UNSC Should Refer Myanmar to ICC: Rights Group

By Lei Lei 31 August 2018

YANGON — The United Nations Security Council should refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC), said Fortify Rights, a non-profit rights group based in Southeast Asia, citing rights abuses against displaced persons in the north of the country.

The rights group launched its report regarding human rights violations against displaced civilians in Kachin State and northern Shan State on Thursday.

The report “They Block Everything” states that the Myanmar government, particularly the Myanmar military, has blocked humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of Kachin civilians forcibly displaced by the clashes between the Myanmar Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) for more than seven years, which could constitute a war crime.

“Consecutive governments and the military have willfully obstructed local and international aid groups, denying Kachin civilians access to aid,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights.

“This may amount to a war crime, giving even more reason for the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court,” referring to the alleged genocide of Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar Army in Rakhine State.

While the Myanmar military is largely responsible for hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid to Kachin civilians, the former administration of U Thein Sein and the current government demonstrated continuity in their respective policies to deprive war-affected Kachin civilians of adequate humanitarian aid, the report says.

Due to the lack of essential aid, displaced civilians in Kachin State reported increased food insecurity, avoidable health-related deaths, poor living conditions, and protection concerns, according to the Fortify Rights report.

On Monday, a UN fact-finding mission released findings that Myanmar authorities “frequently and arbitrarily denied” humanitarian aid to civilians in Kachin State. The independent mission said that Myanmar’s top generals should face prosecution for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Kachin, Rakhine, and Shan states.

To avoid prosecution at the ICC, first of all, the military generals of Myanmar must have concern for the ICC. “Only then, will they change their behaviors,” Amy Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, told The Irrawaddy.

David Baulk, a Myanmar human rights specialist with Fortify Rights, said that willful deprivation of humanitarian aid to displaced civilians in Kachin State violates both international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

Without access to basic and lifesaving aid and assistance, the report says, displaced civilians are forced to take risky journeys in search of food and essential items outside displacement camps, exposing them to the dangers of landmines and armed conflict in Myanmar as well as exploitation and arbitrary arrest and detention in China.

The report further claims that the Kachin State minister for security and border affairs, in May, accused the Kachin Baptist Convention—one of the largest providers of aid to displaced communities in KIA-controlled areas—with allegedly violating Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act for delivering aid in areas under the control of the KIA, which the Myanmar government has labeled as a “terrorist” group.

Conviction under Article 17(1) carries a three-year prison sentence and/or a fine.

From June 2017 to June 2018, the Myanmar government unconditionally approved only approximately five percent of 562 applications submitted by international humanitarian agencies seeking travel authorization to assist displaced communities in government-controlled areas of Kachin State.

Even fewer requests were approved for aid agencies seeking access to areas under the control of the KIA, says the report.

“There is no court in Myanmar to take action against perpetrators according to international laws. So, there is no guarantee that the trial at home be fair. That’s why [Fortify Rights] has called for an international investigation,” said director U Aung Myo Min of Equality Myanmar, a local human rights organization.

Following the Tatmadaw’s operations in Kachin State’s Tanai that displaced thousands of civilians, 32 Kachin civil society organizations at home and abroad called in April on the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the ICC.

The report of Fortify Right is based primarily on 195 interviews conducted by Fortify Rights from 2013 to 2018 with displaced civilians, local and international humanitarian workers, UN officials, KIO representatives, and KIA soldiers.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.