Myanmar atrocity trials staged to deflect responsibility, say critics

In this 2017 photo, a house burns in Gawdu Tharya village near Maungdaw, Rakhine state In this 2017 photo, a house burns in Gawdu Tharya village near Maungdaw, Rakhine state AFP

7 July 2020

Sham court martial convictions play down crimes and pin blame on scapegoats, ensuring impunity for top brass, human rights observers claim

After repeatedly failing to adequately investigate their military’s crimes against the Rohingya people, Myanmar authorities have announced three low-level convictions connected to the 2017 massacre at Gu-Dar-Pyin, in Rakhine state. Human Rights Watch (HRW) dismisses this court martial as a pretence aimed at evading meaningful accountability once again. The military has not released any details of the trials, citing the need to safeguard morale.

HRW calls the trials a ‘farcical’ attempt to feign accountability in the eyes of the United Nations who, along with international media and human rights groups, have extensively documented the Gu-Dar-Pyin village massacre, part of Myanmar’s campaign of atrocities that has forced 740,000 Rohingya to flee the country. 300 to 400 were killed at Gu-Dar-Pyin, women and girls were gang-raped, and the entire village was burned down. The government rejects this evidence, claiming that the military responded to an attack by a rebel group.

Myanmar’s military has long concealed its crimes with token trials and sham investigations, remaining beyond civil justice or oversight. A handful of previous convictions for human rights violations against Rohingya resulted in prompt pardons on the army’s orders. The government declares itself willing to establish accountability, but HRW insists that this means opening Rakhine to international investigators, including the UN and the International Criminal Court, which has already opened a relevant investigation.

At the International Court of Justice (ICJ) last December, Aung San Suu Kyi reiterated her government’s commitment to justice. The ICJ ordered Myanmar to work harder, but the recent convictions amount to scapegoating junior officers to preserve the impunity of those who ordered atrocities. The international community must demand access for independent investigators, HRW says, as Myanmar itself will never credibly investigate. In this way alone, HRW explains, can those responsible for crimes against humanity ever be held to account.


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Author: Edward Jarvis


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