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UN urged to investigate ‘strong evidence’ of Rohingya genocide in Myanmar

Rohingya people pass their time in a damaged shelter in Rohingya IDP camp outside Sittwe, Rakhine state on August 4, 2015. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

By Reuters

There is “strong evidence” that Myanmar has committed genocide against Rohingya Muslims, according to a Yale law school report that called for a United Nations commission of inquiry to focus world leaders’ attention on abuses in western Rakhine state.

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – There is “strong evidence” that Myanmar has committed genocide against Rohingya Muslims, according to a Yale law school report that called for a United Nations commission of inquiry to focus world leaders’ attention on abuses in western Rakhine state.

The Rohingya, a stateless ethnic Muslim minority that lives in apartheid-like conditions in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, have faced worsening persecution and violence that has displaced 140,000 and spurred an exodus from the country by boat.

Fortify Rights, a campaign group focussing on the Rohingya, said there are about 1 million Rohingya in Rakhine state and at least 160,000 have fled since 2012.

Yale’s Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic analysed research conducted by Fortify Rights and Al Jazeera, to see if genocide had been committed as defined by the 1948 U.N. genocide convention.

“We think there is strong evidence to support a conclusion that genocide has occurred,” said Katherine Munyan, one of four students who conducted the eight-month analysis under the supervision of Lowenstein director and law professor James Silk.

“We determined that the next logical step would be for the United Nations human rights council to convene a commission of inquiry to examine the atrocities in Rakhine state,” added Tasnim Motala, a member of the team who presented the findings with Munyan.

The team found evidence that four acts set out in the 1948 U.N. convention on genocide had been committed:

– Killing members of the group: The Rohingya, who have a distinctive language, culture, history and traditions, have been killed by security forces, or by the local Rakhine population as security forces stood by without intervening;

– Serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group: They have been targeted and subjected to rape, torture, arbitrary detention and other crimes;

– Inflicting conditions to destroy the group: They have been confined to camps and townships with restrictions on movement and deprivation of food, medical care and basic life necessities;

– Preventing births within the group: Marriage and birth restrictions have been imposed on the Rohingya, sometimes referred to as “biological genocide”.

The clinic identified the Myanmar army, police force and now-disbanded Nasaka border administration force as responsible for acts that could constitute genocide. It also exposed links between perpetrators and the central government.

Motala said a commission of inquiry by the U.N. Human Rights Council should provide an “inclusive, comprehensive and extensive investigation to the human rights atrocities occurring in Rakhine state”.

The Myanmar government could not immediately be reached for comment. But in response to the report, Myanmar’s information minister, Ye Htut, told local news site Mizzima the government “rejects the accusation completely.”

Myanmar has long pushed back at criticism of its treatment of the Rohingya, calling it an internal matter.

“The statement that this is an ‘internal matter’ is a classic statement made by leaders of states that are engaged in serious human rights abuses,” Silk said.

“There is a lot of evidence that states that show a lack of concern for the human rights of their citizens sometimes do not care about what the rest of the world says.”

However, he added, Myanmar at the moment is “very eager to be accepted as a full member of the international community”.

As such, seriously questioning whether genocide is going on may act as an incentive for Myanmar to act, “if only to repair the country’s image with the rest of the world with which it wants to have good relations,” Silk said.

(Reporting by Alisa Tang, editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)