A court-martial for soldiers accused of committing atrocities during the brutal 2017 military-led crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state has been held for a fifth time by Myanmar’s military on Monday, December 30, an army spokesman said.
The rare court-martial came about following a report by the Associated Press in February that up to 400 Rohingya civilians had been killed, with their bodies dumped in five mass graves and burned with acid near Buthidaung township’s Gu Dar Pyin village.
The report was based on the testimony of Rohingya refugees who were among the more than 740,000 who had fled to Bangladesh for safety.
The Myanmar government rejected the report, saying an investigation had found no evidence to support claims of the killings and the mass graves.
A military-led probe, however, found that the soldiers did not fully comply with military instructions and rules of engagement.
“We are almost finish hearing the testimony of witnesses from the plaintiff’s side,” military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “We will finish with the plaintiff’s witnesses in early 2020. We are trying to complete other procedures during the court-martial hearing.”
The five hearings that have already taken place at a military base in northern Rakhine state were held between November 26 and December 29, he added.
The defendants, who include officer-level servicemen, have been detained at local battalions, he said, but declined to give the exact number of soldiers being tried.
The military said that 264 local residents attended the December 29 hearing, though it has not yet announced the number and names of witnesses who have testified or will take the stand for either the plaintiff or the defendants.
“We learned about the [latest]court hearing only after they announced it,” said activist Nickey Diamond from the Southeast Asia-based NGO Fortify Rights, who is following the case.
“I personally never trust the military,” he said. “Its conduct lacks transparency, since it hasn’t allowed international and civil society organizations to observe the hearing. I have concerns about whether its conduct is really credible.”
Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told RFA in September that only 19 people died in the Gu Dar Pyin incident and that all of them were “terrorists.” He also told the online journal The Irrawaddy that month that the court-martial proceedings were initiated over a clash between government soldiers and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a Muslim militant group, near the community.
So far, the Myanmar military has held only one other court-martial in March 2018, in which four officers and three soldiers were each sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing 10 Rohingya men and boys in Maungdaw township’s Inn Din village amid the larger campaign of violence.
But in November of that year, the convicts were pardoned by Myanmar’s military commander-in-chief and freed.
Myanmar now faces legal action over atrocities against the Rohingya at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the International Criminal Court, and an Argentine court.
During an ICJ hearing on December 12, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi told judges that the ongoing Gu Dar Pyin court-martial should be allowed to run its course and that there will be additional courts-martial after a government-mandated Independent Commission of Enquiry issues its final report in January 2020.
The Nobel laureate’s assertion at the ICJ in The Hague that her government would seek accountability for military atrocities against Rohingya was met with scorn by human rights experts monitoring the hearing, who pointed to Myanmar’s record of denial and stonewalling in the face of international requests to hold people to account and its unwillingness to allow outside observers into Rakhine. (Source: RFA)