Myanmar Junta Enacts Genocide Law

By The Irrawaddy 26 August 2021

Myanmar’s military regime has added a genocide law to the country’s colonial-era Penal Code, a move being seen by legal experts as an attempt to ease international pressure on the regime as it faces a genocide charge at a United Nations court for its soldiers’ atrocities against the Rohingya.

The new provisions published in junta-controlled newspapers threaten the death sentence for murders committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. The provisions were signed by coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Tuesday.

The addition to the Penal Code also carries a life sentence for other crimes committed with genocidal purpose.

They include causing grievous hurt or serious mental harm to members of a group, deliberately inflicting on a group conditions of life calculated to bring its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures, not in accordance with any existing laws, intended to prevent births within a group, and forcibly transferring children of a group to another group.

The promulgation of the new genocide law coincided with an online campaign to mark the fourth anniversary of atrocities against the Rohingya, the stateless Muslim people in Rakhine State, in 2017. A Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day was organized online on Wednesday, with many activists expressing their apologies to the Rohingya for failing to speak out while they were being persecuted by the Myanmar military.

Over 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh after the military carried out clearance operations in Rakhine in response to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’s attacks on security outposts in August 2017. The Gambia, representing the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, filed a genocide case against Myanmar at the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) in late 2019.

However, both the then National League for Democracy government and the military denied the accusations of genocide. In January 2020, the ICJ ordered Myanmar to comply with four provisional measures as requested by The Gambia.

The measures require that Myanmar take steps to prevent genocide from occurring in the future, as well as ensuring that the military and its affiliates do not commit further acts of genocide, in particular killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, and preventing births. Myanmar is also required to preserve all evidence of genocide, and provide regular updates on its progress on these measures.

One legal expert, who asked for anonymity, said that the military regime has enacted the genocide law to ease international pressure on it as it faces the genocide charge at the ICJ, but the move will not give the regime any protection from crimes it has previously committed.

“The law will not have an effect on things that happened before its enactment. This law should be accepted as it presents the opportunity for citizens, ethnic groups and religious organizations to open cases regarding genocidal crimes in the future,” he added.

The junta said it had enacted the genocide law because it was liable to do so after Myanmar ratified the Genocide Convention on December 30, 1949 and then became a member of the Convention in March 1956.

“As we are a member country, we have a responsibility to enact a law. So we have enacted a law to prevent and punish genocide,” said the regime spokesperson, Major General Zaw Min Tun.

The junta has also changed the Code of Criminal Procedures, which allows authorities to arrest genocide suspects without a warrant. People accused of genocide can no longer be bailed.

“They just want to show the international community that they are against genocide and are taking action to prevent it,” said another legal expert. Meanwhile, the parallel National Unity Government (NUG) is also working to prosecute Myanmar’s military at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Myanmar is not an ICC member, but Acting President Duwa Lashi La of the NUG lodged a declaration with the ICC registrar last week, accepting the ICC’s jurisdiction with respect to international crimes committed in Myanmar since July 1, 2002, the earliest date permitted by the Rome Statute that established the ICC.

To mark Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day, the NUG Deputy Minister for Women, Youths and Children Affairs, Daw Ei Thinzar Maung, called on Myanmar people to show sympathy for the traumatic experiences Rohingya women and children and other ethnic minorities have suffered. She also urged them to protect the vulnerable and to speak out for them to prevent genocidal acts from occurring in the future.

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