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Tribunal on Myanmar's State Crimes Against Rohingya urges end to genocide

By Zaharah Othman
March 10, 2017 

THE Permanent People’s Tribunal on Myanmar’s State Crimes against Rohingya, Kachin and other groups ended after a 1½-day session yesterday urging the United Nations and Asean to take swift actions to stop the genocide against the Rohingya and atrocities against the Kachin minorities.

The opinion tribunal, organised by the Rome-based Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT), which will be holding its final session in Malaysia later in the year, also heard strong condemnations and criticisms from leaders of the minority groups living in exile in the United Kingdom levelled at Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD).

At the forefront of the first-ever tribunal on Myanmar, held at Queen Mary University, was a legal team from Malaysia, which had presented its case to a panel of judges, based on in-depth interviews with 100 refugees who had personally experienced and were eyewitnesses to events surrounding the violence committed in the country in 2012 and later.

The Malaysian Centhra legal team consisted of lawyer activists Azril Mohd Amin, Rosal Azimin Ahmad,
 Dir Kheizwan Kamaruddin, Rafna Farin Abdul Ra’far and Luqman Mazlan as well as Abdullah Abdul Hamid, a fellow of Centhra. The prosecution team was represented by Fahmi Abd Moin.

After watching and hearing the harrowing and often heartbreaking accounts of the eyewitnesses who had fled to Bangladesh and Malaysia, as well as hearing eyewitness accounts from Myanmar bloggers and expert witnesses, the panel of judges in their closing remarks said that they were convinced by the evidence presented that “the charges of serious crimes demand adjudication by the PPT”.

Dr Helen Jarvis, formerly of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, and one of three judges at the tribunal, had focused on three areas of discussion: identity framing, escalation in fighting against the Kachin, and genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya group from the Dragon King Operation in 1978, the renewed violence which escalated in 2012 and “the extreme collective punishment of the entire group since Oct 9, 2016”.

“As a result of these policies and practices, the Rohingya population in Myanmar has been halved in less than 40 years,” said Jarvis.

She added that from all the accounts provided at the tribunal, it was clear that the military was continuing and even escalating its repressive role, despite the change to a supposedly democratic and civilian government of which so many people, including the Kachin and the Rohingya, had high expectations.

“The tribunal was exposed in considerable detail to the systematic violation of human rights; killing, including slaughtering of babies and children, enforced disappearances, rape, forced labour, destruction of homes and denial of basic rights to food, livelihood, health services, education and citizenship,” she added.

Another tribunal judge, Denis Halliday, former assistant secretary of the United Nations and winner of Gandhi International Peace Award in 2003, who raised the issue of “complicity” of world powers, particularly western nations and the UN Security Council in abetting Myanmar’s crimes against the Rohingya and Kachin, said he hoped that Asean would be able to intervene and stop the horrendous situation.

He said Malaysia, which had invited Myanmar into Asean, should play an instrumental role.

“Malaysia has a special relationship (with Myanmar), you’ve got Indonesia, you’ve got this huge Muslim community in Asean, so you should be able to put pressure and encourage Myanmar to change their policy. That’s what I would hope.

“The UN has failed hopelessly because the member states of the Security Council, the ones with the power, the five veto countries, are not interested in solving the problems. They are interested in exploiting the resources, human and otherwise, of Myanmar,” said Halliday.

He added that Malaysia needed the courage to stand up and take it to the UN, Asean and the Security Council, and “make it 
so uncomfortable for Myanmar that they will decide to change their policy and accept the Rohingya”.

Burmese scholar and Tribunal expert witness Dr Maung Zarni, who was seated near Suu Kyi at an event during her visit to London in 2012, recounted his experience listening to her lecture at the London School of Economics. He accused Suu Kyi of being the guilty party in the Rohingya genocide.

“On Rohingya, Suu Kyi had asked the United States ambassador, at the time, to not use the word Rohingya, because that was, in her language, emotive, that would add fuel to the flame, despite the fact that there was a mountain of official evidence coming from the Defence Ministry that the Rohingya were once officially recognised as an ethnic community,” said Zarni.

Tun Khin, Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK president, said the Rohingya, together with other ethnic communities, supported her during her 16-year house arrest. Now, she does not even recognise the existence of the Rohingya.

Speaking at the end of the session, Rosal Azimin said of the forthcoming tribunal in Kuala Lumpur: “Being one of the Asean countries, I think this would be great for Malaysia, since we are the one who’s been outspoken about the Rohingya and Kuala Lumpur will be a good place to have this judgment. This tribunal is indeed a historic event for us, and we hope to move forward and put an end to these atrocities and crimes against the Rohingya.

The Malaysian legal team has a huge task ahead as more fresh evidence needs to be collected to be presented at the final tribunal in Kuala Lumpur.

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