Geneva, 8 August 2023 – There is strong evidence that the Myanmar military and its affiliate militias are committing increasingly frequent and brazen war crimes, according to information collected and analysed by the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (Mechanism) and outlined in its Annual Report released today.
These war crimes include indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks on civilians from aerial bombing, such as the military airstrike in Sagaing in April 2023 that reportedly killed more than 155 people. There has also been an increase in the mass executions of civilians and detained combatants, and the large-scale and intentional burning of civilian homes and buildings, resulting in the destruction of entire villages in some cases.
“Every loss of life in Myanmar is tragic, but the devastation caused to whole communities through aerial bombardments and village burnings is particularly shocking,” said Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the Mechanism. “Our evidence points to a dramatic increase in war crimes and crimes against humanity in the country, with widespread and systematic attacks against civilians, and we are building case files that can be used by courts to hold individual perpetrators responsible.”
The Myanmar military has justified aerial bombings, including on schools and monasteries, as attacks against military targets. However, the Mechanism’s evidence indicates that the military should have known, or did know, that large numbers of civilians were present in or around alleged military targets at the time of some of these attacks.
The Mechanism’s report explains that under international law, military commanders have a duty to prevent and punish war crimes committed by those under their command and failing to take reasonable measures to prevent and punish these crimes may make the commanders criminally responsible. The Mechanism notes that “repeatedly ignoring such crimes may indicate that the higher authorities intended the commission of these crimes.”
In its investigations into the most serious international crimes committed in Myanmar, the Mechanism has collected information from more than 700 sources, including more than 200 eyewitness accounts, and additional evidence such as photographs, videos, audio material, documents, maps, geospatial imagery, social media posts and forensic evidence.
The Mechanism continues to actively investigate the violence that led to the large-scale displacement of the Rohingya from Myanmar in 2016 and 2017. In particular, the report stresses the prevalence of sexual and gender-based crimes committed against the Rohingya at this time.
“Sexual and gender-based crimes are amongst the most heinous crimes that we are investigating,” said Koumjian. “These were so pervasive during the Rohingya clearance operations that most witnesses we have interviewed have relevant evidence about this.”
The Mechanism is sharing evidence, information, and analytical reports with those working on ongoing cases concerning the Rohingya at the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice and in Argentina.
The Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM or Mechanism) was created by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2018 to collect and analyse evidence of the most serious international crimes and other violations of international law committed in Myanmar since 2011. It aims to facilitate justice and accountability by preserving and organizing this evidence and preparing case files for use in future prosecutions of those responsible in national, regional and international courts.
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