State Counselor-Led Development Agency Denies Accusations of Land Seizures at ICJ

By Nan Lwin 11 December 2019

YANGON—The Rakhine humanitarian and development agency led by Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said it “categorically denies” The Gambia’s argument at the UN’s highest court in The Hague alleging the agency was responsible for large-scale land confiscation of Rohingya villages in Rakhine State.

On Tuesday at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Payam Akhavan, a lawyer with The Gambia’s legal team and a professor at Canada’s McGill University, described the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine (UEHRD) as “one of the state organs linked to genocide” in Rakhine State.

Citing the UN fact finding mission’s 2018 report, Akhavan said that “UEHRD has been responsible for the large-scale confiscation of Rohingya land” in Rakhine State and that UEHRD’s use of bulldozers in burned Rohingya villages has likely destroyed criminal evidence.

He also cited a UN report that alleged 392 Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine were destroyed or partially destroyed by the Myanmar military.

UEHRD said on Wednesday that the agency categorically denies the allegations made at the ICJ regarding the confiscation of land.

“Such an action has never been taken by UEHRD,” the statement said.

“The land used for constructing the reception and transit centers was provided by the Rakhine State Government,” UEHRD added.

The spokesperson for UEHRD was unavailable for further comment.

A public-private partnership mechanism, UEHRD was formed to implement government policy in northern Rakhine State in response to widespread international condemnation of the military’s crackdown on the Rohingya population in August 2017.

According to UEHRD, the agency also aims to provide humanitarian assistance to populations affected by violence and to facilitate the return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh.

UEHRD also formed an Infrastructure Development and Construction Task Force to renovate buildings and undertake new construction in partnership with private companies. During a ceremony held in Naypyitaw on Oct. 20, 2017, the owners of various companies pledged close to US$13.5 million to UEHRD for reconstruction.

The UN fact finding mission report released in August alleged that UEHRD and its task forces and infrastructure project contributed to “the commission of crimes under international law.” It also said the projects of the UEHRD “consolidate the consequences of war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide.”

The UN report also listed 45 local companies that offered donations totaling more than US$10 million (15.1 billion kyats) to the Myanmar military for projects in northern Rakhine.

UEHRD denied the allegations and stated that the UN fact finding mission report paints a distorted picture of the enterprise, which was established to address the complex issues of Rakhine.

The ICJ opened its three days of hearings on Tuesday regarding the lawsuit filed by the small West African country of the Gambia on behalf of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation at the World Court. The Gambia is accusing Myanmar of violating the UN’s 1948 Genocide Convention.

The genocide lawsuit stemmed from the 2017 Rohingya crisis, in which the Myanmar military launched what it refers to as clearance operations in northern Rakhine State, in response to a series of attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on police outposts in the area. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled the violence for neighboring Bangladesh. UN investigators concluded that the operations had “genocidal intent” but both the Myanmar government and military have denied the accusations.

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is currently in The Hague to lead the legal team contesting the genocide lawsuit. During the first hearing on Tuesday, lawyers representing The Gambia detailed crimes and atrocities against Rohingya communities in Rakhine State committed by the military, citing the UN fact finding mission, including evidence from satellite images and oral interviews with victims.

The Gambia’s legal team urged the ICJ to grant its petition for provisional measures to compel Myanmar to take actions to prevent “further genocidal acts” against the Rohingya. According to The Gambia’s petition, such provisional measures would aim to prevent all acts that amount to or contribute to the crime of genocide such as “extrajudicial killings or physical abuse; rape or other forms of sexual violence; burning of homes or villages; destruction of lands and livestock, deprivation of food and other necessities of life, or any other deliberate infliction of conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of the Rohingya group in whole or in part.”

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