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UN envoy says Myanmar army chief must be tried for genocide

Iran Press TV

Fri Jan 25, 2019 02:49PM

The United Nations (UN)'s envoy for Myanmar says the country's army chief should be prosecuted for committing genocide against minority Rohingya Muslims, many of whom have now fled but face repatriation to the Buddhist-majority state.

"Min Aung Hlaing (the Myanmarese military's commander-in-chief) and others should be held accountable for genocide in Rakhine [State] and for crimes against humanity and war crimes in other parts of Myanmar," Yanghee Lee, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said in an interview conducted with Reuters earlier but published on Friday.

She did not clarify who the others were. Myanmar's de facto ruler, Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has been mostly exempt from Western criticism despite effectively condoning the violence against the Rohingya.

Lee gave the interview on a recent trip to Thailand and Bangladesh, where she met officials and Rohingya refugees, who started fleeing Myanmar's western Rakhine State after coordinated, state-sponsored violence began against them in November 2016.

In August last year, a UN fact-finding mission concluded Myanmar's military had carried out "genocide" and other gross rights violations against the Rohingya Muslims.

Lee was appointed to investigate the matter. Min Aung Hlaing, the Myanmarese military chief, has retained his position despite the UN findings and massive international furor, while Lee has been barred from the country.

The violence against the Rohingya – carried out by military soldiers and Buddhist mobs – intensified in August 2017. Thousands of Muslims were killed, and more than 700,000 others survived only by fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh, where they are now living in overcrowded refugee camps in dire humanitarian conditions.

In October 2018, Bangladeshi and Myanmarese government officials announced that they had struck a "very concrete" repatriation deal for the return of the Rohingya Muslims. The refugees, and rights activists, however, fear that violence awaits them back home.

In her interview, Lee effectively confirmed those concerns.

"For any repatriation to happen... the perpetrators must be held to account, because sending the refugees back with no accountability is going to really exacerbate or prolong the horrific situation in Myanmar," she said. "And then we'll see another cycle of expulsion again."

In September 2018, the International Criminal Court opened a preliminary probe into the Myanmarese military's crimes against members of the Rohingya Muslim minority group.

Myanmar has said it "absolutely rejects" ICC jurisdiction. The country is not a signatory to the ICC's founding statute, but judges have ruled that the court still has jurisdiction over any alleged crimes against the Rohingya, as Bangladesh – where the Rohingya have taken shelter – is an ICC member.

'A great disappointment'

Lee said Myanmarese authorities had turned down her latest request to visit the country.

"They responded and reminded me that they had asked the Human Rights Council to replace me so they cannot engage with me," she said.

She also denounced as a "great disappointment" the country's human rights record.

The Rohingya Muslims, who have lived in Myanmar for generations, are denied citizenship and are branded illegal emigrants from Bangladesh, which likewise denies them citizenship. Before coordinated violence began in late 2016, they had already faced persecution for years.

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