Reporting back to Myanmar’s Rohingya: The most important report of all

UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar representatives listen to a member of the Rohingya refugee community speak during a meeting in Kutupalong, Bangladesh. © OHCHR

When the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Myanmar completed its 444-page report last year, which documented violations allegedly committed by security forces against Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya minority, its experts reported to the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, the Security Council and a global audience. In May, the experts visited Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh to present the report to members of the Rohingya community, the majority of whom had fled an explosion of violence in the Rakhine State two years ago.

Among those present were witnesses, survivors and community leaders who had contributed vital testimony to the report and posed questions of their own. Many asked about the slow pace of justice and said they were desperate to leave the network of camps that has become the largest refugee settlement in the world, housing 900,000 people. They also complained they were being excluded from discussions about their future, including in relation to education and jobs, by governments and humanitarian organizations.

One woman expressed her appreciation that they had been given the chance to be heard and that the report had helped inform the world about the “indescribable violence” they had experienced.

Relaying the Rohingya Message

The report documented systematic violations of the human rights of ethnic groups across the country, including the military “clearance operations” in Rakhine State that began in August 2017. Myanmar security forces allegedly killed thousands of Rohingya civilians, raped and sexually abused women and girls and set their homes ablaze. The violence forced more than 700,000 Rohingya from the country, most to Bangladesh.

A Unique Opportunity

The experts began their 10-day reporting journey on May 3, during which they held two meetings in the refugee camps, including one exclusively for women. They also met with Rohingya at Konarpara and heard new testimony from recent arrivals.

During their meetings in Bangladesh’s Kutupalong camp, some refugees asked what would happen next. Darusman, the Chairperson of the FFM on Myanmar assured them the newly established Independent Mechanism for Myanmar will begin by preparing case files for the potential prosecution of alleged perpetrators.

“For us, this was the most important report back we’ve done,” said Sidoti, member of the FFM on Myanmar. “Theirs are the stories we told. I very much hope it will become the standard for Human Rights Council report to UN mechanisms [and] affected communities.”

Expert Radhika Coomarswamy, member of the FFM on Myanmar, stressed the need to report back to the other ethnic groups that provided testimonies for the report.

“The plight of the Kachin, Shan and Chin communities also remains of serious concern to the FFM,” she said.

The experts completed their trip by urging the international community to cut all financial ties with Myanmar’s military. They further emphasized that its commanders need to be brought before a credible court to answer charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

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