The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, has urged the Human Rights Council to support efforts to investigate and prosecute at the International Criminal Court those responsible for alleged crimes that have occurred for decades across the country.
“I firmly believe that accountability for the crimes committed is the only way to end the cycles of violence faced by the people of Myanmar,” Lee told the council.
“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.
“To prepare for such credible investigation and prosecution, and in order to finally put an end to decades of such crimes and to take effective measures to bring justice, I recommend that the council establishes an accountability mechanism under the auspices of the United Nations without delay.”
Lee welcomed the recent request for a ruling on jurisdiction under Article 19(3) of the Rome Statute over the alleged forced deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh by the ICC prosecutor. However, that request was limited to one crime among the widespread and flagrant violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that have occurred for decades across Myanmar, and were continuing, she said.
It was now imperative to consider a credible international accountability mechanism, Lee told the council, going beyond recommendations she made in March for a UN investigation to gather information in Cox’s Bazar. “In view of the scale and gravity of the allegations of human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law across the country, the structure should also prepare cases and look to advance justice and rights of the victims,” she said.
“Power should not be absolute. Power should be accountable.”
Lee noted that it has been more than 10 months since the start of the violence that forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee Myanmar, and that since that time, she has consistently reported that credible evidence exists of violations of human rights including widespread and systematic attacks by security forces against the Rohingya community, that possibly amounted to crimes against humanity.
The special rapporteur has also been reporting on possible war crimes and crimes against humanity by security forces in the other border areas of Myanmar, including Kachin and Shan states, where ethnic populations have endured protracted conflicts since shortly after Myanmar gained independence in 1948.
Successive special rapporteurs have documented innumerable allegations of human rights violations and abuses, and violations of international humanitarian law committed by the security forces since 1992. Despite the calls, early warnings and efforts made by mandate holders, violence, persecution, discrimination, domination and hatred against ethnic and religious minority communities continue across the country.
Lee expressed deep concern about the apparent inability of the UN Security Council to unite to refer the situation to the ICC, and urged the Human Rights Council, as a matter of urgency, to back her proposal to establish an international accountability mechanism.
The mechanism should have three components, she said.
First, to interview victims, investigate violations and abuses, document allegations of human rights violations and abuses, and consolidate the investigations undertaken by other mechanisms and United Nations bodies, including the fact-finding mission.
Second, the mechanism should have legal and judicial experts, who would examine patterns and trends of human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in Myanmar. It would establish elements, modes and liabilities of the crimes committed and also determine participation and responsibility of individual perpetrators, store evidence and information, and build cases consistent to international criminal law standards that can be used by future prosecutorial and judicial mechanisms.
Third, the mechanism would develop a framework for victim support in their pursuance of justice, reconciliation and reintegration to ensure that justice in the name of victims not operate in vacuum.
“Far too many crimes have been committed, and have been documented and reported with scant consequences faced by those who perpetrated them,” Lee said. “On ensuring accountability for gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law in Myanmar, we must admit that so far the United Nations and international community have failed – once again.”