The Myanmar Mechanism became operational less than a year ago at the end of August 2019, following the appointment of the Head of the Mechanism, Nicholas Koumjian, in July 2019. Since then, the Mechanism has taken significant initial steps in furtherance of its mandate to investigate serious international crimes and violations of international law committed in Myanmar since 2011.
One of the key priorities in this first phase has been the recruitment of staff. The Mechanism has recruited staff with expertise in international criminal law, human rights law, humanitarian law, criminal investigation and prosecution. Many of the lawyers have years of experience working with various international criminal tribunals. In addition to a number of other staff, the Mechanism has recruited experts on sexual and gender-based crimes and crimes against children, military analysis and evidence management. Mechanism staff are based in Geneva, and plan to travel regularly to the Asia region to access witnesses and information.
Another important area of the Mechanism’s early efforts is the development of a state-of-the art information technology system to preserve and analyse evidence, while ensuring the integrity and security of confidential information. This is crucial for the Mechanism to safely store material received from various sources, including the Independent Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar (FFM).
From the outset, the Mechanism has been collecting information and evidence about crimes already committed as well as monitoring the situation in Myanmar with respect to any ongoing crimes. To facilitate these activities, the Mechanism is entering into arrangements with various interlocutors on the modalities for collecting information and evidence. As part of these efforts, the Mechanism undertook official missions to the Asia region in November and December 2019 in order to meet with relevant national authorities and United Nations entities and introduce the Mechanism’s mandate, identify areas of potential cooperation and seek operational support for its activities.
In parallel to collecting evidence, the Mechanism has also begun sharing information with courts and tribunals. In 2019, the Mechanism shared information and documentation received from the FFM in response to a request from a prosecutorial authority. This was done in accordance with the Mechanism’s mandate, its terms of reference and the consent of the parties which provided the information to the FFM. In 2020, the Mechanism has also been engaging with the Parties in the case concerning the Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Gambia v. Myanmar) at the International Court of Justice, in response to requests for information in relation to that case. The Mechanism has commenced the process of sharing materials relevant to these proceedings, with the consent of the parties that provided the information and documentation.
Finally, the Mechanism has been carefully assessing its capacity and resource needs in order to develop its programme budget for 2021. This is the first opportunity for the leadership of the Mechanism to propose how resources can be allocated to best match the vision and strategy for the implementation of its mandate. The proposed budget, which will require the approval of the General Assembly, reflects a number of changes to the budgets for 2019 and 2020, which were developed before any of the leadership or staff of the Mechanism had been recruited. These changes will ensure that the Mechanism is equipped to meet the many operational challenges it faces in discharging its complex mandate.
One unexpected element that arose at the beginning of 2020 was the global COVID-19 situation. It has restricted some of the activities of the Mechanism’s interlocutors. The restrictions on the Mechanism’s ability to travel has also resulted in delays in the implementation of Mechanism’s 2020 travel plans. To deal with these challenges, the Mechanism has adjusted its operations in order to continue to undertake activities on several fronts, in advancement of its mandate. Despite these obstacles, the Mechanism has been able to make considerable progress over the last few months.