30 May 2017

Burmese human rights abuses criticised

8:52 am on 30 May 2017

The Burmese army's investigation into alleged military abuses against Rohingya Muslims in the west of the country has uncovered no wrongdoing except in two minor incidents.

Bangladeshi activists of several Islamic groups shout slogans during a protest rally in November 2016  against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Bangladeshi activists of several Islamic groups shout slogans during a protest rally in November 2016 against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Photo: AFP

The report has been roundly criticised following the extensive reporting of human rights abuses in the Rakhine State by international media, including RNZ.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the army's failure to find its troops responsible for any serious abuses against ethnic Rohingya demonstrated the urgent need for Burma's government to allow unfettered access to a United Nations international fact-finding mission.

HRW spokesman Phil Roberston said the army's denial of well-documented abuses showed "a contempt for truth, accountability, and respect for human rights".

The army investigation team reportedly interviewed approximately 2875 villagers in 29 villages in Rakhine State's Maungdaw Township in February.

The team said it recorded the testimonies of over 400 villagers, and interviewed more than 200 soldiers and members of the border guard police over a single week.

The army reported finding just two cases of abuse. One involved the theft of a motorbike, for which a soldier was sentenced to one year in jail.

The other involved military personnel who beat villagers for allegedly not helping to extinguish a fire, for which one officer was "penalised and warned" and two soldiers were sentenced to a year in jail.

The investigation team also concluded that the allegations against the army in a report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights were either "totally wrong" or "found to be untrue due to false accusations and exaggerations".

The United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and others have documented numerous serious human rights violations committed by Burmese security forces against the Rohingya in Rakhine State following the October 2016 attacks on three police outposts.

Human Rights Watch documented extrajudicial killings, the rape of women and girls, and the burning of houses.

The violence caused massive displacement, with more than 70,000 fleeing to Bangladesh and more than 20,000 temporarily internally displaced.

A report issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in February, concluded that the attacks against the Rohingya "very likely" amounted to the commission of crimes against humanity.

In March, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution establishing an independent international fact-finding mission with a mandate to investigate allegations of recent human rights abuses in Burma, especially in Rakhine State.

The Burmese government has not said whether it would grant access to the mission.

"Despite overwhelming evidence of mass atrocities, the Burmese army has again failed to credibly investigate itself," Phil Robertson said.

"For there to be any hope of uncovering the truth, the Burmese army can no longer be standing in the way of a serious international fact-finding mission."

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