Myanmar army chief must be prosecuted for Rohingya ‘genocide’: UN rights envoy

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Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel as members of the Myanmar security forces stand guard in Inn Din village September 2, 2017. (REUTERS)
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Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel in Inn Din village September 1, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 January 2019

Myanmar army chief must be prosecuted for Rohingya ‘genocide’: UN rights envoy

  • Lee has been blocked from visiting Myanmar since 2017 over her vocal criticism of its treatment of the Rohingya

BANGKOK: Myanmar’s army chief should be prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority, a UN human rights investigator said, adding that holding perpetrators to account for crimes was necessary before refugees who fled the country could return.
Yanghee Lee, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, was speaking during a trip to Thailand and Bangladesh, where she met officials and Rohingya driven out of western Rakhine state after an army crackdown in 2017.
“Min Aung Hlaing and others should be held accountable for genocide in Rakhine and for crimes against humanity and war crimes in other parts of Myanmar,” said Lee, who is barred from the country, referring to the military’s commander-in-chief.
Her interview marked the first time Lee has publicly called for the army chief to be prosecuted for genocide. A UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar last year said that the military campaign, which refugees say included mass killings and rape, was orchestrated with “genocidal intent” and recommended charging Min Aung Hlaing and five other generals with the “gravest crimes under international law.”
Since August 2017 some 730,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine to Bangladesh, where they now live overcrowded camps.
“For any repatriation to happen ... the perpetrators must be held to account, because sending the refugees back with no accountability is going to really exacerbate or prolong the horrific situation in Myanmar,” Lee told Reuters in an interview in Thailand on Jan. 18. “And then we’ll see another cycle of expulsion again.”
Spokesmen for Myanmar’s military and government could not be reached for comment. The country has previously denied almost all allegations made by refugees against its troops, who it says were engaged in legitimate counterterrorism operations.

Legal routes
The UN Security Council in September voted to approve the establishment of an “ongoing independent mechanism” for Myanmar that would collect, consolidate, and preserve evidence of crimes that could be used in an eventual court case.
Lee said the independent mechanism would provide funds for “victim support,” including money for criminal cases.
Myanmar has said it “absolutely rejects” that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has jurisdiction to rule on its actions. The country is not a party to the Rome Statute that established the Hague-based court.
Non-parties can be referred to the ICC by the UN Security Council, though diplomats have said permanent members China and Russia would likely veto any such move. Britain has been drafting a Security Council resolution on Myanmar, but diplomats told Reuters in December it did not include a referral to the ICC.
Legal experts say other options for an international prosecution include referral by individual UN member states – five Latin American states recently successfully referred Venezuela – or an ad hoc tribunal.

’Dark ages’
Lee has been blocked from visiting Myanmar since 2017 over her vocal criticism of its treatment of the Rohingya.
She said Myanmar authorities had turned down her latest request to visit the country.
“They responded and reminded me that they had asked the Human Rights Council to replace me so they cannot engage with me,” she said.
The human rights record of the civilian government led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been a “great disappointment,” she said.
Since Suu Kyi swept to power in a landslide election in 2015, 44 journalists have been arrested, according to Athan, a Yangon-based free speech group. That number includes two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, sentenced to seven years after reporting on a military-led massacre of 10 Rohingya.
“It really is alarming that Myanmar is taking this path,” said Lee. “After 60, 70 years of isolation now is a big chance for them to come out and now they’re retreating back into the dark ages, which is very disappointing.”


Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

Updated 36 min 34 sec ago

Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

  • Al Jazeera journalists under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur
  • The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3

KUALA LUMPUR: Six members of staff from state-owned Qatari news broadcaster Al Jazeera were questioned by police in Malaysia on Friday.

They are under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur during the coronavirus lockdown.

“The documentary has ignited a backlash among the public,” said national police chief Abdul Hamid Bador. “During our investigation, we found out there were inaccuracies in the documentary that were aimed at creating a bad image of Malaysia.”

He said police have discussed the case with the attorney general and added: “We are going to give a fair investigation and a fair opportunity for them to defend themselves, in case the AG wants to file charges against them.”

The journalists, accompanied by their lawyers, were questioned at police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3. It highlighted the plight of undocumented migrants reportedly arrested during raids on COVID-19 lockdown hotspots. Malaysian officials said the report was inaccurate and misleading.

On Thursday, Al Jazeera said it refutes the charges and “stands by the professionalism, quality and impartiality of its journalism” and has “serious concerns about developments that have occurred in Malaysia since the broadcast of the documentary.” It added: “Al Jazeera is deeply concerned that its staff are now subject to a police investigation.”

However, the incident highlights the broadcaster’s double standards in reporting issues about migrant workers. When Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Qatar in February of failing to implement a system to ensure construction companies pay migrant workers on time, the issue was not highlighted by Al Jazeera, the headquarters of which is in Doha.

On May 23, migrant workers staged a rare protest in Qatar over unpaid wages but Al Jazeera did not send reporters to interview the demonstrators.

Also in May, HRW said that crowded and unsanitary conditions at Doha Central Prison were exacerbating the COVID-19 threat. The organization urged Qatar to reduce the size of prison populations and ensure inmates have access to adequate medical care, along with masks, sanitizer and gloves. Again Al Jazeera did not focus on the issue.

Activists and civil-society groups criticized the Malaysian government for its heavy-handed move against Al Jazeera.

“The Malaysian government should stop trying to intimidate the media when it reports something the powers that be don’t like,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division. “The reality is Malaysia has treated migrant workers very shoddily and Al Jazeera has caught them out on it.”

Nalini Elumalai, the Malaysia program officer for freedom of speech advocacy group Article 19, said the action against Al Jazeera is alarming and akin to “shooting the messenger.”

She added: “The government should instead initiate an independent inquiry into the issues raised in the documentary.”

There are at least 2 million migrant workers in Malaysia, though the true number is thought to be much higher as many are undocumented. They are a source of cheap, low-skilled labor in industries considered dirty and dangerous.