MYIN HLUT, Myanmar: On the eve of the anniversary of a military-led ethnic-cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, the nation’s commander in chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, was in Russia on an arms-buying expedition.
Starting a year ago, more than 700,000 Rohingya began fleeing Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh, amid a frenzy of massacre, rape and arson by soldiers and Buddhist mobs, acts of violence that have been widely documented.
Yet since then, Min Aung Hlaing and Myanmar’s other leaders have escaped international legal censure. And they are maintaining a campaign of denial and avoidance, as well as jailing and intimidating reporters who have documented the attacks.
On Tuesday, Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto civilian leader, gave a speech in Singapore in which she made no mention of the bloodletting by the nation’s armed forces. Thousands of Rohingya are believed to have been killed in northern Rakhine state.
UN officials have raised the prospect that the violence could be considered genocide, and officials at the US State Department have debated using the term, according to US diplomats.
The United States, Canada and the European Union have placed targeted sanctions on Myanmar military officers believed to have directed the violence against the largely stateless Rohingya last year. But Min Aung Hlaing and other top brass were spared.
Others are pushing for Myanmar to be formally investigated for war crimes. On Friday, a group of 132 Southeast Asian lawmakers called on the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court, which rules on genocide and mass atrocity crimes.
Since Myanmar is not a signatory to the treaty that established the International Criminal Court, the Security Council has the power to begin the process of judicial action. On Monday, the Security Council is scheduled to discuss the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.
But China and Russia, two permanent members of the UN body, have often shielded Myanmar from formal condemnation. Myanmar purchases military equipment from both countries. China has invested heavily in Myanmar’s natural resources, particularly in areas where ethnic minorities live.
The Myanmar government has formed half a dozen commissions to look into the violence in northern Rakhine. But apart from one case and a handful of firings or demotions, no individuals have been held accountable for mass rapes, killings and village burnings.
That one case, the massacre of 10 Rohingya men in the village of Inn Din, was documented by Reuters in a report published in February. Seven soldiers were sentenced to 10 years in prison. In April, a Myanmar television network announced on its website that the men had been released in a prisoner amnesty before the news was abruptly taken offline.
Two of the Reuters journalists whose reporting was integral to the Inn Din story are in jail, on trial for violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act. Their verdict is expected Monday, and they could face up to 14 years in prison if convicted.