Myanmar President Orders Officials to Preserve Evidence of Rakhine Atrocities

By The Irrawaddy 9 April 2020

YANGON—The Myanmar President’s Office on Thursday ordered Union-level ministries and the Rakhine State government to preserve evidence related to alleged human rights violations against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State that were investigated by a government commission.

The President’s Office said the aim of the directive is to assist criminal investigations and ensure they proceed against the perpetrators. It also warns that anyone who destroys evidence will be prosecuted.

The Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) was formed by the Myanmar government in 2018 to investigate allegations of human rights violations and related issues in the wake of terrorist attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in Rakhine State.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh in late 2017 after the government’s security forces launched clearance operations in northern Rakhine State in response to the ARSA attacks. Those who fled recalled arbitrary killings, rape and arson against their property by Myanmar security forces. UN investigators said the operations had “genocidal intent”. Both the Myanmar government and military have denied the accusations.

In January, the commission submitted its final report to Myanmar President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. While denying the security operations had genocidal intent, the report admitted that “war crimes, serious human rights violations, and violations of domestic law took place.”

The report states that crimes occurred including mass killings of Rohingya and the failure to prevent the burning of homes in abandoned Muslim villages—both alleged to have been committed by members of the Myanmar security forces.

President U Win Myint forwarded the report to the country’s military chief and Union Attorney General (UAG) for use in investigating and prosecuting the military personnel responsible. Both the UAG’s office and the Office of the Judge Advocate General said they are undertaking criminal investigations into the incidents mentioned in the report, Thursday’s directive states.

According to the directive, the government took all necessary steps, both on the ground as well as through the use of satellite imagery, to document and inventory the current state of the sites in question.

“To assist and ensure that criminal investigations can be undertaken, all ministries and the Rakhine State government, their agencies, departments, offices, and personnel are prohibited from destroying, or removing or permitting the destruction or removal of any property, immovable or movable, in any area of northern Rakhine State, that may provide evidence of events referred to in the ICOE’s final report,” it says.

“All ministries and the Rakhine State government are further directed to preserve documents, images, videos, audio [clips] and other media related to the events that occurred in northern Rakhine State referred to in the ICOE’s final report,” it continues.

In January, the International Court of Justice ordered Myanmar to protect Rohingya from killings and other atrocities while refraining from destroying evidence related to alleged crimes against them. The order followed The Gambia’s filing of a lawsuit against Myanmar, accusing the Southeast Asian country of committing genocide against the Rohingya.