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UN: Charge Myanmar generals with genocide

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Rohingya refugees cross the Naf River to Bangladesh with an improvised raft during the military attacks last year. Photo: Reuters

Rohingya refugees cross the Naf River to Bangladesh with an improvised raft during the military attacks last year. Photo: Reuters

Rohingya refugees cross the Naf River to Bangladesh with an improvised raft during the military attacks last year. Photo: Reuters

Investigators working for the UN's top human rights body have called for Myanmar military leaders to be prosecuted for genocide against Rohingya Muslims.

The body took the unusual step of identifying six by name to pinpoint the main alleged perpetrators of deadly, systematic crimes.

Accompanied by a first report by the team of investigators, the report amounts to some of the strongest language yet from UN officials who have denounced alleged human rights violations in Myanmar since a bloody crackdown began last August last year.

The three-member "fact-finding mission" and their team, working under a mandate from the UN-backed Human Rights Council, meticulously assembled hundreds of accounts from expatriate Rohingya, as well as satellite footage and other information to assemble the report.

"The military's contempt for human life, dignity and freedom - for international law in general - should be a cause of concern for the entire population of Myanmar, and to the international community as a whole," said fact-finding mission chair Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney-general.

The council created the mission in March last year - nearly six months before a string of deadly rebel attacks on security and police posts set off a crackdown that drove Rohingya to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh. The UN estimated that more than 700,000 fled.

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Criticised: Aung San Suu Kyi. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)

Criticised: Aung San Suu Kyi. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)

Criticised: Aung San Suu Kyi. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)

Accounts were compiled of crimes including gang rape, the torching of hundreds of villages, enslavement, and killings of children - some before their eyes of their own parents.

The team was not granted access to Myanmar and has decried a lack of cooperation or even response from the government, which received an early copy of the report.

The team cited a "conservative" estimate from aid group Reporters Without Borders that some 10,000 people were killed in the violence, but outside investigators have had no access to the affected regions - making a precise accounting elusive, if not impossible.

Above all, the investigators said the situation in Myanmar should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and if not, to a special tribunal.

Last week, Myanmar's government rejected any cooperation with the ICC, to which it is not a party. China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power over whether the issue will be brought before the ICC, has been reticent about condemning Myanmar's government.

UN leaders, foreign government officials, and human rights watchers have for months cited evidence of genocide in Myanmar, and the United States late last year said "ethnic cleansing" was occurring in Myanmar. But few experts have studied the issue as in-depth as the fact-finding mission with a mandate from the 46-nation council.

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The United Nations does not apply the word "genocide" lightly. The team's assessment suggests the crimes against the Rohingya could meet the strict legal definition, last applied to state-supported abuses with respect to crimes in Bosnia and Rwanda nearly 25 years ago.

Human rights watchers say that determining "genocidal intent" is perhaps the most difficult criteria to meet: In essence, it's the task of assessing the mindsets of perpetrators to determine if ethnicity, race, religion or another attribute had motivated them.

"The crimes in Rakhine state, and the manner in which they were perpetrated, are similar in nature, gravity and scope to those that have allowed genocidal intent to be established in other contexts," the report said, alluding to a region of Myanmar that is home for many Rohingya.

"The main perpetrator, the people that we want the spotlight on, is the Tatmadaw," said mission member Radhika Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan former UN under-secretary general, referring to Myanmar's military.

Christopher Sidoti, an Australian human rights expert, acknowledged that no "smoking gun" linked the six directly to orders to carry out genocide, but pointed to inferences of their role based on a strict chain of command in Myanmar.

The authors called for the creation of a special body, or "mechanism," to keep watch on the still-evolving human rights situation in Myanmar.

They also faulted Aung San Suu Kyi for not using her role as head of Myanmar's government, nor her "moral authority" - she is a Nobel peace prize laureate - to stop the events in embattled Rakhine state.


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