Burma Army Forms Team to Investigate Allegations of Abuse in Arakan State

By Nyein Nyein 10 February 2017

In response to the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report released on Feb. 3, the Burma Army has formed its own investigation team tasked with ascertaining whether security forces committed unlawful acts during clearance operations in Arakan State.

The announcement from the Tatmadaw’s True News Information Team on Thursday said officials at all levels are instructed and supervised to act “within the framework of law” and “to ensure that security forces stay away from using excessive force and committing human rights violations” in areas where military operations are conducted.

It reaffirmed that “legal action will be taken against anyone who breaks any of the directives.”

The ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday that the Burmese government is “deeply concerned” about the OHCHR’s findings and “considers the allegations contained in the report [to be] very serious in nature.”

The government requested more information from the UN concerning the report, which is based on interviews conducted from Jan. 12-21 with more than 200 Rohingya refugees who fled Burma since October for neighboring Bangladesh.

Since coordinated October attacks on the border police posts in northern Arakan State left 10 security personnel dead, combined security forces of the Tatmadaw and the police have led clearance operations through the region to capture the attackers and to retrieve seized weapons and ammunitions.

The Tatmadaw’s five-member investigation team is the first formed by the army but the third team formed to look into the regional situation. The Kofi Annan-led Arakan State Advisory Commission was formed in August of 2016 to make recommendations toward addressing longstanding tensions in the region, and the Vice President U Myint Swe-led National Investigation Commission was formed on Dec. 1 last year to look into the allegations of abuse carried out by security forces in the Arakan State. In contrast to the UNOCHR’s report detailing extensive human rights violations, the Vice President U Myint Swe-led commission’s January report said it identified no evidence of widespread abuses committed by police and Burma Army troops.

The Burma Army’s new investigation team is chaired by Lt-Gen Aye Win, who is the Inspector General. The other four members include Brig-Gen Khun Thant Zaw Htoo, vice adjutant general from Adjutant-General’s office; Brig-Gen Aung Kyaw Hoe, the Commander of No. 9 Defense Services Advanced Training Depot; Major Hla Myo Kyaw, the deputy assistant judge advocate general member from the Western Command; and Lt-Col Myo Win Aung, assistant judge advocate general secretary from the Judge Advocate General Office.

U Pe Than, an Arakanese lawmaker in the Lower House, told The Irrawaddy that since the investigation committee members were “under the control of the Tatmadaw or the government,” he expected that their enquiries would be “independent and truthful.”

Despite allegations of the Tatmadaw’s own alleged involvement in the reported abuses in Arakan State, U Pe Than argued that the army’s enquiry team may be able to investigate in remote areas and reach conflict zones better than civilian investigators; humanitarian aid teams and journalists have been limited access to these areas by the Burmese military during clearance operations.