Rohingya refugees try to take shelter from torrential rain as they are held by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) after illegally crossing the border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, August 31, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

(Geneva) – The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council has advanced justice for victims of grave crimes in Myanmar by creating an international body to help prepare case files for future criminal proceedings, Human Rights Watch said today. The council on September 27, 2018 passed a resolution for that purpose, a joint initiative of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the European Union, by a vote of 35 to 3, with 7 abstentions. 

“The Human Rights Council took an important step for justice by creating a body to pinpoint criminal responsibility for the countless atrocities in Myanmar,” said John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “It deals a blow to Myanmar’s deep-seated culture of impunity and moves victims closer to seeing Myanmar’s generals held to account.”

The resolution mandates the new body to “collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes” in Myanmar since 2011 and to “prepare files…to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings.” The resolution calls on the UN secretary-general to appoint staff and allocate the resources necessary to support the body’s work. The UN secretary-general should act promptly to ensure that it is fully operational as soon as possible, Human Rights Watch said.

The resolution follows the report in August by the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, which found that Myanmar’s security forces committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide against ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State. The report also examined abuses by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and by government forces and ethnic armed groups in Shan and Kachin States.

The Fact-Finding Mission recommended that either the Human Rights Council or the UN General Assembly should create as a matter of urgency an international, independent, impartial mechanism, similar to the one created by the General Assembly for Syria in late 2016. It also urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court. The Fact-Finding Mission will brief the General Assembly on its findings in October.

“The UN General Assembly should support justice for victims of murder, sexual violence, and mass arson by welcoming the new body and calling on Myanmar’s government to cooperate with it,” Fisher said. “Raising the mechanism’s profile in the General Assembly would also make clear that all countries, including Security Council members, should make justice a priority as part of any proposed solution to Myanmar’s devastating rights crisis.”