BRITISH Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has used a visit to Burma (Myanmar) to encourage a peace settlement and an investigation into alleged rights abuses in Rakhine State, as calls mount for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to launch an investigation into crimes against humanity.
Johnson met with Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi for an hour on Sunday in the capital of Naypyitaw, where he expressed deep concern with the situation of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State and emphasised the need to ensure returns to the area are voluntary and dignified.
“I spoke to her about my own experience witnessing the terrible conditions of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, and my deep concern about their future,” said Johnson in a statement from the Foreign Office.
Prior to travelling to Burma, the Foreign Secretary toured Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. He described seeing “horrendous living conditions” there and that it had strengthened his commitment to working with international partners to solving the Rohingya crisis in 2018.
The International Organisation for Migration on Sunday reported that at least 688,000 people have fled Rakhine State into Cox’s Bazar since Aug 25 amid so-called “clearing operations” by Burma’s Tatmadaw army. The military stands accused of mass killings, rape and arson in Muslim villages.
“While I welcome steps by both the Burmese and Bangladeshi governments towards ensuring that these people can return home, it is vital that the Rohingya refugees must be allowed to their homes in Rakhine voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, under international oversight, and when the conditions in Burma are right,” he said.
Johnson, however, stopped short of calling for an international investigation – rather urging the Burmese government to launch a “full and independent investigation” into violence in the Rakhine.
An investigation was undertaken by Burma’s military into its own conduct during “clearing operations” last November, in which it absolved itself of any wrongdoing. Burma’s government has not permitted international rights groups access to the affected areas.
On Tuesday, Bangkok-based Fortify Rights echoed calls for Burma to be investigated over genocide and other atrocities by the International Criminal Court (ICC). “It’s not too late for the Security Council to respond with action,” said Fortify Rights CEO Matthew Smith in a statement.
“The civilian and military leadership in Myanmar are ensuring complete impunity for ongoing, heinous crimes, and that’s precisely why international action is warranted and overdue,” he added, as the UN Security Council met in New York for a briefing on the Rohingya crisis.
Last November, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary- General on Sexual Violence in Conflict said she would raise issues of sexual violence and torture against Rohingya Muslims with the ICC.
Human Rights Watch also issued a statement calling for the Security Council to refer Burma to the ICC, while a Change.org petition calling for Aung San Suu Kyi and Burmese military chief to be taken to the Hague has attracted almost half a million signatures since September last year.
“Understanding the crime of genocide is not the exclusive domain of international courts,” added Smith of Fortify Rights on Tuesday.
“If we can ever hope to prevent genocide, we have to be able to diagnose it when we see it. Enough is enough. It’s time to stop tip-toeing around terminology and move towards holding perpetrators accountable.”