Kachin and Rohingya activists in diaspora launch an international opinion tribunal on Myanmar's atrocity crimes against their communities at home The Rome-based Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) will be holding the inaugural session of its first-ever Tribunal on Myanmar at Queen Mary University of London International State Crime Initiative on 6 and 7 March. The establishment of this people’s tribunal is in response to the requests made by Myanmar’s Rohingya and Kachin victims who have made credible allegations that their respective ethnic communities have suffered international crimes at the hands of Myanmar government troops, including crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. Subsequent tribunal hearings are envisaged in in USA and Malaysia before the jury reach the verdict later this year. The PPT includes renowned genocide scholars such as Daniel Feierstein, past President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, Dr Helen Jarvis, former Public Affairs Officer at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, Dennis Halliday, former Assistant Secretary of the UN and winner of Gandhi International Peace Award (2003). The Tribunal is in the process of selecting members of the Panel of Jury from amongst a list of public figures whose nominations are based on their established personal integrity, professional competence and concerns for the victims. Among the experts who will appear before the PPT will be Dr Mandy Sadan, Associate Dean of Research at School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London & author of Being & Becoming Kachin: Histories Beyond the State in the Borderworlds of Burma (Oxford University Press, 2013), Professor Penny Green of the International State Crime Initiative, and Azril Mohammad Amin of the Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (Centhra), Malaysia. “The gravity of Myanmar’s alleged mistreatment of these ethnic communities has been a concern for us at the PPT for a number of years. My colleagues and I are glad to be able to respond positively to the victims’ request for a credible moral tribunal on what appear to be international crimes being committed by the government of Myanmar,” said Dr Gianni Tognoni, Secretary General of Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal. The People’s Tribunal has a long history as an effective means of transforming communities marred by state sponsored crimes. It has convened forty-three times to deliver judgments that have guided societies through such struggles as post-colonialism, globalization, war, and economic injustice. It is renowned for its rigorous selection criteria for its jury members. Hkanhpa Sadan, the General Secretary of the Kachin National Organization (KNO), representing many in the Kachin diaspora, said, “Our Kachin people have been crying out for justice and accountability since the Myanmar government unilaterally ended the 14-year ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Organization nearly 6 years ago. While talking up democratic transition in the media, Myanmar government has been bombing – even using fighter jets and gunship helicopters – our communities in Northern Myanmar, displacing thousands of our people, including women, elderly, children and infants from their own homes.” He pointed that Myanmar is blocking humanitarian assistance and supplies to Kachin war refugees while refusing to permit the UN Special Rapporteur Professor Yanghee Lee access to the area last month to travel to the internally displaced people (IDP) camps where IDP thousands of families are freezing in make-shift camps in the high altitude mountainous, with little food or medical supplies. Tun Khin, President of Burmese Rohingya Association UK, a participating organization, expresses his appreciation for the PPT staff for the tribunal. “We Rohingyas are grateful that this tribunal effort is materializing at this crucial juncture. Generations of us Rohingya have suffered what we experience as a genocide in our own ancestral lands.” He continues, “my grandfather was a proud Rohingya parliamentary secretary in democratic Burma in the 1950’s, and in 2017, my family and I are refugees in UK now. We are subject to Myanmar’s policy of extermination because of our religion and ethnicity.” On the western frontier region of Rakhine, Myanmar troops have been accused of “very likely” committing crimes against humanity by the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner’s team. On 3 February the UN Office of High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a 43-page report of interviews with 200+ persecution-fleeing Rohingya men and women in Bangladesh’s refugee camps, which detailed harrowing accounts of rape, gang-rape, wanton killings, arson, helicopter and rocket launcher attacks and other numerous forms of inhumane atrocities against unarmed, peaceful Rohingyas. The UN report states,” “The testimonies gathered by the team – the killing of babies, toddlers, children, women and elderly; opening fire at people fleeing; burning of entire villages; massive detention; massive and systematic rape and sexual violence; deliberate destruction of food and sources of food – speak volumes of the apparent disregard by Tatmadaw and BGP officers that operate in the lockdown zone for international human rights law, in particular the total disdain for the right to life of Rohingyas.” For decades, the Muslim Rohingya minority in Burma have suffered state crimes that many human rights investigators and scholars conclude amount to crimes against humanity and even a “slow genocide” as stated by Amartya Sen. They have been stripped of their citizenship and rendered stateless; prohibited from travelling even between villages; forbidden from obtaining education or gainful employment; forced into labour; physically brutalized including extrajudicial killings, rape, and torture; driven from their burning homes and villages; and dehumanized because of their faith & skin colour. In addition to Rohingya and Kachin organizations in diaspora, International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London, Burma Task Force USA, JUST and the Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (Centhra) from Malaysia, USA-based Genocide Watch, South Africa’s Protect the Rohingya and Burmese Muslim Association are supporting the tribunal. Cambodia Genocide survivor and genocide prevention campaigner Youk Chhang and Burmese genocide scholar Dr Maung Zarni are also among the tribunal’s individual supporters. Within the United Nations, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, has reportedly said that she will be recommending a UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Rohingyas in her official Mission report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which she is scheduled to present on 13 March. Myanmar’s hybrid government of Aung San Suu Kyi and the military has responded to these serious international crimes allegations first by dismissing them as “fake news” and later setting up its own “national investigation commission” headed by ex-general and Vice President Myint Swe. UN Special Adviser on Genocide Prevention Adama Dieng has officially dismissed Myanmar’s national commission as “not a credible option” while Ms Yanghee Lee said, “it doesn’t even have the methodology” to investigate the atrocity crimes.
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