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Myanmar panel says security forces 'involved' in war crimes

January 20, 2020

An independent panel has concluded war crimes were committed by Myanmar forces during security operations, but it stopped short of talking of genocide against Rohingya.

Smoke rises from the Myanmar side of the border with Bangladesh
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/S.Kanti Das

An independent commission appointed by Myanmar's government said Monday that war crimes were likely committed against the Rohingya ethnic minority by Myanmar security forces during counterinsurgency operations. 

The "Independent Commission of Enquiry," (ICOE) was formed in 2018 in response to international calls for accountability from Myanmar over the Rohingya crisis.

Although the ICOE statement implies that Myanmar's security forces are guilty of major abuses, which is more direct than previous public statements by Myanmar's government, the panel said there is "no evidence" of genocide.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar's Rakhine state to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017. More than 900,000 Rohingya continue to live in refugee camps in southern Bangladesh. 

The UN has said Myanmar's military operations targeted Rohingya areas, with gang rapes and mass killings and destruction of villages carried out with "genocidal intent."

Militants in Rohingya camps?

A statement released by the ICOE said the "killing of innocent villagers took place during an "internal armed conflict" provoked by Rohingya attacks on police outposts. It said the response was "disproportionate" but did not amount to genocide. 

Read more'I left my body there': A displaced Rohingya woman's story

"War crimes, serious human rights violations, and violations of domestic law took place during the security operations ...  There are reasonable grounds to believe that members of Myanmar's security forces were involved."

ICJ to rule on Myanmar genocide 

In November, the Gambia filed a case with the UN's International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing Myanmar of an "ongoing genocide" against the Rohingya, and urging the court to take emergency measures. The ICJ in The Hague will issue a decision on the request Thursday. 

Myanmar's leader,  Aung San Suu Kyi, has strongly denied wrongdoing by government security forces at the initial hearing on the case in December.

The ICOE report says that although killings and acts of displacement took place, they were not committed "to destroy the Muslim or any other community in northern Rakhine State." 

"There is insufficient evidence to argue that the crimes committed were undertaken with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group for the international crime of genocide," the statement said. 

Read moreOpinion: Foreign aid is a hindrance to Rohingya repatriation

A UN team also conducted an investigation and found grounds for bringing charges of genocide. However, the UN team was not allowed to enter Myanmar, and relied on interviews with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. 

The ICOE said it collected evidence in Rakhine State, Yangon and Myanmar's capital Naypyitaw, but did not mention visiting refugee camps in Bangladesh. 

Exiled blogger documents Rohingya suffering

wmr/ng (Reuters, AP)

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