12 September 2022
I am honoured to appear before you to present the fourth Annual Report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar. We were created by this Council to collect and preserve evidence of the most serious international crimes in Myanmar. Tragically, I must report that since I last addressed you, such crimes have intensified. The people of Myanmar continue to suffer because of the lack of accountability for those who believe they answer to no law.
Five years have now passed since the 2017 military clearance operations in Rakhine State led most of the Rohingya population to flee Myanmar. Almost all remain in neighbouring countries awaiting the day when conditions will allow their safe and dignified return home. The end of impunity for those who inflicted the violence would do much to create such conditions.
Since the military coup in February last year, there is increasing evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, torture, deportation and forcible transfer, persecution, imprisonment, and targeting of the civilian population.
The Mechanism prioritizes gathering evidence of sexual and gender-based violence and crimes against children. Women and children are at particular risk in conflicts, yet experience shows that crimes against them are typically under-reported and under-prosecuted. We have gathered reports of children in Myanmar having been tortured and arbitrarily detained, sometimes to target their parents. There is also increasing evidence of sexual and gender-based crimes against both women and men.
While capital punishment is not itself an international crime, imposing a death sentence on the basis of proceedings that do not satisfy the basic requirements of a fair trial can amount to a crime against humanity. There are strong indications that the executions of four individuals in July were without due process, as proceedings lacked transparency and virtually no information is available as to the charges and evidence.
The Mechanism faces many challenges collecting evidence, given that we are denied access to crime scenes and witnesses in Myanmar. To date, we have made a dozen requests for permission to enter the country and for information relevant to allegations of international crimes. No response has yet been received.
Despite these challenges, there is notable progress. Many brave individuals, NGOs and other entities have shared valuable evidence with us. We have conducted numerous screenings and interviews from persons who have provided vital first-hand information about crimes perpetrated inside the country. Ensuring protection and support for those who provide us with information is an issue of increasing concern.
The Mechanism has prepared 67 evidential and analytical packages to share with judicial authorities, including for proceedings at the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice. Our staff now includes expertise in open source and financial investigations, boosting our analytical capacity.
Our Annual Report noted that we had collected and processed almost three million information items from more than 200 sources, including interview statements, documentation, videos, photographs, geospatial imagery, and social media material – more than double what we reported last year. Since the Report was drafted, this number of items has more than doubled again.
We now face the challenging task of analysing the material collected. For example, Facebook has shared with the Mechanism millions of items from networks of accounts that were taken down by the company because they misrepresented their identity – the accounts were actually controlled by the Myanmar military. Our team has identified posts inciting fear and hatred of Rohingya that appeared on these military-controlled networks. For example, one post appeared on ten different pages within one such network on 10 August 2017 just before the clearance operations began. It contained false reports of Rohingya arming en masse and threatening Myanmar’s Buddhists, and a photo of a cow with its stomach slit and disembowelled – an image offensive to Myanmar Buddhists.
I am sincerely grateful for the support of this Council and call on all states committed to ending the worst violence in Myanmar to support our work. Perpetrators of the most serious international crimes committed in Myanmar must know that we are united in our efforts to break the cycle of impunity and to ensure that those responsible for such crimes will face justice.