On September 18, 2018, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar released its full report to the UN Human Rights Council, documenting the systematic campaign of torture, violence, and sexual violence used against the Rohingya in Myanmar since 2011, perpetrated by armed forces, also known as the Tatmadaw. The fact-finding mission was established in March 2017, six months before the violence against Rohingya refugees in Rakhine state reached a tipping point, forcing over 700,000 into neighboring Bangladesh. 100,000 Rohingya were killed in what the Tatmadaw refers to as “clearance operations” – a figure that the mission refers to as “conservative.”
The mission shared a summary of its findings at the end of August. The full 440 page report is “unprecedented in its scope,” Marzuki Darusman, the chair of the fact-finding mission said in a press release. The events described are nothing short of appalling, describing in extensive detail crimes against humanity that are difficult to fathom. These crimes were documented through the use of 875 in-depth interviews with victims and eyewitnesses, satellite imagery, and other sources. Most chilling are the excerpts from these interviews, in which victims describe the atrocities they experienced or witnessed. Many saw their own families members, including infants, killed in front of their own eyes. These atrocities are crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide, with victims subjected to widespread, systematic torture, rape, and murder, amongst other violations.
The report reveals four “hallmarks” of the Tatmadaw operations in the states of Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States. Military officials systematically targeted civilians, used sexual violence as a tactic of war, and used exclusionary rhetoric to stoke tensions. The use of sexual violence is well-documented, with Rohingya subjected to rape, sexual slavery, sexual assault, gang rape, and other forms of assault, frequently followed by murder. According to the report, the Tatmadaw committed war crimes and crimes against humanity with total impunity. To this day, they have not faced accountability for their actions, and it is unlikely they ever will be domestically.
The report also describes the roots of the crisis, detailing a long-standing campaign to “other” the Rohingya. The Burmese government has insisted there “are no Rohingya in Myanmar,” referring to them as “Bengali.” They have also tried to portray tensions as being “intercommunal,” hiding the full extent of the state-sponsored terror against Rohingya. This campaign to “other” Rohingya was also reflecting in the use of Facebook to stoke violence and hatred.
These findings are particularly urgent, given the Bangladeshi government’s efforts to repatriate the Rohingya refugees, many of whom are living in the coastal area of Cox’s Bazar. These repatriations are illegal according to international law, violating the non-refoulement principle. Those responsible for repatriating Rohingya would be the very same individuals who have perpetrated the acts documented in the UN report. Violations against Rohingya also continue to take place. According to the report, as of August 2018, an average of 1,733 Rohingya have continued to flee Myanmar every month.
Despite the danger of these illegal returns, the report has so far yielded a promising first step toward justice. On September 27, the UN passed a resolution establishing an international body to prepare for future criminal proceedings relating to the Rohingya genocide, according to Human Rights Watch. The international body would gather evidence for future criminal indictments. Although it remains unclear where such proceedings would occur, it is incumbent upon the international community to ensure these crimes are litigated in an international court, and that the Rohingya are guaranteed their rights under international law.