Myanmar

A UN report recently alleged that the army was responsible for crimes against humanity against the Rohingya Muslims in Burma, also known as Myanmar, and should be investigated by the international criminal court (ICC).

About 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh from their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine province since August 2017.

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Myanmar refuses to recognise the Rohingya, who are mostly Muslim, as a separate ethnic group and denies them citizenship. Pressure on Myanmar, to recognise the rights of a people who trace their ancestry in Rakhine for generations has so far yielded nothing.

The UN report also prompted Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Fortify Rights and Save the Children to push for Myanmar to be investigated by the ICC.

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The report is prompted from a fact-finding mission the council set up in March 2017 and it fingered several top generals for leading atrocities that “amount to the gravest crimes under international law” and calling for them to be put on trial for premeditated genocide and crimes against humanity.

“Children and their families have been murdered, sexually assaulted and forced to flee burning villages, and they have not yet seen the justice they deserve. Establishing the facts through the fact-finding mission was a critical first step to achieving justice; however now there must be a move towards investigations for prosecution.”

The Burmese military insists the assault was a necessary response to August attacks on police posts and an army station by Rohingya militants.

But, as the UN report noted, the military necessity would never justify killing indiscriminately, gang-raping women, assaulting children and burning entire villages, including the beheading of children and burning people alive.

Human Rights Watch reported last month that those who cross back into their homeland face torture and prison, which negates Myanmar government’s  promises that refugees who return will be safe and protected

And this week, a Myanmar court has sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison for breaking the Official Secrets Act while investigating a massacre of Rohingya Muslims.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were originally detained in December 2017 after working on an investigation into the mass killing of a number of Rohingya villagers in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

But journalism is about telling the world the truth, and every time a journalist is jailed, obstructed, arrested, assaulted or even assassinated the whole world becomes less open and free, because human rights are universal and the right to know respects no national frontiers. When free, independent, fearless reporting dies, democracy dies with it.

The plight of the Rohingya is particularly harrowing and worrisome. After months, if not years, of denial, Myanmar needs to start somewhere. We hope that the UN report would provide a turning point.

We strongly condemn the action of Myanmar generals and Aung San Suu Kyi who are resistant to pressure, even as the scale of the abuse meted out to hundreds of thousands of refugees becomes clear.

We call on the Suu Kyi-led government to ensure that inter-communal dialogue is held at all levels of society. But any move that Myanmar takes which acknowledges the severity of the accusations levelled against its security forces should be encouraged.

There is enough reason for the global community to double the pressure. The world needs to do a lot more. Positive steps are needed and should be encouraged. The threat of renewed sanctions now remains real. The US may need to re-impose all the economic penalties it lifted after the military allowed elections in 2015, and every nation that cares about rights, and preventing genocide, should join in. Unless the grievances of the both Buddhist and Muslim communities are taken into account, fear and distrust will continue to grow.

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