Authorities in Bangladesh and Burma must immediately halt plans to send Rohingya refugees back to Burma's Rakhine State, Amnesty International said Nov. 14. A first wave of organized returns could begin as soon as this week, following the announcement of a bilateral agreement between Bangladesh and Burma last month—which Amnesty says falls short of international obligations. "This is a reckless move which puts lives at risk," said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty's regional director for East and Southeast Asia. "These women, men and children would be sent back into the Myanmar [Burma] military's grasp with no protection guarantees, to live alongside those who torched their homes and whose bullets they fled."
UN investigators on Sept. 18 renewed their call for charges against Burma military officials suspected of carrying out a genocide against the nation's minority Rohingya population over the past year. The UN Office of Human Rights published an exhaustive list of atrocities and called "for the investigation and prosecution of Myanmar's Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and his top military leaders for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes." Since last August, 700,000 Rohinga refugees have fled into neighboring Bangladesh, and many have spoken of the Burmese military's attacks on their villages, describing actions that are considered crimes against humanity under international law. This August, a UN fact-fidning mission for the first time referred to the ethnic conflict in Burma as a genocide. Burma's government officially rejected the charges.
The UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar urged in a report (PDF) released Aug. 27 the investigation and prosecution of Burma's top military generals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. A press release said the Mission "found patterns of gross human rights violations and abuses committed in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States that 'undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law', principally by Myanmar's military, the Tatmadaw, but also by other security forces." The crimes against humanity "include murder; imprisonment; enforced disappearance; torture; rape; sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence; persecution and enslavement." The Mission noted that these crimes are similar to those in other cases that have allowed the establishment of "genocidal intent." The Mission urged that these crimes be investigated and prosecuted in the International Criminal Court. It also "called for an independent, impartial mechanism to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of violations."
In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. The agreement explicitly bars China's military use of the port, but critics note that Sri Lanka remains heavily indebted to China, and could be pressured to allow it. The pact also comes as the People's Liberation Army is providing training to Sri Lanka's military. Beijing also donated a frigate to Sri Lanka's navy after the pact was announced. China is simultaenously loaning political support to the Sri Lanka government in its defiance of international pressure for a war crimes investigation over its internal conflict with Tamil rebels.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (Burma) Yanghee Lee on June 27 called for the Human Rights Council (HRC) to support an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into crimes against the Rohingya people. "I strongly recommend the persons allegedly responsible for the violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law be investigated and prosecuted by the ICC or a credible mechanism," said Lee. She also called for the HRC to "establish an accountability mechanism under the auspices of the United Nations without delay." This mechanism would investigate abuses, determine the criminal liability of the perpetrators, and support victims. Lee expressed disappointment that the Security Council has not yet referred Burma to the ICC. She said that none of the investigations by the Burmese government have met international standards, and were likely initiated to distract the international community.
A UN human rights expert has expressed grave concerns over a sharp escalation in hostilities in Burma's Kachin State, which has reportedly killed at least 10 civilians, left several wounded and forced thousands to flee their homes in the north of the country. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee, said she had received reports that the military had carried out aerial bombings, and used heavy weapons and artillery fire against civilian areas near the Chinese border. "What we are seeing in Kachin State over the past few weeks is wholly unacceptable, and must stop immediately,” Lee said. “Innocent civilians are being killed and injured, and hundreds of families are now fleeing for their lives."
Indigenous and environmental activist Saw O Moo was reported killed in Burma's Karen State on April 5. The Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) said Saw O Moo was killed in an ambush by Burmese army soldiers while returning home from a community meeting to help organize humanitarian aid for villagers displaced by renewed hostilities between the military and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). Saw O Moo was one of the most active local community leaders pushing for creation of the Salween Peace Park, a proposed 5,400-square-kilometer protected area to be overseen by indigenous peoples. “We will never forget his dedication in the ongoing struggle to build peace and protect ancestral lands,” KESAN said in a statement. Several attempts to retrieve the body have been unsuccessful, as soldiers are shooting at anyone who approaches the area. As a result, Saw O Moo’s family has not been able to perform their Indigenous funeral rites. The Salween Peace Park is intended to protect the montane rainforest region from mining interests. (Mongabay, Burma Link, April 9; The Irrawady, Jan. 13, 2017)
Burma's Rakhine state is being militarized at an alarming pace, as authorities build security force bases on lands where Rohingya villages were burned to the ground just months ago, Amnesty International said in a new report March 12. Through witness testimony and analysis of satellite images, Remaking Rakhine State documents how the bulldozing of Rohingya villages and new construction have intensified since January in areas where hundreds of thousands fled the military's campaign of ethnic cleansing last year. "What we are seeing in Rakhine State is a land grab by the military on a dramatic scale. New bases are being erected to house the very same security forces that have committed crimes against humanity against Rohingya," said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty's crisis response director. "This makes the voluntary, safe and dignified return of Rohingya refugees an even more distant prospect."