The Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) on Myanmar last week found the Myanmar government guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The tribunal’s seven judges, comprising legal and human rights experts, handed down the preliminary judgement after hearings took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from September 18-22, announcing that: “The State of Myanmar is fully responsible for genocide against the Rohingya people.
“It is further responsible not only for genocidal intent against the Kachin and the Muslim minority, but also and more specifically for crimes of war against the Kachins and crimes against humanity against the Kachins and the Muslim groups,” it added.
The tribunal based its judgement off witness testimonies both in person in Kuala Lumpur and over video from London, as well as a long list of well documented atrocities including systemic rape, murder and eradication of identity and culture, presented by a team of prosecution lawyers.
“The qualification of genocide corresponds to the highest level of criminal responsibility and its foundations are analysed and documented in all its aspects: in the systematic policies of discrimination and physical elimination, in the active denial of identity and culture, including even the prohibition from using the term Rohingya,” the tribunal said.
Tribunal judge and one of the PPT’s vice-presidents, Helen Jarvis, said it was clear the Myanmar government is attempting to create a singular homogenous group at the gross expense of not only the Rohingya but other Muslim ethnicities in the country. “Obviously the Rohingya is the most critical and urgent situation, but we don’t want to neglect the fact that we’ve dealt with the Kachin and other Muslims in Myanmar and we think it’s important for several reasons,” she said yesterday in Phnom Penh.
“One is to show the systemic nature and the broader general intent, because if you focus only on the Rohingya you don’t quite see that.
“Ethnic Burmese Muslims are not allowed to register as such, when they go to register they are told to choose – if you want to be Burmese ethnicity, you have to Buddhist, if you want to be Muslim ethnicity you have to be Bengali or Indonesian or Bangladesh or something else.”
The tribunal took place in the wake of the most recent wave of violence which has seen the Myanmar military conduct a fierce counter-offensive in Rakhine state in retaliation to the Arakan
Rohingya Salvation Army’s attacks on police posts and an army base last month.
Since then more than half a million refugees have fled across the border to Bangladesh, with almost 1.2 million people having fled their homes in Rakhine state, according to Amnesty International which has been documenting the Myanmar military’s actions.
Jarvis, who was chief of public affairs and then chief of the victims’ support section of the Khmer Rouge tribunal in the mid 1990s, said the current atrocities in Myanmar are unprecedented in that it was the first time such atrocities had been defined as genocide as it was currently taking place and that global institutions have struggled to keep up.
“We have to say the reaction is very slow. Our original request for the PPT came in 2013, so there were certainly people who were aware, and there have been reports in the last five years pointing to this situation,” she said.
“This has been hugely documented and probably the first genocide that has taken place while people have had smartphones and sending videos, images in real-time, so that means people can’t exactly say they don’t know what’s going on.”
This month governments have begun to take action. Last week the United States said it would provide close to $32 million in new humanitarian aid to help with the refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh.
However, the United Nations’ resident coordinator in Bangladesh said the UN would need $200 million over the next six months to deal with the massive wave of refugees from Rakhine.
Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced at the UN General Assembly in New York last week they would cease training the Myanmar military.
However, Amnesty International has stated more must be done, calling on the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the country. “We want the Security Council to issue a public statement condemning the atrocities in Rakhine state, while urging an end to violence and immediate and unfettered access for humanitarian aid groups,” Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director Tirana Hassan said on Wednesday, ahead of a UN Security Council meeting today.
“UN member states must ask themselves what side of history they want to be on and do everything they can do end this nightmare.”
Jarvis said that Myanmar was invited to present a defence case but the invitation was ignored, however the tribunal took place when Aung San Suu Kyi delivered a controversial speech on the crisis which was described by Amnesty International’s Southeast Asia Regional Director James Gomez as “little more than a mix of untruths and victim blaming”.
Jarvis said the speech was incorporated into the tribunal’s proceedings and the West had placed “unrealistic expectations” on Suu Kyi to stand up to the constitutionally entrenched military.
However, she said Suu Kyi was not completely powerless and that it was up to Myanmar’s national leaders to stand up to the racism and xenophobia that has led to a general acceptance of the current situation by the Myanmar public.
“She could, I think, take more steps, and furthermore she could speak out and say she does not agree,” she said.
“I think it’s up to the leadership of the country to combat that and show a way forward with humane and human-based policy … I don’t think you can say because the people are racist therefore the government should act racist. A government should not be playing to the darker side of human nature.”
The tribunal issued 17 recommendations, including an immediate ceasefire and the end of Myanmar’s official discrimination and persecution of the Rohingya, Kachin and other Muslims.
The Rome-based PPT is an internationally recognised public opinion tribunal functioning independently of state authorities.
Founded in 1979, the PPT has no enforcement power, unlike state tribunals, but has moral authority, and has previously held 44 sessions on human rights violations.
“All we can say is we’ve spoken and given the correct judicial analyses of the three crimes we have identified and we can only think that can help rather than hinder to convince other people to face up to the reality and act accordingly,” Jarvis said.