AFTER last year’s deadly crackdown on the Rohingya community in Myanmar, mass atrocities were committed, including sexual violence and murder, which led to the displacement of over 700,000 people who escaped to neighbouring Bangladesh. Now a 400-page scathing UN report, a year in the making, has condemned the leadership of the Myanmar army for “the gravest crimes under international law” against ethnic and religious minorities. The fact-finding mission boldly recommends that six top military officials — including the army’s commander-in-chief — be investigated and prosecuted for genocide. It clearly states rape and sexual violence were “a particularly egregious and recurrent feature” of the army’s conduct. Though denied access to Myanmar by the government, the report’s investigators interviewed 875 witnesses who had fled the country. Then, recently, the chief prosecutor of the ICCJ announced she would hold a preliminary investigation examining evidence of killing, violence and rape suffered by the Rohingya people. The ICCJ needs to look no further than the UN report. Witnesses describe soldiers dragging people out of their home, shooting them at point-blank range or slitting their throats; women brutally raped; some of the victims were tied naked by their hands or hair to trees. In an ambush on a village in Rakhine state, security forces ripped infants away from their mothers and drowned them in the river. While about 10,000 Rohingya were killed in the first two months of the crackdown, satellite imagery showed nearly 400 villages wiped off the map.

Importantly, the UN report sharply critiques the world body’s response to the Rohingya crisis noting agency staff failed to protect human rights in Myanmar. Agency officials loath to react during the violence focused, instead, on development goals — those who attempted to address human rights issues were blocked in their efforts. Nonetheless, there is damning evidence to ensure the guilty are held to account. Only then will persecuted civilian populations live with dignity and security.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2018

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