YANGON—Myanmar’s President has forwarded an independent commission’s report that includes findings of “mass killings” and other atrocities against Rohingya Muslims during military clearance operations in northern Rakhine State in August 2017 to the country’s military chief for use in investigating and prosecuting the military personnel responsible.
The Myanmar government formed the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) in 2108 to investigate allegations of human rights violations and related issues following terrorist attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in Rakhine State, with a view to seeking accountability and formulating recommendations on steps to be taken to ensure peace and stability in the area.
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 on police outposts in the area. 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.
The ICOE submitted its final report with 22 recommendations to Myanmar President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday. The 461-page document deniedthat killings and displacement of Rohingya Muslims during security forces’ clearance operations there had “genocidal intent”, contradicting the findings of UN investigators. But the commission admitted that “war crimes, serious human rights violations, and violations of domestic law took place.”
On Tuesday, the President’s Office released a summary of the report, including its findings that mass killings, gang rapes, property destruction, looting, forced displacement and other atrocities occurred.
In a statement issued on the same day, President U Win Myint said he had sent the report to military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing so that the military can “extend its ongoing investigations and prosecutions to cover crimes alleged to have been committed by members of the Myanmar security forces, especially for the killings in Min Gyi and Chut Pyin villages, and the failure to prevent the burning of homes in abandoned Muslim villages.”
According to the report, based on a witness’ account, “nearly 500-600 civilians from Min Gyi Village in Maungdaw Township were killed in armed clashes between security forces and ARSA on Aug. 29, 2017.”
It also states that “at least 100 [ARSA members and civilians] were likely to have been killed during a clearance operation at Chut Pyin on Aug. 27” in the same year.
While the statement from the President’s Office names the two villages as sites of mass killings, the summary includes additional information that 200 civilians were killed at Maung Nu and 19 at Gutar Pyin villages in Buthidaung Township.
The military opened court martial proceedings against a group of soldiers over the Gutar Pyin killing in November last year.
It was not clear why the statement from the President’s Office urging the military chief to investigate the killings fails to mention the Maung Nu Village massacre.
According to the summary, the ICOE report states that there is no reliable evidence to support allegations that security forces committed gang rape, while arson and other forms of property destruction were carried out by security forces and thugs working for them, as well as by ARSA members and Muslim villagers.
Regarding the looting, the report states that it was mostly committed by non-Rohingya people and some security forces. On the forced displacement of Rohingya people, the ICOE found little solid evidence to suggest that security forces pressured Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. It states that the displacement was mostly the result of fear caused by fighting between ARSA and security forces, adding that Rohingya were encouraged to flee by ARSA.
In the statement, President U Win Myint said he concurred with the commission’s recommendations, and had sent the full report to the Union Attorney General for “further investigation and prosecution” of cases involving property destruction, looting or other serious crimes committed by civilians.
“The President also asked the Union Attorney General to consult with the Judge Advocate General as necessary on how serious crimes committed by ARSA members or collaborators should be investigated and prosecuted.”
On Tuesday, a military spokesperson told The Irrawaddy that the military cooperated with the ICOE and is committed to following its recommendations, including that further investigations be conducted.
“We will hold investigations according to military law, including ground inspections. After that, if legal proceedings are needed, courts martial will be held to decide if the accused are guilty or not,” he said.
The ICOE report was released just two days shy of the International Court of Justice’s ruling on whether to approve The Gambia’s request that provisional measures be taken against Myanmar. The small African nation filed a lawsuit with the court accusing Myanmar of committing genocide against the Rohingya.
During public hearings at the court in December, Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told the judges there would be more courts martial after the ICOE submitted its final report.
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