As It Happens

UN fact-finder says Myanmar military leaders should be tried for genocide

A United Nations fact-finding mission has concluded that Myanmar military leaders should be prosecuted for genocide against Rohingya Muslims, in the harshest language yet from the international body.

The UN team found accounts of gang rape, enslavement and killing of children

Rohingya women protest on the first anniversary of the Rohingya crisis August 25, 2018 in Kutupalong, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. The United Nations has stated that Myanmar's military crackdown on the ethnic Muslim minority is a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Read Story Transcript

A United Nations fact-finding mission has concluded that Myanmar military leaders should be prosecuted for genocide against Rohingya Muslims, in the harshest language yet from the international body. 

The team, working under the Human Rights Council, compiled hundreds of accounts of crimes including gang rape, the torching of hundreds of villages, enslavement, and killings of children — some before the eyes of their own parents.

The UN estimates that 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since last August, and puts the death toll at 10,000. 

Christopher Sidoti is one of the three members of the panel who will present their full report to the UN Human Rights Council next month. He spoke to As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about their findings. 

Here is part of that conversation. 

You have named specific people in the report. Take us through what you claim they have done.

The specific people that we named are the top of the military command. The commander-in-chief, the deputy commander-in-chief and four divisional commanders.

We say that they now need to be investigated for individual liability for these serious international crimes and, if the investigations warrant, a prosecution.

So for the genocide in Rakhine state, for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Rakhine, Kayin​ and Shan states of Myanmar.

Investigators working for the UN say that Myanmar's commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, left, should be prosecuted for genocide against Rohingya Muslims. It also finds that civilian leader authorities, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, right, contributed to the atrocities. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

So what do you think the next steps would be for them to hold them to account?

The immediate next step is to establish a special mechanism of the United Nations to look at the collection of prosecutorial evidence and to make a decision on whether the evidence warranted taking them to court.

The one thing that we are convinced of is that the … judicial mechanisms in Myanmar itself are not adequate to the task of trying these very serious crimes under international law.

Beyond the military leadership, the report also singles out Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. What does the report say about her?

The report indicates that the civilian authorities have contributed to the atrocities that we have found.

We certainly did not find any evidence that the civilian authorities were involved in the planning and the implementation of the operations, but they, firstly, did nothing to prevent them from occurring and, secondly, more actively, they shielded the military by indulging in misinformation.

But should the civilian leadership also face an international investigation and possibly a tribunal?

Our own investigations did not go that far, simply because we decided that we would focus on those who were most clearly responsible and that is the military leadership.

But clearly there were contributions made by the civilian authorities and it might be that further investigation is warranted.

UN releases report on 'crimes' against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar

5 years ago
Duration 0:49
One member of UN fact-finding group, Radhika Coomaraswamy, spoke about sexual violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar

What did you discover about why it has indeed taken so long for there to be more aggressive action?

Well, partly it was … the international agencies not knowing what better action could be taken.

But there is a great concern that the Security Council itself has failed in its responsibilities and the Security Council has not passed a resolution on Myanmar.

We hope very much that the strength of our report, the strength of the evidence that we have found, will prompt the Security Council to finally take action.

Given China's relationship with Myanmar, how likely do you think it is that the Security Council will refer the case to the International Criminal Court?

I don't like singling out China when there are … five permanent members of the Security Council that have veto power.

All the Security Council has responsibility and we are making this report, we are making our recommendations, on the basis that the Security Council as a whole will exercise its responsibility.

A group of Rohingya refugees cross a canal after travelling over the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 1, 2017. (Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters)

And what do you think will happen if the Security Council does not take action and something isn't pursued more aggressively now?

Than we have raised a number of other approaches to international accountability.

It's not just a matter for the Security Council, but for other states as well.

Domestic courts have universal jurisdiction. It's also possible for groups of states to establish an international tribunal to go outside the Security Council.

So although the Security Council has responsibility under the charter, if it fails to exercise that responsibility then other states can act.

What could Canada do, for example?

Firstly, at the international level to support action by the United Nations system. Canada is an important member of the United Nations and it has a significant role to play within UN forums.

Secondly, Canadian courts can exercise universal jurisdiction.

By making it very clear that Canada will exercise universal jurisdiction in relation to Myanmar, Canada can set an example for other states as well.

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from Associated Press. Produced by Imogen Birchard. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.