The United Nations Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar steadily pursued its mission over the last months despite dealing with the extraordinary circumstances resulting from the global COVID-19 pandemic. In its second annual report, the Mechanism highlighted the progress made since last September in the implementation of its mandate to collect, preserve and analyse evidence of the most serious international crimes committed in Myanmar since 2011, and to prepare files in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings in national, regional or international courts or tribunals. The Head of the Mechanism will formally present the report to the 45th regular session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in September. The report will also be transmitted to the General Assembly ahead of its 75th session, which begins in September 2020.

The report notes the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has caused delay in the Mechanism’s planned onboarding of staff and some operational plans for 2020. It has restricted the Mechanism’s ability to travel to engage with relevant stakeholders and collect evidence, and created uncertainty regarding future mission plans. However, the Mechanism has made use of videoconferencing, which has permitted the Mechanism to remain engaged with many relevant interlocutors.

In order to continue advancing its work, the Mechanism has focused its efforts on identifying potential information sources that can be contacted securely via electronic means, collecting and consolidating the information and evidence available from a variety of sources, and analysing how the information could be used to show individual criminal responsibility. However, the Mechanism’s ability to work on the ground remains restricted by the need to ensure the safety, security and health of its interlocutors – those who witnessed events or have relevant information about serious international crimes. Further, some interlocutors have limited internet or telephone access, and the need to ensure the safety, security and privacy of the interlocutors and their information often makes remote communication impractical. The Mechanism has also concentrated efforts on obtaining documentation and evidence through open source investigations, and planning and preparing for future investigative missions.

Since its previous report to the HRC, the Mechanism has issued formal requests for information to a variety of entities and individuals and has received information and materials from several witnesses and other information providers. The Mechanism has consolidated this information along with materials collected by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (FFM). In turn, the Mechanism provided some of these materials to a prosecutorial authority upon its request. This was done in line with the Mechanism’s mandate and with the consent of the entities and individuals that had originally provided the information.

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. In accordance with the Mechanism’s mandate and its Terms of Reference, the Mechanism has commenced the process of sharing materials relevant to these proceedings but again, only when it has the necessary consent from the information provider. Further, the Mechanism has informed the Parties that it will not share any information if it believes that doing so could endanger the information provider or anyone identified nor if the Mechanism believes that sharing the information with the Parties could compromise future criminal investigations.

In parallel to the implementation of its substantive mandate, the Mechanism continues to procure the necessary technical equipment, software and specialized capabilities to preserve and share evidentiary materials with courts and tribunals. It has developed an internal training programme to deepen the expertise of its personnel in highly specialized and rapidly evolving technical areas, including through online training sessions in light of remote working arrangements currently in place.

As it continues to carry out its investigative activities and monitor the ongoing situation in Myanmar, the main objective of the Mechanism in the next year will be to expand and deepen its substantive work on all fronts in order to enable perpetrators of serious international crimes in Myanmar to be brought to justice and to deter future crimes. However, the Mechanism cannot do this alone. It will require the continued support and assistance of all parts of the international community, in order to fully achieve the purpose for which it was established.