On Monday, 27 August, the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Myanmar (Burma) released its report. The FFM concluded that mass atrocity crimes have been committed in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan states in Myanmar, including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In particular, the report provided damning evidence regarding so-called “clearance operations” launched by Myanmar’s security forces against the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State on 25 August last year.
According to the FFM, the treatment of the Rohingya ethnic population by Myanmar’s security forces amounts to four of the five prohibited acts defined in the Genocide Convention, namely: (a) killing members of the group, (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm, (c) inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part, and (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births. The report found evidence of “genocidal intent,” including discriminatory government policies designed to alter the demographic composition of Rakhine State, and a premeditated plan for the destruction of Rohingya communities.
The FFM has called on the international community to ensure that the government of Myanmar upholds “its responsibility to protect its people from genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.” In this regard the FFM calls on the UN Security Council (UNSC) to impose targeted sanctions on those responsible for atrocities and for an arms embargo on Myanmar. The FFM also urges the Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or to create an ad hoc international criminal tribunal. Additionally, the report calls on all UN Member States to end active operational support for Myanmar’s security forces and ensure that any engagement with the government addresses human rights concerns.
Separately, on Tuesday, 28 August, the UNSC held a briefing marking one year since the beginning of so-called “clearance operations” against the Rohingya. The meeting had no formal outcome and the UNSC is yet to adopt a resolution regarding the systematic campaign of atrocities in Rakhine State that led to the destruction of almost 400 villages and the mass expulsion of more than 720,000 ethnic Rohingya civilians since August 2017.
Over the past year, Myanmar’s authorities have consistently demonstrated their unwillingness to address the root causes of the Rohingya crisis and punish the perpetrators of mass atrocity crimes. Meanwhile local authorities in Rakhine State have bulldozed the remains of Rohingya villages and hidden mass graves. Nevertheless, as the new UN report illustrates, evidence that a genocide was committed against the Rohingya is overwhelming and unequivocal.
The international community must now uphold its responsibility to protect populations in Myanmar by fully implementing the FFM’s recommendations and ensuring that those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes do not escape justice.
On Thursday, 24 August, an airstrike by the Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE)-led coalition in Yemen targeted a vehicle of civilians fleeing hostilities south of the Red Sea port city Hodeidah. The airstrike killed at least 27 people, including 22 children. An additional air strike on a nearby site killed a further four children. These are only the latest in an increasing number of attacks by coalition forces on civilians and civilian infrastructure in violation of International Humanitarian Law. Such violations may amount to war crimes.
Two weeks ago an airstrike in Yemen’s Sa’ada province targeted a school bus, resulting in the deaths of at least 40 children. An investigation by the news network CNN subsequently determined that the munition used in the attack was a 500-pound laser-guided MK 82 bomb, manufactured by Lockheed Martin – a major United States defense contractor. The United States is one of the largest suppliers of arms and munitions to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
On 28 August the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen also published its first report on the human rights situation within the country, covering the period from September 2014 until June 2018. The report found that individuals within the military forces of the government of Yemen and the coalition, as well as the de facto Houthi authorities, have all committed potential mass atrocity crimes. The experts noted that since 2015 coalition air strikes have caused the most civilian casualties. Since March of that year the UN has recorded the deaths of at least 6,660 civilians in Yemen, although the actual figure is considered to be much higher.
As reccommended within the UN report, and in keeping with the provisions of the Arms Trade Treaty, all UN member states – especially the United States and United Kingdom – should immediately halt the sale of weapons to parties to the conflict who routinely violate International Humanitarian Law and commit potential war crimes. Meanwhile, the Human Rights Council should renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, and request the report be officially transmitted to the UN General Assembly and UNSC.
Despite mass civilian casualties and regular violations of international law – resulting in the worst humanitarian crisis in the world – the UNSC has not passed a substantive resolution on Yemen in over three years. The Council should immediately call for an independent investigation into the recent airstrikes, and pursue accountability for atrocities in Yemen.
Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
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