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Vice President Myint Swe speaks at a press conference of the government commission’s final report on the Rakhine State investigation in Rangoon, Burma, August 6, 2017. © 2017 AP/Thein Zaw

(New York) – A Burmese government commission has dismissed allegations of serious human rights violations by security forces in Rakhine State without a credible basis, Human Rights Watch said today. On August 6, 2017, the National Investigation Commission on Rakhine State, headed by Vice President Myint Swe, held a news conference on their findings into alleged abuses against ethnic Rohingya, following a nine-month domestic inquiry.

The commission’s wholesale rejection of grave abuses despite considerable evidence from independent sources, coupled with the Burmese army’s earlier inadequate investigation, demonstrates the urgent need for the government to allow full access to the United Nations-mandated, international fact-finding mission, Human Rights Watch said.

“The commission’s findings are just the latest attempt to sweep under the rug the massive abuses against the Rohingya last year,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These atrocities aren’t going to disappear, so the sooner the UN fact-finding mission is allowed into Burma, the sooner those responsible can be identified and redress provided to the victims.”

In a summary of its report obtained by Human Rights Watch, the commission concludes it could not confirm cases of rape, gang rape, torture, and killings in the villages it visited. The commission found that 1152 buildings were destroyed in 13 villages, but said it was too difficult to establish who set fire to the buildings. The report noted that in February and March, 21 cases were filed in court for murder, rape, arson, destruction of evidence, loss of property and wrongful death, but every complaint was dismissed after an investigation, saying that some complaints were fabricated.

The Investigation Commission on Rakhine State’s inept inquiry provides the strongest case yet for Burma letting in the UN fact-finding mission. Burma’s donors and diplomatic friends should tell the government to end their tactics of denial and obfuscation, and cease denying victims their right to the truth.
Phil Robertson

Deputy Director, Asia

Swe reportedly told journalists, “There is no possibility of crimes against humanity, no evidence of ethnic cleansing, as per UN accusations.” He also rejected the possibility that genocide had occurred. The commission in its summary conceded that there could have been security force abuses that have not been exposed and others that needed further investigation.

The 13-member commission used investigative methods that produced incomplete, inaccurate, and false information, Human Rights Watch said. According to reports by local groups, witness accounts, and publicly released footage, the commission’s investigators badgered villagers, argued with them, told them not to say things, accused them of lying, and interviewed victims – including rape survivors – in large groups where confidentiality was not provided.

The commission’s mandate encompassed an investigation into allegations of abuses in northern Rakhine State following the attacks on three police outposts by alleged Rohingya militants on October 9, 2016. The report summary criticized the UN for not taking into consideration these attacks by militants and for focusing on the actions of the security forces. The commission’s findings follow an interim report issued on January 3, 2017, that also dismissed allegations of rights violations by government forces.

The UN, Human Rights Watch, and others have reported on numerous serious human rights violations committed by Burmese security forces against the Rohingya in Rakhine State following the October 9 attacks on police outposts. Human Rights Watch has documented extrajudicial killings, the rape of women and girls, and the burning of at least 1,500 structures. Rohingya villagers told Human Rights Watch that security forces burned the structures. The commission’s summary noted that grenade launchers were used during the fighting, effectively corroborating accounts by Rohingya that “launchers” were used by the military to destroy homes. The security force operations caused massive displacement, with more than 70,000 Rohingya fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh and temporarily displacing another 20,000 within Burma. A report issued by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on February 3, concluded that the attacks against the Rohingya “very likely” amounted to crimes against humanity.

The conclusion of the commission’s investigation follows the May 23 release of the Burmese army’s inquiry into alleged abuses in Rakhine State, which also denied abuses and uncovered no wrongdoing except two minor incidents. Altogether, the Burmese government established four separate investigations into the violence, none of which have been credible or impartial.

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 government has indicated it will deny visas to the three experts appointed to the fact-finding mission, but to date it has not done so. Kyaw Tin, the deputy minister of foreign affairs, told parliament on June 30, “We will order Myanmar embassies not to grant any visa to UN fact-finding mission members.”

A commission led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan is due to release its final report detailing its recommendations for Rakhine State this month, but it does not have the mandate to investigate human rights abuses.

“The Investigation Commission on Rakhine State’s inept inquiry provides the strongest case yet for Burma letting in the UN fact-finding mission,” Robertson said. “Burma’s donors and diplomatic friends should tell the government to end their tactics of denial and obfuscation, and cease denying victims their right to the truth.” 

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