The UN Security Council asked the Myanmar Army to let it investigate rights abuses in Rakhine State, but the army refused, saying it was an internal matter, according to a detailed statement issued via Facebook by Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.
Olof Skoog, a member of a visiting UNSC delegation, said during a meeting with several top army generals that the Security Council was deeply concerned about reports of human rights abuses in Myanmar. The UNSC wanted to investigate these cases and he asked the army for its view on this.
Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing rebuffed the diplomat, saying it was an internal matter and that reports of abuses in northern Rakhine, including in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships, had been exaggerated by certain groups to drag the international community into the affair. He said the army and the government had investigated accusations of human rights abuses in 2012 and 2016 and had punished those who had committed violations.
He said that some organizations came to Myanmar and tried “to do what they wanted to do” and this could have far-reaching impacts on the country.“For us, we have investigated enough already. But it is actually not up to the army to decide on whether to let the UNSC investigate human rights abuses. Only the government has the authority to do that,” Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said.
The army chief’s comments came at the end of a four-day mission to Bangladesh and Myanmar by the UNSC team. It visited Bangladesh first where the envoys met some of the 700,000 Rohingya refugees who had fled Buthidaung and Maungdaw since August amid a brutal Myanmar Army crackdown against Muslim extremists.
The refugees told the UNSC team tales of systematic rape and killing by members of the security forces. The refugees said they wanted to return to their villages in Rakhine, but they did not feel it was safe yet.
In response to Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing’s assertion that the Rakhine case was an internal matter, Kelley Currie, the US Ambassador to the UN Economic and Social Council, said this was clearly not the case as 700,000 people had to fled to another country, Bangladesh. As such, the situation demanded that the UN Security Council take action as the case had become an international affair.
Another delegate, Kairat Umarov, said that many refugees told stories of how they were raped. “For us, it was difficult to know how to believe it,”he said, adding that the UN envoys wanted Myanmar to agree to the investigation.
Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing noted that Myanmar is a Buddhist country and that many people could not accept the rape accusations, especially the implication that soldiers were involved. “There were a total of 1,116 rape cases in 2016. Army personnel were involved in 16 of those cases and the army punished all of the perpetrators with 20-year prison sentences. Even though there were 1,422 reported cases of rape in 2017, army personnel were involved in just 17 cases, and the convicted assailants were again sentenced in prison terms of 20 years,” the army chief said.
“The army has a duty to protect local ethnic people living in Rakhine,” he said, adding that the army would not have launched its offensive if armed men had not attacked police bases and local people. “A total of 72 local people were killed in attacks by Bengalis between 2012 to 2018 and 13 others were wounded,”he said, using the military’s preferred term for Rohingya Muslims, implying they are interlopers from Bangladesh.
Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said there were several reasons why the refugees were afraid to come back to Myanmar. Some had fled to Bangladesh as they were involved in the attacks on the police bases and army units or had killed local Buddhist men, he said. Therefore, they had run away to Bangladesh. Additionally, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which had orchestrated the attacks on the security forces, had also warned them not to go back to Myanmar. ARSA, which the Myanmar Army calls a terrorist group, did not want the people who had fled to Bangladesh to return to Myanmar, so they had threatened to kill people who wanted to come back, he said.
Violence first broke out in Rakhine State in 2012. It worsened in 2016 when armed men attacked several police bases, killing security officers and looting many guns. ARSA attacked again in 2017, but when the army launched a counter offensive, the attackers ran away without achieving the goals of their plan, the army chief said.
The situation was now stable in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships and the army had already withdrawn its troops and handed the responsibility for maintaining security back to the Interior Ministry, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said, adding that the army would even help refugees if they came back. Those refugees would not face any danger if they returned through army-approved border points. In the case the army needed to take care of security again in Maungdaw and Buthidaung, it would first seek permission from the government, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said.