Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar/Burma, Yanghee Lee, spoke to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday. She said that, “I strongly recommend the persons allegedly responsible for the violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law be investigated and prosecuted by the ICC or a credible mechanism.”
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is an international tribunal based out of The Hague in the Netherlands, and it is used to investigate war crimes, allegations of genocide, crimes against humanity, and it has the authority to prosecute based on their findings. They are not a part of the U.N., legally speaking, but these investigations have led to imprisonment in the past, for example Abu Tourab was a member of Ansar Dine, and was convicted of destroying religious and historical buildings in Timbuktu — he is currently serving a nine-year sentence. Many more have been indicted and are currently fugitives on the run (Joseph Kony, for example). However, since the organization has only been up and running since 2002, they are still relatively new and many cases are still open. The ICC has also received criticisms in the past, particularly in its limitations. For example, if someone is accused, investigated and charged, the country from which they originate still has to cooperate to some degree, especially with extradition — this means the ICC has been accused of only picking cases with somewhat cooperative governments, which can limit their purview.
Now Ms. Yanghee Lee has once again drawn the ICC’s attention to Myanmar. She also expressed her disappointment and concern at the U.N.’s ability to document and point out human rights abuses in the country, and yet still without any action taken or even referral to the ICC. “Far too many crimes have been committed, and have been documented and reported with scant consequences faced by those who perpetrated them,” she said.
Recently, two of the generals in charge of the military campaign against the Rohingya have recently been dismissed or resigned. These generals were Lt. Gen. Aung Kyaw Zaw and Maj. Gen. Maung Maung Soe — they led a campaign in which the UN, non-governmental aid organizations, news agencies and other sources all documented severe human rights abuses. This military campaign included using rape as a weapon, killing thousands of children under the age of 5 over months of fighting, and burning countless homes and properties. All of this wound up forcing approximately 700,000 Rohingya refugees across the border and into Bangladesh.
As the fighting has shifted from the Rohingya up to the north with the Kachin, many like Ms. Lee are expressing concern over the lack of accountability in Myanmar as they freely move from one conflict to the next. In the media, each conflict is treated separately, and seem like they have no common denominator — the state-run media in Myanmar portrays the fight against the Rohingya as a fight against Islamic extremism. The same media portrays the fight against the Kachin as a fight against an organized, rebel army. This strategy keeps the campaigns of accountability and prosecution of war crimes at bay, as the country moves swiftly from one conflict to the next, stalling until the previous conflict is largely forgotten.
Featured image: Yanghee Lee, UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur to Myanmar, talks to journalists during a press briefing at a hotel Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Yangon, Myanmar. Lee visited conflict areas including Kachin and Rakhine State and met with government officials during her trip to Myanmar. | AP Photo/Thein Zaw