Cooperation needed on Myanmar in wake of genocide findings
Retribution imposed from the outside, however just, will not resolve the Rohingya conflict and international collaboration may be the way forward
It is impossible to reconcile Myanmar’s brutal military oppression of its Rohingya Muslim minority with the promise of political opening up that propelled democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi to de facto national leadership. Until now the world has not fully comprehended or acknowledged the suffering, partly because of the failure of civilian leaders, including Suu Kyi, to speak out against the excesses of the military, even though she had no authority over the generals. A newly released United Nations report that documents state-sponsored violence leaves no excuse for failing to bring them to account for crimes against humanity that amount to genocide.
A UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar found that atrocities committed by the military in their campaign to drive the Rohingya out of northern Rakhine state “undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law”. They included mass murder, rape and the destruction of villages by the military that resulted in at least 10,000 deaths, and the flight of an estimated 600,000 Rohingya now living in overcrowded refugee camps in Muslim Bangladesh. As a result, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a statement condemning the violence and calling on the Myanmar authorities to ensure no further excessive use of military force. Myanmar has denied the allegations and denounced reports as one-sided and unfair.
The Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations, but the ruling Buddhist majority regards them as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship and basic rights. Ethnic persecution exploded into outright cleansing after Rohingya militants attacked Myanmar security posts.
The UN mission’s charge of genocide, and the naming of six senior military figures, including the commander in chief and his deputy, raise serious questions of accountability. If they cannot be brought before the International Criminal Court or an international tribunal, sanctions, travel bans and asset freezes should be considered.
It is good that the United States has already imposed sanctions on several Myanmar security officers and that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has promised to continue to hold accountable those responsible for “abhorrent ethnic cleansing”. But retribution imposed from the outside, however just, will not resolve the historic conflict. Myanmar’s long-time patron China may not have supported stronger action by the Security Council but, after the worst of the violence last year, it offered a three-point cooperative plan consisting of a ceasefire, consultation on a solution between Myanmar and Bangladesh and an international effort to help impoverished Rakhine develop its rich resources. The international community must continue to seek a cooperative way forward.