Can new Rohingya commission jolt action on alleged Myanmar atrocities?

Members of civil society working to end human rights violations and abuses in Myanmar, and in particular against the Rohingya ethnic group, have insisted that the European Union (EU) and its member states present a new resolution on the country’s human rights situation during the 71st UN General Assembly (UNGA) session.

Last year’s UNGA resolution urged all parties to the conflict to end violence and to protect individuals against ongoing violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law. Following reports that the EU may not introduce a new resolution this year, civil society organizations ALTSEAN-BurmaAmnesty International,Article 19Civil Rights Defenders (CRD), Forum-Asia, and the International Federation for Human Rights – acting within the framework of Burma Partnership – voiced their concerns.

While welcoming Myanmar’s new government’s prioritization of peace and national reconciliation, Burma Partnership drew the EU’s attention to reports of renewed military offensives, almost 14,000 civilians displaced between January and September 2016, and alleged extra-judicial killings, rape and other forms of sexual violence, forced labor, indiscriminate use of landmines, and recruitment of child soldiers by both the government and ethnic armed groups.

Who are the Rohingya?

Over one million people in Myanmar identify as Rohingya, a chiefly Muslim group living predominately in the Rakhine State on the country’s western coast.

Myanmar, however, contends that the Rohingya are migrants from present-day Bangladesh, and by law denies them citizenship. Nor does Bangladesh acknowledge the Rohingya as Bangladeshi, leaving them effectively stateless and susceptible to systematic rights violations.

A chance for justice in Myanmar?

Burma Partnership’s call comes after former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s appointment as chair of the nine-member Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.Established by Myanmar, the Commission is tasked to investigate communal conflict pitting Rakhine Buddhists against the Rohingya.

Many local Buddhists protested the appointment of a non-Burmese as chair while several members of civil society instead pointed out that the lack of a Rohingya member on the Commission could render justice linked to its findings incomplete.

Some contend that the protracted human rights violations against the Rohingya, including sporadic violence between them and ethnic Buddhists, could amount to crimes against humanity under the ICC Rome State because they are the result of an alleged state policy.

Since Myanmar has not joined the ICC or accepted its jurisdiction, the situation in Myanmar would need to be referred to the Court by the UN Security Council before any ICC action could be taken.

Have your say – could the former UN Secretary-General’s appointment to the Rohingya Commission jolt Myanmar, which has previously shown little movement in the direction of Rome Statute ratification, or the Security Council into action?