UN's Futile Rohingya Action

The UN Fact Finding Mission published on Monday 27th August is damning towards the government of Burma, the Burmese military, the international community and surprisingly towards the UN itself. It acknowledges Burma’s inability to deal with the perpetrators of ‘genocidal intent’ and the Burmese military (Tatmadaw). It  also acknowledges Burma’s cover-up Government and those responsible - Suu Kyi. The report urges the international community into action, but it is also critical towards its own mandating body, the UN and everything that it stands for. For the first time, the suffering of the Rohingya, the calls for justice and accountability are voiced, perhaps even demanded in this report. But will the report’s recommendations and conclusions just be passed as a faux pas? Will the findings be brushed under the carpet once the media frenzy in the next few weeks dissipates?

As the UN Security Council sat to discuss the findings on Tuesday 28th August 2018, one thing became evidently clear; The UN, its members and its Secretary General simply refuse to use the term ‘Genocide’ despite its Fact Finding Mission’s report. Why is it necessary for the US to have its own investigation into the Rohingya abuse when it already has the Fact Finding Mission - an independent body of experts to conduct a huge compilation of reports? In her statement to the Security Council, Nikki Haley, the USA’s Security Council spokesperson commented, that the US state department’s ‘results are consistent’ with the Fact Finding Mission report.  Why, in that case, is the word ‘genocide’ not used as it is in the Fact Finding Mission report?

 She went on to say that ‘The world can no longer avoid the difficult truth of what happened’ and then duly avoided the difficult truth that Burma acted with ‘genocidal intent’. Her omission of the word ‘genocide’ is avoidance of what happened.  So far as the FFM’s report is concerned, (Section VIII, clause 98 – Accountability), ‘The impetus for accountability must come from the international community’. Clearly, the US, alongside others such as the UK are unable to create an impetus of accountability. In fact the only calls for accountability at the International Criminal Court came from Sweden. Yanghee Lee the UN Special Rapporteur on Burma had said that China and Russia ‘had no shame’ in their blocking or vetoing of the UN Security Council’s action call on Burma. Yet this is another equivocation. This would suggest that the other permanent members of the UN Security Council had been calling out for action. The UK and the US in particular have made excellent soundbites in calling out the atrocities. But what action have they actually called out for? None.

Burma’s reaction to the FFM’s report has been predictably nonexistent. Expecting anything else would have been foolish. The FFM called out the Tatmadaw, the Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing and the State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi for their ‘genocidal intent’ and concluded that ‘through their acts and omissions, the civilian authorities have contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes’. One of the ever-present signs of a genocidal regime is denial. Burma’s non existent, nonchalant response is definitely in line with a regime which doesn’t deny, it doesn’t even acknowledge the crimes that it has committed. In fact, Facebook’s closure of Burmese military leaders’ accounts is perhaps the most severe sanction served yet by the international community. The FFM report is highly critical of Burma’s ability to investigate internally – it claims that ‘None meets the standard of an impartial, independent, effective and thorough human rights investigation’. Coincidentally, the Kofi Annan investigation, known as the Advisory Commission was also an internal investigation. Why then, does the international community keep referring to the recommendations of the Annan report when the UN’s FACT (yes fact) Finding Mission has said that it didn’t meet impartial and independent standards. How could it have done? It does not even name the Rohingya as a community. Simply put, the FFM claims, Burma’s ability to investigate is impossible – ‘accountability at the domestic level is currently unattainable’

A rushed Rohingya repatriation should be avoided unless ‘explicit human rights protections in place, including citizenship’ are established.  That’s a far cry from the ‘safe’, ‘dignified’ and ‘voluntary’ repatriation that’s been called for by the UN so far. Activists have long said that without full citizenship, rights and dignity acknowledged, repatriation is not an option.

The FFM report goes further, rightfully. It claims that the UN and its associated bodies, for years, have had the opportunity to address the ongoing human rights abuses in Burma towards not only the Rohingya but to other ethnic minorities such as the Kachin also. Under the heading of ‘Responsibility’, the FFM (Section VII, Clause 94) the FACT Finding Mission reports ‘the United Nations as a whole failed to adequately address human rights concerns’. So when the Secretary General, Antonio Gutteres spoke at the UN Security Council, with ‘a heavy heart’ why did he too, omit the word ‘genocide’? Have we not been here before, when the UN is slow to use the correct term, to apply the correct pressure, to take the correct action at the correct time? It happened in the same way for the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides. We are at the same position again. There is no point in vital terminology being used when it becomes far too late for the communities facing the genocide.

This continuous meandering away from the term ‘genocide’, the crime that the UN’s Fact Finding Mission has found, the crime that Queen Mary University’s ISCI report found in 2016, that Restless Beings found in its report in February 2018, and that many other credible organizations have found leads to the lack of justice and accountability that’s needed.

The UK, the USA, the UN and world leaders continuous avoidance of the reality of genocide simply emboldens the Burmese authorities to continue its atrocities. Until then, although the FFM report is worded exactly as it should be, and although it brings great hope to the Rohingya, it will be futile without the world’s action.