Myanmar’s military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with “genocidal intent”, and the commander-in-chief and five generals should be prosecuted for the gravest crimes under international law, UN investigators say.
A report by investigators was the first time the United Nations has explicitly called for Myanmar officials to face genocide charges over their campaign against the Rohingya, and is likely to deepen the country’s isolation.
The investigators called for the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Myanmar, subject its officials to targeted sanctions and set up an ad hoc tribunal to try suspects or refer them to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
The report also could serve as a major catalyst for change in how the world’s big social media companies handle hate speech in parts of the world where they have limited direct presence but their platforms command huge influence.
The investigators sharply criticised Facebook, which has become Myanmar’s dominant social media network despite having no employees there, for letting its platform be used to incite violence and hatred.
Facebook responded on Monday by announcing it was blocking 20 Myanmar officials and organisations found by the UN panel to have “committed or enabled serious human rights abuses”.
The company already acknowledged this month that it had been “too slow” to respond to incitement in Myanmar, following a Reuters investigative report into its failure to tackle rampant hate speech including calls for all Rohingya to be killed.
The UN investigators blamed Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, for failing to use her “moral authority” to protect civilians.
Her government “contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes” by letting hate speech thrive and failing to shield minorities from crimes against humanity and war crimes.
A year ago, government troops led a brutal crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on 30 Myanmar police posts and a military base.
Some 700,000 Rohingya fled the crackdown and most are now living in refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh.
The UN report said the military action was “grossly disproportionate to actual security threats”.
Ms Suu Kyi’s government has rejected most allegations of atrocities made against the security forces by refugees. It has built transit centres for refugees to return, but UN aid agencies say it is not yet safe for them to do so.
The investigators documented rapes, sexual slavery and abductions, including of children, said panel member Radhika Coomeraswamy.
“The scale, brutality and systematic nature of rape and (sexual) violence indicate that they are part of deliberate strategy to intimidate, terrrorise or punish the civilian population. They are used as a tactic of war,” she said.
The UN panel, set up last year, interviewed 875 victims and witnesses in Bangladesh and other countries, and analysed documents, videos, photographs and satellite images.