We, the Writers for Peace Committee (WfPC) of PEN International are deeply troubled by the findings of United Nation’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission report which details crimes systematically carried out by the Myanmar military against ethnic communities in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states which “undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law”. Common to all of the military’s operations were the targeting of civilians, sexual violence, an exclusionary rhetoric and impunity for crimes committed. According to the UN report nearly 725,000 Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh by mid-August 2018.
Tracing the origins of the current crisis back over decades, the report dated 24 August 2018 reveals cases of almost unimaginable violence following deadly attacks by Rohingya militants. In the western state of Rakhine – where the majority of the Rohingya reside in Myanmar – the report also found further evidence of crimes against humanity – such as “elements of extermination and deportation”. It recommends that a “competent court determine the liability for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine State”.
Marjan Strojan, the Chair of The PEN International Peace Committee said that the Committee is aware that the UN uses the word ‘genocide’ very sparingly. ‘‘The mention of genocide does not appear in the UN documents if not substantiated by an overwhelming abundance of proof. The report is an attempt of the international community to break the cycle of impunity and a call to the relevant authorities to carry out a thorough and impartial investigation into the military’s actions in Myanmar.’’
The report finds that the cornerstone of systematic civil and human rights violations is the lack of legal status of the Rohingya. The report states that: “Successive laws and policies regulating citizenship and political rights in Myanmar have become increasingly exclusionary in their formulation, and arbitrary and discriminatory in their application”. As a result, most Rohingya have become stateless. The WfPC therefore wholeheartedly supports the Mission’s calls for the promotion of a state and nation of Myanmar that is inclusive, based on equality and respect for the human rights of all.
The WfPC is particularly alarmed by the report’s revelations that violence and human rights violations have been “fuelled by the silencing of critical voices by the Myanmar authorities, who at the same time amplify a hateful rhetoric that emboldens perpetrators.” Indeed, the report finds that the government’s response to hate speech – prevalent both online and offline – has been inadequate.
While recognising that the civilian authorities have little control over the military under the Constitution, the Mission affirms that “through their acts and omissions, the civilian authorities have contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes”. State Counsellor, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the report finds, “has not used her de facto position as Head of Government, nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events or seek alternative avenues to meet a responsibility to protect the civilian population.”
The WfPC is aware that such criticism, when used in official documents, can have negative effects on the ground as well as for the international relations of the countries involved. We therefore commend the UN Mission’s call to the international community to use all diplomatic, humanitarian and peaceful means to assist Myanmar in meeting its responsibilities to protect its people from genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in accordance with the United Nations Charter.
The WfPC reminds the governments of all nations that peace involves all their inhabitants being able to go about their lives without fear or threat, as laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.