Myanmar’s military will investigate and hold an open court-martial proceedings against the soldiers involved in the violent army-led crackdown, which resulted the killing of almost 300 Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state in 2017, it announced on Friday.
This will be the third time that soldiers will be court martialled in relation to atrocities against the Rohingya population of Myanmar; a move experts said that is unlikely to meet the country’s U.N.-mandated obligations toward the Rohingya.
The Myanmar armed forces said it would probe a government-appointed commission’s findings on killings in Maung Nu and Chut Pyin villages which resulted in the death of 300 civilians which are believed to have died at the hands of government soldiers during “clearance operations.”
The military and the ruling civilian-led National League for Democracy (NLD) government said that the new investigation is not related to international pressure on Myanmar to bring to justice soldiers that ordered and participated in the rampage of random killings, torture, mass rape, and village burnings during the crackdown.
“We have already reviewed the Maung Nu and Chut Pyin villages cases,” said Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun. “We will work on these cases by forming a court of inquiry, and then we will refer the cases to the court-martial and decide them according to military law.”
“We are working on these cases not because of international pressure, but because of our responsibility and accountability,” he said.
The military did not say when the trial for soldiers would begin. The military also said it was reviewing other incidents mentioned in the report, including alleged deadly attacks on a group of Hindus by Rohingya militants.
The new court-martial comes about a month after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) — the U.N.’s top court — ordered Myanmar to protect the Rohingya Muslims from further harm and genocidal acts and refrain from destroying evidence of alleged crimes that could be used in later hearings.
The provisional measures order is part of a larger lawsuit filed by Muslim-majority The Gambia accusing Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention during the alleged expulsion of more than 740,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh amid the crackdown.
Laura Haigh, the Myanmar researcher for London-based Amnesty International, told RFA on Friday that the announcement about the latest court-martial points to an admission of crimes well documented by human rights groups and by a U.N. fact-finding mission that found the country had acted with “genocidal intent” against the Rohingya.
“In terms of the ICJ’s order, what the government and the military are doing will not be enough to stave off what are very, very serious allegations of international crimes, genocide among them,” she said.
Haigh also said military courts are not the answer to holding soldiers who may have committed atrocities against the Rohingya to account, because they are not independent or under civilian oversight. Military courts are unlikely to mete out justice for high-ranking officers who ordered the violence, including the mass rape of Rohingya women and girls, she added.
Myanmar’s armed forces have conducted only two other courts-martial of officers and soldiers accused of committing grave rights abuses during the campaign of violence.
In March 2018, four officers and three soldiers were each sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing a group of Rohingya in Maungdaw township’s Inn Din village, but they were later pardoned and freed by Myanmar’s military commander-in-chief.
In the other proceedings that began in late November 2019, soldiers stand accused of killing hundreds of Rohingya civilians, dumping their bodies in mass graves, and burning the corpses with acid near Buthidaung township’s Gu Dar Pyin village.
The military has disputed the number killed, giving a much lower figure and saying that the villagers died during fighting between government forces and members of a Rohingya militant group. (Source: RFA)