HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH THE FACT-FINDING MISSION ON MYANMAR

Human Rights Council HRC/17/133
MORNING 19 September 2017

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH THE FACT-FINDING MISSION ON MYANMAR

The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar after it had heard an oral update by Marzuki Darusman, Chairperson of the Fact-Finding Mission.

In his presentation, Mr. Darusman noted that the events in Myanmar since 2011 indicated the continued need for independent fact-finding to establish what had happened and who was responsible.  In addition to the human rights violations in Rakhine, serious allegations of human rights violations and abuses continued to emerge from Kachin and northern Shan, which would be examined by the Fact-Finding Mission.  Allegations of the same types of violations had arisen in the context of recent attacks on security posts in Rakhine state and the ensuing security operation of the Myanmar authorities – mass killings, excessive use of force, torture and ill-treatment, sexual and gender-based violence, and the burning and destruction of entire villages.  There had also been reports of landmines being planted on the border with Bangladesh that were maiming and killing those trying to escape the violence, including children.

Speaking as the concerned country, Myanmar disassociated itself from resolution 34/22, noting that instituting such a fact-finding mission was not a helpful course of action in solving the already intricate Rakhine issue.  The tension in Rakhine had been flared up on 25 August 2017 by the fatal raids by hundreds of Arakan Rohignya Salvation Army terrorists on 30 police posts.  Proportionate security measures targeted only terrorists and were being taken to safeguard State sovereignty and to restore law and order.  The Government of Myanmar was committed to a sustainable solution that would lead to peace, security and development of all communities in Rakhine state.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers condemned the latest attacks by a militant armed group on police outposts in northern Rakhine, which aimed at undermining the quest for peace and a long-term solution.  Some speakers noted that the Rohingya were the most persecuted people in the world, and that the situation could be described as ethnic cleansing.  They called on all parties to the conflict to refrain from exacerbating the situation, and called on the Government of Myanmar to cooperate with the Fact-Finding Mission and to grant it full access to the country.  Speakers asked the Mission how it would ensure that its outcome would be impartial and useful to the Government, as well as how it intended to establish the facts and circumstances of the alleged human rights violations and abuses in other parts of Myanmar.

Speaking were European Union, Poland, Germany, Russian Federation, Canada, France, Denmark, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Belgium, Venezuela, Netherlands, Japan,  Maldives, Finland, Thailand, Czech Republic, Australia, Iraq, Albania, Estonia, Croatia, Spain, Libya, United States, Austria, Afghanistan, China, Portugal, Costa Rica, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, United Kingdom, Luxembourg, India, Turkey, Bangladesh, Republic of Korea, Ireland, Mexico, Indonesia, Algeria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, United Arab Emirates, Viet Nam, Azerbaijan and Iceland.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Lutheran World Federation (in a joint statement with several NGOs), Amnesty International, Minority Rights Group, Human Rights Watch, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development Forum-Asia, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (in a joint statement with International Bar Association) and International Federation for Human Rights Leagues.

The Council will next hear a presentation of the report by the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, to be followed by an interactive dialogue.  In the afternoon, the Council will hold a general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.

Opening Statement by the President of the Council

JOAQUIN ALEXANDER MAZA MARTELLI, President of the Human Rights Council, opened the interactive dialogue by informing that the Human Rights Council, following serious further deterioration of the security, human rights and humanitarian situation in Rakhine state in Myanmar, had adopted resolution 34/22, establishing an Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar with a mandate to establish the facts and circumstances of alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces and abuses.  He thereby invited Mr. Marzuki Darusman, Chairperson of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, to present the report of the Mission.

Statement by the Chairperson of the Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar

MARZUKI DARUSMAN, Chairperson of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, established by Human Rights Council resolution 34/22, said events in Myanmar since 2011 indicated the continuing need for independent fact-finding to establish what had happened and who was responsible.  The Mission was mindful of the complexity of the situation and disturbed by the gravity of the allegations. The Mission’s mandate covered the entire country, in particular but not exclusively Rakhine state.  The Mission was seized of the situation in other parts of the country, particularly where there had been armed clashes.  In that regard, serious allegations of human rights violations and abuses continued to emerge from Kachin and northern Shan, which would be examined by the Fact-Finding Mission.  The Mission focused on the period since 2011, the year of the breakdown of a ceasefire in northern Myanmar, and the heightening of tensions that led to large-scale violence in northern Rakhine in 2012.  The Human Rights Council resolution had set out a list of alleged violations that should be included in the fact-finding.

Allegations of the same types of violations had arisen in the context of recent attacks on security posts in Rakhine state and the ensuing security operation of the Myanmar authorities – mass killings, excessive use of force, torture and ill-treatment, sexual and gender-based violence, and the burning and destruction of entire villages.  There had been reports of landmines being planted on the border with Bangladesh that were maiming and killing those trying to escape the violence, including children.  There had also been reports of dehumanizing propaganda that likened the Rohingya to pests.  The Human Rights Council would recognize the danger signs, having seen the world over how hate speech preceded and accompanied major atrocities.  The Mission was alarmed by these reports and would examine them carefully.  Putting aside eventual findings on the human rights allegations, it was clear to the Mission that there was a grave humanitarian crisis under way which required urgent attention.  Over 400,000 people had sought refuge in Bangladesh in less than a month.  There were reports that nearly 200 Rohingya villages in the affected areas had been emptied.

It was important for the Mission to see with its own eyes the sites of these alleged violations and abuses and to speak directly with the affected people and with the authorities.  For that reason, the Mission had communicated with the Government of Myanmar, requesting cooperation with the Mission and full and unfettered access to the country.  The Mission was hopeful that its request would be met positively, especially as it was aware of the Government’s expressed concern for truth.  The Mission firmly believed that it was in the Government’s interest and in the interest of the people of Myanmar to communicate their views and evidence directly to the Fact-Finding Mission.  Mr. Darusman reiterated the Mission’s request to the Government of Myanmar for cooperation, most importantly by granting the Mission access to the country.   He stressed that the Mission was approaching the human rights situation in Myanmar without any preconceived ideas and would base its findings on a solid, objective assessment of the information verified.  The Mission was open to all sources of information, which it had already received in large volumes.  He invited others who wished to submit information to do so – this including the Government of Myanmar.

Finally, Mr. Darusam respectfully appealed to the Human Rights Council to consider extending the mandate of the Fact-Finding Mission by six months to September 2018, with the resources that would allow them to carry on their work at full speed.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Myanmar, speaking as the concerned country, disassociated itself from resolution 34/22.  The Government continued to believe that instituting such a mission was not a helpful course of action in solving the already intricate Rakhine issue.  The tension in Rakhine had been flared up on 25 August 2017 by the fatal raids by hundreds of Arakan Rohignya Salvation Army terrorists on 30 police posts.  Nothing justified terrorism.  Proportionate security measures targeted only terrorists and were being taken to safeguard State sovereignty and to restore law and order.  As the result of the terrorist attacks, people from Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist communities, as well as from ethnic minorities Mro, Daignet and Kaman, had been killed and displaced.  The Government of Myanmar was committed to a sustainable solution that would lead to peace, security and development of all communities in Rakhine state.  It believed that the recommendations made by the Advisory Commission led by the former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan was a practical blueprint for the implementation leading to a sustainable solution.

Interactive Dialogue

European Union called on the Government of Myanmar to cooperate with the Fact-Finding Mission, and stressed the need for it to be granted full access.  The Mission was asked how it would ensure that its outcome would be impartial and useful to the Government, as well as how it intended to establish the facts and circumstances of the alleged human rights violations and abuses in other parts of “Myanmar/Burma”.  Poland shared concern over the dire situation of Myanmar nationals, who were refugees in Bangladesh.  Mr. Darusman was asked to elaborate on the situation of other ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar, including the Christian minority.  Germany expressed deep worry about the human rights situation in Myanmar, and called on the country to end the military campaign against the civilian population, to adequately protect those who suffered from violence and abuses, and to bring to justice those responsible for recent atrocities.  Mr. Darusman was asked how the international community could support the Fact-Finding Mission in its crucial efforts to assess the conflict.

Russian Federation shared the concerns expressed regarding the worsening situation in Rakhine state, and condemned terrorist groupings, calling on all parties to the conflict to refrain from the exacerbation of the situation.  Russian Federation supported efforts to establish an inter-confessional dialogue in Myanmar.  Canada wanted Myanmar’s democratically elected Government to succeed and to build an inclusive, diverse and stable society, but to do so, the violence in Rakhine state had to end.  The Fact-Finding Mission was asked how, despite their lack of in-country access, they had pursued their work to ensure it was comprehensive.  France said the vigilance of the international community was necessary, noting that the High Commissioner for Human Rights had warned against elements which constituted ethnic cleansing.  Mr. Darusman was asked how he planned to fulfil his mandate to guarantee an independent inquiry into the violations which had been committed in Arakan.

Denmark strongly condemned the latest attacks by a militant armed group on police outposts in northern Rakhine, which aimed at undermining the quest for peace and a long-term solution.  It was deeply concerned about the report of violence against civilians and called on all parties to exercise restraint to avoid an escalation of violence.  Organization of Islamic Cooperation said unfortunately, since the establishment of the Fact-Finding Mission, the situation in Myanmar had worsened and reached catastrophic dimensions.  The Rohingya were the most persecuted people in the world, and the situation could be described as ethnic cleansing.  Belgium commended Myanmar for the complex transition towards democracy since 2011, however it was highly alarmed by the latest reports of excessive violence by security forces and the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Rakhine, with over 400,000 people fleeing the state.  It called upon the Government to grant full access to the Fact-Finding Mission.

Venezuela said the intentions of the Government of Myanmar had to be trusted.  Only with constructive dialogue with the concerned State could a solution be found – the opposite of this was politicization, which had to be avoided at the Human Rights Council.  Netherlands was very concerned by the large-scale violence committed against the Rohingya minority in Rakhine state.  It was paramount that the perpetrators were held to account.  The only way to build a sustainable future was through transparency, justice and reconciliation.  Japan condemned the attacks carried out against Myanmar’s civilian population and security forces in northern areas of Rakhine state since August 25.  While the Myanmar Government Investigation Commission Summary Report for Maungdaw in Rakhine State acknowledged that human rights violations took place, it indicated that investigations would continue due to insufficient evidence to convict suspects.  How would the Commission clarify the facts of the situation in northern Rakhine state?

Remarks by the Chairperson of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar

MARZUKI DARUSMAN, Chairperson of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, said that many of the important questions posed by delegations might have to be postponed due to the fact that the Fact-Finding Mission had only started its work.  The queries would have to be matched by the necessary research.  The Mission had to first gain access to the country and that was the main issue that it had to address.  The Mission continued to hope that the question would be resolved, and it took note of the readiness of the Myanmar Government to approve the mandate of the Mission.  Mr. Darusman welcomed the recent speech of State Counsellor Aung Sung which confirmed the Government’s readiness to welcome back the refugees and to allow global scrutiny.  Those two facts were very constructive.  As for the international community’s assistance to the Mission, Mr. Darusman explained that the Mission’s mandate was a very complex one and it thus went beyond identifying a single root cause of the crisis.  It would be helpful if any views and judgements were not based on assumptions, but on the conclusions of the Fact-Finding Mission.  The volume of work and the complexity of the situation suggested that it would useful to ascertain a definite period of the Mission’s mandate in order to produce an objective report.

Interactive Dialogue

Maldives expressed concern about the horrific reports of innocent civilians being killed during security operations in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.  Maldives joined the international community in calling on the Myanmar Government to cease all atrocities against the Muslim Rohingya population and respect its obligations under international law, international humanitarian law and human rights covenants.  Finland said it had followed with growing concern the escalation of violence during the last year in Myanmar, including against the Rohingya minority.  Mr. Darusman was asked how the Fact-Finding Mission was taking into account gender-specific protection concerns and measures to address them.  Thailand said that as a close neighbour and fellow member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Thailand had pledged additional immediate aid to those affected both in Myanmar and Bangladesh.  Thailand encouraged the international community and the Fact-Finding Mission to provide technical assistance to enable sustaining peace and development in Myanmar.

Czech Republic said that as a long-term supporter of the transition process in Myanmar, Czech Republic was concerned about the recent developments in the country, as mentioned by the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the opening of the Human Rights Council’s session.  The promotion and protection of human rights was a demanding and never-ending mission that every State needed to undertake.  Australia said that with many facts in dispute, independent assessment was warranted, adding that the excessive use of force was not legitimised.  It was vital that Myanmar allowed unfettered access for international humanitarian agencies as soon as possible.  Iraq condemned the systematic genocide campaign suffered by the Rohingya minority.  Large-scale crimes required a systematic response; the Human Rights Council was called on to step up to its responsibility by ending the crimes against that minority.

Albania welcomed the work of the Fact-Finding Mission and reiterated its strong support for its mandate.  It was increasingly and deeply concerned about the developments in Rakhine state in Myanmar, particularly with the massive and very grave human rights violations and abuses faced by the Rohingya minority since August 2017.  Estonia said violations suffered by the Rohingya community, including extrajudicial killings, forced displacements, and widespread burning of Rohingya villages, had led to the internal displacement or migration of the Rohingya population.  It called upon Myanmar to take urgent and meaningful steps to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.  Croatia said it was closely monitoring the situation in Myanmar and expressed its grave concern for the recent escalation of violence in Rakhine state.  Admittedly, the conflict in Rakhine state had a long history, and would be difficult for any government to deal with.  However it was the duty of every government to protect its civilians, including ethnic and religious minorities.

Spain was deeply concerned about the situation in Rakhine state, including arbitrary detention, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, forced disappearance, illegal destruction of property, and other grave violations of human rights.  Conversely, it was pleased to see that Myanmar had achieved progress in the amendment of its legal framework and called upon the Government to ensure the independence of the judiciary.  Libya strongly condemned the barbaric killings to which Rohingya Muslims were exposed. This was a humanitarian crisis caused by a wave of ethnic extremism which the Government had not taken any steps to put a stop to.  Libya called on the Human Rights Council to ensure that the Government put in place a permanent solution that would end the suffering and the crimes against humanity.  United States hoped the Government would utilize the expert findings of the Fact-Finding Mission to hold accountable the violators.  It deeply regretted the violations committed by the armed forces against the population.  While condemning the August 25 attack on the authorities, it demanded that the authorities respond to these attacks in a manner that protected and respected human rights.

Austria condemned the attacks on police posts by Rohingya militants on 25 August 2017, but strongly believed that the reported security operation in reaction to those attacks was excessive, disproportionate and without regard for the basic principles of international law.   Afghanistan voiced deep concern about the systematic violation of human rights in Myanmar, particularly the abuses of Rohingya Muslims.  It called upon the Government to protect the human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minority groups, and to hold perpetrators responsible.  China condemned the recent violent attacks in Myanmar, voicing hope that stability would be restored.  The international community should remain patient as a solution for the crisis was being searched for, and support Myanmar’s efforts to achieve development.

Portugal welcomed the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine state created by the Government of Myanmar and chaired by Kofi Annan, but noted that the Commission had not been mandated to investigate specific alleged human rights violations, but to address institutional and structural issues which undermined peace, justice and development in Rakhine.  Costa Rica called on the Government of Myanmar to stop the systematic institutional discrimination against minorities, especially of the Rohingya.  It urged the Government to respect international law and human rights, whereas the Council had to promptly deal with the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar.  Democratic People’s Republic of Korea opposed country-specific mandates because they infringed on the internal sovereignty of the targeted country.  Certain reports on Myanmar failed to correctly reflect the situation on the ground.  The Council should refrain from naming and shaming.

United Kingdom said that while the international community’s focus was drawn to Rakhine, the on-going conflict in Kachin state and Shan state should not be forgotten.  Mr. Darusman was asked how the Fact-Finding Mission intended to give equitable coverage to the full range of issues in his mandate.  Luxembourg urged the Government of Myanmar to allow unrestricted access to the Fact-Finding Mission, and expressed concern about recent events in Rakhine.  The root causes of the conflict needed to be understood and combatted.  India expressed deep concern at the situation in Myanmar, noting that many had sought refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.  The situation in Rakhine should be handled with restraint, focusing on the welfare of the civilian population.

Turkey said the current situation in Myanmar was a humanitarian tragedy and should not be a concern only for Turkey or for Muslim countries, but should be important to the international community as a whole.  Problems in Rakhine state might have implications for regional security as indicated in the final report of the Rakhine Advisory Commission, which was a balanced report.  Bangladesh said the international community needed to look into the real causes of forcibly displacing en masse half a million people into a neighbouring country.  The international community had a moral responsibility to act without delay.  Republic of Korea expressed concern over the current massive refugee crisis in Rakhine state and its neighbouring region.  Mr. Darusman was asked for his input on how he would build a bridge of mutual trust and cooperation suggested by the former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Ireland condemned the attacks of 25 August 2017 by militants and the subsequent violence that had taken place in Rakhine state in Myanmar.  There was an urgent need for a de-escalation of tensions and for the full observance of international human rights law.  Mexico was greatly concerned about human rights violations seen in Rakhine state in Myanmar, and called on all parties to protect civilians and to allow humanitarian access to the most vulnerable groups.  It urged the Government to protect the rights of all of its population, regardless of ethnicity and religion.  Indonesia voiced deep concern about the humanitarian situation in Rakhine state and the flow of refugees that still continued.  It called on the Government of Myanmar to restore stability and security in Rakhine state, and to exercise restraint and refrain from violence.

Algeria deplored the continued violence and human rights abuses of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.  It called on the Government to fulfil all its obligations towards all its citizens, including those of Muslim faith.  Iran shared concern about the indiscriminate attacks against Muslims in Myanmar.  If left unattended, the violations of the basic rights of the Rohingya Muslims would encourage extremism and destabilise the whole region.

Saudi Arabia condemned what appeared to be systemic ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya in Myanmar and regretted the lack of access to the areas affected that would allow international organizations to do their work.  Myanmar must be called to account for its apparent violations of human rights.  New Zealand strongly condemned the violence in Rakhine state and welcomed the Advisory Commission’s report.  It also stood ready to support the Myanmar Government in enacting the recommendations in the report and underlined that security operations in Rakhine should be proportionate.  Lao Democratic Peoples’ Republic supported the Government of Myanmar’s reform programme and said that international condemnation was not conducive to sorting out the situation on the ground.  It urged the international community to continue to support the Government in its efforts to resolve the crisis.

United Arab Emirates expressed its deep concern over the deteriorating situation with respect to the Rohingya refugees and the growing repression to which they were subject.  The flow of refugees must be slowed with active involvement and the United Arab Emirates had supplied aid to this end.  Viet Nam thanked the Fact-Finding Mission for its report and encouraged Myanmar to find sustainable solutions in its efforts to promote human rights.  As an ASEAN Member State, Viet Nam stood ready and prepared to continue its close cooperation with Myanmar in its reconstruction process.  Azerbaijan was seriously concerned about the plight of the Rohingya population and noted that this was not a new phenomenon.  There was an urgent need to de-escalate the crisis.  Azerbaijan stood by the Bangladeshi authorities dealing with the refugees that had fled over its border.  Iceland said that during the Human Rights Council session in March this year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had addressed the rapidly deteriorating situation in Myanmar, stating that it was a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.  This situation could not go on.  Iceland called on the Human Rights Council to establish a robust mechanism to investigate the situation on the ground.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide remained deeply concerned with the situation in Myanmar, and in particular with the situation in Rakhine state.  As the Human Rights Commissioner had said, it was a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.  The army had intensified assault on the Shia and Christian populations, which had caused the displacement of thousands of persons.  Lutheran World Federation, in a joint statement with several NGOs1, strongly condemned the violence in Rakhine state, and expressed sympathies for all those who had lost close ones.  The Federation urged the stop of the spread of misinformation that endangered the lives of humanitarian workers.  Amnesty International deplored the coordinated attacks and disproportionate violence against the Rohingya community.  This was ethnic cleansing and amounted to crimes against humanity.  It was important to remember that the Myanmar military was also perpetrating attacks in other parts of the country.

Minority Rights Group was increasingly alarmed at the situation in Rakhine which followed a pattern similar to the situation in 2012 and again in 2016.  Given that this was a recurring tactic by security forces it was clear that it was an attempt to expulse the Rohingya from Myanmar.  This, in turn, could amount to crimes against humanity and genocide.  Human Rights Watch said the situation demonstrated the need of the work of the Fact-Finding Mission.  If a State engaged in ethnic cleansing, it had every reason to hide what was going on.  However there were thousands of witnesses, and the truth would come out.

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development Forum-Asia said the recent escalation in Rakhine state was unprecedented, noting that three United Nations Special Rapporteurs had expressed concern about the situation.  What had taken place seemed to be a textbook case of ethnic cleansing, and the Human Rights Council should pass a resolution and call for an immediate end to attacks, among other measures.  Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, in a joint statement with International Bar Association, said that when the Human Rights Council had created the Fact-Finding Mission, the Government of Myanmar had responded first by denying it access, and then by stepping up attacks.  There was a pattern of denying human rights defenders access, and the Human Rights Council should call on all States to urge the Government of Myanmar to allow access for all necessary humanitarian aid.  International Federation for Human Rights Leagues condemned the ongoing attacks against unarmed Rohingya civilians by Myanmar security forces; if current trends held, nearly the entire Rohingya population will have fled the country by the end of the year.  The Human Rights Council should adopt a resolution calling on the Myanmar Government to stop using government media to incite hatred against the Rohingya.

Concluding Remarks

MARZUKI DARUSMAN, Chairperson of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, said the Fact-Finding Mission could not be removed from the ongoing situation that was unfolding in Myanmar.  The Fact-Finding Mission had been able to field an advance team, and was becoming immersed in the situation on the ground.  Attention on Myanmar was necessary until a determination could be made on what was happening in the country.  Some issues that had been expressed by the Council had been noted, such as gender-specific concerns.  The Fact-Finding Mission was aided by the Government requesting an Advisory Commission on the future of Rakhine state, led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.  The report started by stating that Rakhine state was going through a developmental crisis, a human rights crisis, and a security crisis at the same time.  Those observations set the tone of Mr. Annan’s report.  The Fact-Finding Mission was looking ahead towards producing a report which would be complementary to that report, as the Annan report was not mandated to look into specific human rights violations.  The Fact-Finding Mission would be undertaking a more specific mandate in that regard.  Lack of access would not be an insurmountable handicap, as a solid report would be produced regardless.  He reiterated his appeal for an extension of the Fact-Finding Mission’s mandate.  Current developments in other parts of the country were also of concern, such as Kachin and Shan states.  The Fact-Finding Mission would go where the evidence led it.  He appealed to the Government of Myanmar to allow the Fact-Finding Mission access into the country, as that was the only way the Government would be able to present its view on what was happening there.

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1Joint statement: Lutheran World Federation; Action contre la faim; Care International; International Rescue Committee; Norwegian Refugee Council; Save the Children International.

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