Where in the world do military personnel convicted for their role in the cold-blooded killings of civilians serve a lighter prison sentence than the journalists who exposed that atrocity?
Welcome to “justice,” Myanmar-style.
On May 27, Myanmar prison sources confirmed that the seven soldiers convicted in April 2018 of killing 10 Rohingya men and boys in the infamous Inn Din village massacre of September 2017 “are no longer detained.” Those sources stated that the seven personnel, who included four officers, had been released in November 2018, a mere seven months into their 10-year prison terms. A senior Myanmar government official said the killers’ release was a result of the fact that “their punishment was reduced by the military.”
This Tuesday, Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy online news platform that military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing had pardoned the seven soldiers.
Perversely, the two journalists who exposed the massacre, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were imprisoned for 16 months in apparent direct retaliation for their reporting of the killings. Myanmar authorities arrested the two reporters in December 2017 on alleged violations of the draconian Official Secrets Act. They released the two men this month as part of a wider presidential amnesty following an intense, high-profile campaign for their freedom by foreign governments, human-rights organizations, and their employer, the Reuters international newswire service.
The pardoning of the seven convicted military killers highlights the culture of impunity that continues to define the Myanmar military
The pardoning of the seven convicted military killers highlights the culture of impunity that continues to define the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw. Those convictions had been the sole official disciplinary action taken against security forces that participated in a brutal campaign of widespread and systematic targeting of Rohingya communities in Rakhine state that killed more than 10,000 Rohingya civilians and prompted more than 740,000 others to flee for safety in Bangladesh.
The violence inflicted on the 10 men and boys massacred in Inn Din village reflects the savagery of the military campaign launched against unarmed Rohingya civilians in Rakhine state in 2017. Witnesses said local Buddhist villagers surrendered the 10 victims, who included an Islamic teacher, high-school students, and farmers, to military personnel who accused the group of being “terrorists.” The 10 were forced to dig their own shallow grave after which they were hacked with swords and then shot.
That atrocity mirrored the vicious intensity of state-sanctioned violence targeted at Rohingya communities in 2017. The results of investigations by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) over the past 18 months, including a quantitative survey conducted by PHR of 604 surviving Rohingya community leaders in Bangladesh published in March in The Lancet Planetary Health, paints a grim picture of Myanmar security forces deployed in August 2017 to kill and terrorize northern Rakhine’s Rohingya population.
Most respondents identified the Tatmadaw and the official Border Guard Police as the security forces who deployed “military assets, including helicopters, military trucks, and tanks” against defenseless Rohingya men, women and children in August 2017.
Next month, PHR will release a report documenting the legacy of that violence among many of its survivors in Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee camps in the form of severe long-term disabilities. Meanwhile, back in Rakhine state, the killings continue. An Amnesty International report released this week details how the Myanmar military in Rakhine has continued to engage “in a pattern of unlawful attacks killing and injuring civilians, arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, looting, and forced labor.”
That ongoing bloodshed compounded by the government’s and military’s abject refusal to provide even a veneer of accountability for the slaughter of 2017 underscores the necessity of international accountability mechanisms to bring to justice the architects of that violence. That puts the onus on United Nations member states to redouble their efforts to act on independent UN recommendations to refer the country to the International Criminal Court.
These desperately needed accountability efforts have been hamstrung by China and Russia, which continue to oppose the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar mandated to investigate reports of the atrocities being committed in the country. The Fact-Finding Mission’s other proposals, including an ad hoc international tribunal to prosecute the Myanmar government and security force officials implicated in the agonies inflicted on the Rohingya, also demand serious scrutiny in the face of Myanmar’s intransigence.
And that’s not all. UN member states that are party to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (“Genocide Convention”) and which have already recognized the crimes against the Rohingya as genocide – including Malaysia and Canada – should file complaints to the International Court of Justice for the Myanmar government’s violation of the Genocide Convention and press the ICJ to seek reparations for the Rohingya survivors of that violence.
The Myanmar authorities with Rohingya blood on their hands are gambling that the international community can’t muster the needed political will to bring meaningful accountability for their crimes. For those murdered at Inn Din village and the thousands of other Rohingya killed in that scorched-earth campaign, the international community needs to prove Myanmar wrong.