September 20, 2018
British foreign secretary speaks after meeting Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi
Jeremy Hunt: Burmese generals must face justice over Rohingya
The Burmese generals responsible for atrocities against Rohingya Muslims must be punished for their crimes, Jeremy Hunt has said after a meeting with Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
The United Nations should look at all options, including a referral to the international criminal court, the British foreign secretary added.
Hunt was speaking after travelling to Rakhine state, from where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya were driven in clearance operations.
The 700,000-plus refugees forced to flee to camps on the Bangladesh border will not return to the former homes “unless they have the comfort there is a proper judicial process, accountability and justice for the perpetrators of any atrocities”, Hunt said.
It is likely that the UK will push for a separate, independent UN mechanism to continue to gather information about crimes over the next few years. A similar body was set up to look into war crimes in Syria.
Hunt gave a sympathetic account of Aung San Suu Kyi’s dilemma. “Myanmar has a constitution that is only halfway to a democracy and the military are not accountable to her,” he said. “One has to understand the difficulty of her position.”
Aung San Suu Kyi’s critics say she has proved to be a huge disappointment since she was elected to office, following decades of house arrest. They say that she could, for instance, use her majority in parliament to offer forms of citizenship to the persecuted Rohingya.
Rival means of bringing the generals to account for the massacres that started in 2017 have been proposed by different agencies. A UN fact-finding mission, set up last year by the UN human rights council, published a scathing report earlier this week that called for army chief Min Aung Hlaing and five other top military leaders to be investigated for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Some countries, but not yet the UK, have backed its proposals.
Separately, Fatou Bensouda the prosecutor for the international criminal court, said she was starting a preliminary inquiry into the atrocities.
Burma does not recognise the ICC, but she claimed the court could still play a role because refugees had been driven into Bangladesh, which does recognise it. Arguably any ICC inquiry would only be able to focus on deportations rather than events inside Burma.
Hunt said any ICC referral would need to the support of the security council, “which it may not get”.
The UK has long warned that China would wield its veto if Myanmar was referred to the ICC.
Campaigners in the UK want Hunt to gradually build international support for an ICC referral without necessarily putting the issue to a security council vote, thereby isolating the Burmese army.
Few independent human rights experts have any faith in the internal inquiry set up by the Burmese government. Hunt will discuss the possibility of a UN independent mechanism when he meets other diplomats at the UN general assembly next week in New York.
“Britain can’t act alone,” he said. “We need to act in concert with other countries – we are a believer in the international rules based order. It’s incredible important for all of us that those perpetrators face justice.”
Hunt said he also raised with Aung San Suu Kyi the issue of two Reuters journalists who have been jailed after they reported on suspected army massacres. “We are concerned that due process may not have been followed and want to protect freedom of expression everywhere,” he said.
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres meanwhile called on the Burmese government on Thursday to pardon and release the two journalists as soon as possible.
Aung San Suu Kyi has defended her country’s treatment of the journalists, saying they were not sentenced for reporting war crimes but for breaching the country’s secrecy laws.
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