BURMA’S latest commission to investigate human rights abuses in Rakhine State is a “sham” and an attempt to “delay and deflect real justice,” according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Param-Preet Singh, Associate Director of the HRW International Justice Programme, accused the Burmese government of repeating history with another show investigation and called on the UN Security Council to urgently refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.
“The government will doubtlessly try to sell the new inquiry on the basis that one of the three commissioners will be an ‘international personality,’ and that international legal and technical experts will provide support,” Singh said in a statement.
“But we’ve been down this road before with the Aung San Suu Kyi-led government in the driver’s seat.”
Singh points out the government’s rejection of a 2017 UN investigation that found crimes against humanity had “very likely” been committed by the military. Burma’s own investigations found only minor offences – one of which was the theft of a motorbike. A second internal inquiry, led by an army general, said “there were no deaths of innocent people.”
On Thursday, Burma’s government announced it was launching an “independent commission of inquiry” to “investigate the violation of human rights and related issues following the terrorist attacks” by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
According to witnesses, the military crackdown that followed the August attack amounted to ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim population, involving killing, raping, and looting while torching hundreds of villages. Some 700,000 Rohingya fled the violence to neighbouring Bangladesh.
In their announcement of the new commission, the government made no mention of the military’s involvement in the violence, instead focusing on ARSA.
In April, a prosecutor from the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, sought jurisdiction over Burma by claiming the Rohingya refugees had been “deported” to Bangladesh. This would give the ICC the ability to investigate and prosecute those responsible.
While Bangladesh is a member of the ICC, Burma is not, raising questions over whether the court has jurisdiction to investigate.
Bensouda argued that, given the cross-border nature of the crime of deportation, a ruling in favour of ICC jurisdiction would be in line with established legal principles.
“The UN Security Council should urgently refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court,” Singh said. “Victims of atrocities have little hope for justice without it.”