YANGON—A Myanmar government commission set up to investigate alleged human rights violations in Rakhine State said killings and displacement of Rohingya Muslims during security forces’ clearance operations there did not have “genocidal intent”, contradicting the findings of UN investigators.
The Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) submitted its final report to Myanmar President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday. Despite its denial of genocidal intent, the report admitted that “war crimes, serious human rights violations, and violations of domestic law took place.” The 461-page report is widely viewed as Myanmar’s counter narrative to the international version of events, which has been harshly critical of the country.
The release of the long-awaited report came 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.
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 a series of attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) 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.
In a press release following the submission of the report on Monday, the ICOE said it had found no evidence to suggest that the killings or acts of displacement were committed pursuant to an intent or plan to destroy the Muslim or any other community in northern Rakhine State.
“There is insufficient evidence to argue, much less conclude, that the crimes committed were undertaken with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, or with any other requisite mental state for the international crime of genocide,” the report says.
It added: “The ECVT [the ICOE’s Evidence Collection and Verification Team] findings reveal no indication of a pattern of conduct from which one could reasonably conclude that the acts were committed with ‘genocidal intent.’”
The ICOE said it had provided 22 recommendations in its report. It urged the Myanmar government and the country’s defense services to continue their respective investigations, taking into account the ECVT’s findings. Neither the commission’s recommendations nor the full report have yet been made public, however.
Currently, the Myanmar military is conducting courts martial in northern Rakhine State.
The ICOE said its evidence-collection teams were dispatched to Rakhine State, Yangon and Naypyitaw, where they interviewed about 1,500 witnesses from various communities in northern Rakhine State, including Muslims and ethnic Rakhine, Mro and Daingnet people, as well as military and police personnel.
While ruling out “genocidal intent”, the commission did not deny—based on the information available to it and the results of investigations carried out in northern Rakhine State and elsewhere—that war crimes, serious human rights violations and violations of domestic law took place during security operations between Aug. 25 and Sept. 5, 2017, the period when security forces carried out clearance operations in the area.
“Although these serious crimes and violations were committed by multiple actors, there are reasonable grounds to believe that members of Myanmar’s security forces were involved,” the report said, blaming ARSA’s initial attacks for provoking the response by Myanmar’s security forces.
“The killing of innocent villagers and destruction of their homes were committed by some members of the Myanmar security forces through disproportionate use of force during the internal armed conflict,” it added.
However, the report failed to impress human rights activists like U Aung Myo Min, the executive director of Equality Myanmar, who said he didn’t see anything in the report about taking action against the perpetrators. He said the report simply advises that, “the Myanmar Government and Myanmar’s Defense Services must continue their respective investigations, taking into account the ECVTs’ findings.”
“Taking action against those who are guilty is really important. That’s what the international community is calling for,” he said.
He noted that the report’s findings were identical to comments made by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at the ICJ, in which she denied there had been any genocidal intent and spoke of the possibility of war crimes.
With the ruling by the ICJ looming late this week, the human rights advocate said the report was unlikely to have any impact on the court’s decision on provisional measures.
He said if the report had been released before the ICJ hearings in December, the court would have taken its findings into consideration. Instead, it relied on information from independent bodies like the UN Fact Finding Mission, not the government commission, he said.
“So, it’s very unlikely to have an influence,” he said.
The ICOE was formed by the Myanmar government in 2018 to investigate allegations of human rights violations and related issues following the terrorist attacks by ARSA in Rakhine State with a view to seeking accountability and formulating recommendations on steps to be taken to ensure peace and stability in Rakhine State.
It is chaired by Rosario Manalo, a former deputy foreign minister of the Philippines, and includes Kenzo Oshima, a former permanent representative of Japan to the UN, and two Myanmar nationals.
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