OPINION - When will Myanmar be held accountable for crimes against Rohingya?

OPINION - When will Myanmar be held accountable for crimes against Rohingya?

If UN wants to protect Rohingya, it needs to take immediate action, Tasnim Nazeer says

By Tasnim Nazeer

- The writer is an award-winning journalist, author, and Universal Peace Federation Ambassador. She has written for a variety of print and online publications including Al Jazeera English, The Guardian, BBC, The Diplomat and others.

LONDON (AA) - In a report [1] released early this week, the United Nations has identified that the Myanmar military has had a business empire that has helped them to evade accountability on the abuses against Rohingya Muslims. In addition, the military conducted operations against the Rohingya with impunity, resulting in widespread human rights abuses, and this is completely unacceptable. These revelations by the UN have come in the wake of accusations that the organization has made systematic failures in bringing justice and accountability for Rohingya victims in Myanmar and those who fled to the neighboring Bangladesh.

The Rohingya Muslim community has faced unprecedented levels of trauma for years on end and has been described as the ‘Palestine of Asia’, with the UN recognizing them as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Yet, recent months have shown that the UN has so far failed to hold Myanmar accountable in the eyes of the law for the numerous war crimes committed against the Rohingya. It is also held responsible by many for the systematic failures that have so far prevented the issue of the genocide of the Rohingya from being properly addressed.

However, the UN has recently dispatched a fact-finding mission, which has concluded that the military and government of Myanmar have used a business empire to enable the human rights abuses against the Rohingya and other ethnic groups in the country to continue with impunity. Following the reports, the UN yesterday urged [2] the international community to sever all ties with the Myanmar military or any businesses that continue to support the military offense against the Rohingya. If large corporations and businesses fail to do this, they will also be considered complicit in enabling the military to target ethnic minorities in the country.

The fact that the latest reports by a UN fact-finding mission have proven that the Myanmar military is able to operate outside civilian control and the revenue they have been acquiring from foreign businesses and their own privately held businesses in Myanmar has enabled them to carry out harrowing acts of rape, murder [3] and ethnic cleansing shows that action needs to be taken now. The revenue accumulated by the military was reported to have been given with the help of the government, as the UN found that there was no way such colossal amounts could have come from outside sources alone.

In recent months, a number of senior UN officials [4] have also been accused of downplaying the human rights abuses and not taking heed of early warning signs that could have led to action being taken much earlier. Yet these new findings might finally ensure that the ample evidence at hand can be used to call the Myanmar government and military to account.

If the UN wants to protect the Rohingya and ensure justice and accountability for them, it needs to take immediate action and make radical changes in order to hold the Myanmar military to account and to also address the failures of its own officials in the first place. How can the UN expect to bring the Myanmar government to account for war crimes if it does not hold even its own officials to account over the failures that have been exposed? This is a major question that needs to be answered and dealt with in order for any progression of rehabilitation for the Rohingya to be achieved.

The Free Rohingya Coalition (FRC), an advocacy group for Rohingya, has called for the resignation of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and former UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar Renata Lok-Dessallien for failing to safeguard thousands of Rohingya in Myanmar. Those in power and with a role of responsibility in failing to protect the Rohingya community must be held accountable for their failures and the UN has to ensure that Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi is brought to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Unless this is done in the first instance, it will not be possible to serve justice for all the Rohingya Muslims who have suffered persecution to date.

Unsurprisingly, Myanmar has shamefully denied all wrongdoing, insisting that its reasons for the horrific crackdown on the Rohingya community were well-grounded. Yet, the ICC’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has expressed [5] the need to open a full investigation into Myanmar’s crimes, including killings and forced deportation.

The military mass killing of the Rohingya that started in August 2017 consequently resulted in nearly 750,000 [6] Rohingya, mostly women and children, fleeing across the border into Bangladesh. The human rights violations against innocent women, children, men and the elderly are completely beyond the pale, and it is heart-breaking that little has been done so far for their cause by those in power.

The Rohingya have been subjected to murders, rape, beheadings and violence, stripped of their identity and discriminated against. Is this not enough for those in power to step up and support them?

Despite the countless evidences, international leaders continue to remain silent and fail to do their part in bringing those accountable to justice. More frustratingly, Aung San Suu Kyi continues to deny [7] accountability or even knowledge of the suffering of the Rohingya Muslim community despite numerous evidences and statements from victims who have suffered at the hands of theMyanmar military.

Suu Kyi is a dire reflection of the official state policy. This can be clearly seen in the fact the Rohingya are not even considered one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups, despite having lived in the country since the 12th century [8]. It is this official denial of the Rohingya as a community in Myanmar that empowers the state to deny them citizenship while providing a domestic cover for their discriminatory practices.

It is imperative that we do not become desensitized to their suffering and continue to call for justice to be served. The international community cannot continue to look on in silence without acting and speaking up for those who have been harmed and wronged. Any corporation or business responsible for sending out aids to the military in Myanmar should stop cooperating with and withdraw their support to them and the Myanmar government. If measures are not taken to stop further persecutions, how can justice prevail?

How long will the world leaders stay silent and when will pressure mount to hold those in power accountable in the eyes of the law? The question remains to be answered but without a doubt it is in the hands of those in power to ensure the protection of the Rohingya and enable them to rebuild and rehabilitate their lives.

* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/05/world/asia/myanmar-military-business-united-nations.html
[2] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/calls-sanctions-arms-embargo-myanmar-army-190806011519378.html
[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/05/world/asia/myanmar-military-business-united-nations.html
[4] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/06/united-nations-failed-save-rohingya-190628024749391.html
[5] https://www.france24.com/en/20190626-icc-prosecutor-seeks-full-myanmar-atrocities-probe
[6] https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/rohingya-group-demands-un-chief-quit/1508281?fbclid=IwAR1mA-uXtiu9ibA5mUGgsedRDkAqWTD01AM-xxpmcEHGc3ghfjNFBuQc2ww
[7] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/08/myanmar-aung-san-suu-kyi-defends-policies-rohingya-180822060114385.html
[8] https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/08/rohingya-muslims-170831065142812.html

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