16 September 2019
Human Rights Council
9–27 September 2019
Agenda item 2
Human rights situation that require the Council’s attention
Detailed findings of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar*, **
I. Executive Summary 5
II. Introduction 8
III. Mandate and follow up the Human Rights Council resolution 39/2 9
A. Interpretation of the Mandate 9
B. Methodology 9
C. Legal Framework 9
IV. The situation of the Rohingya 17
A. Citizenship 18
B. Land clearance destruction, confiscation and construction 33
C. Restrictions 48
D. Security and safety 58
E. Forced or compulsory labour 59
F. The repatriation process 62
G. Conclusions and legal findings: the impossibility of return 67
V. The conflict between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army 80
A. Introduction 80
B. The Arakan Army 82
C. Violations by the Tatmadaw 86
D. Abuses by the Arakan Army 120
E. Gendered impacts 123
F. Landmines 124
G. Threats to freedom of expression, association and the press 125
VI. The situation in northern Myanmar 132
A. Introduction 132
B. Violations by the Tatmadaw and Tatmadaw sponsored militia 135
C. Patterns of abuses by EAOs 146
D. Landmines, improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war 154
E. Displacement, livelihoods and land 157
F. Situation in northern Myanmar requiring monitoring: the Kokang Self-Administered Zone 166
VII. Renewed human rights violations against the ethnic Karen 169
A. Background 169
B. Recent Tatmadaw operations 170
C. Human rights impact of the road construction project 171
D. Killings by the Tatmadaw 172
E. Return of Karen refugees 173
F. Conclusions and legal findings 174
VIII. Conclusions and Recommendations 174
A. The situation of the Rohingya 175
B. The situation of the ethnic Rakhine 176
C. The situation in northern Myanmar 177
D. Recommendations 177
Correspondence with the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar 180
AA Arakan Army
ARSA Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army
ASEAN Association of Southeast Asian Nations
CAT Convention against Torture
CEDAW Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
CESCR Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
CPED International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
CRC Convention on the Rights of the Child
CRPD Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
EAO Ethnic Armed Organization
FPNCC Federal Political Negotiation and Consultation Committee
GAD General Administration Department
ICC International Criminal Court
ICCPR International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
ICERD International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
ICESC International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
ICRC International Committee of the Red Cross
ICTR International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
ICTY International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
IHL International Humanitarian Law
ILO International Labour Organization
KIA Kachin Independence Army
LIB Light Infantry Battalion
LID Light Infantry Division
MNDAA Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army
NLD National League for Democracy
OHCHR Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
SGBV Sexual and Gender Based Violence
SLORC State Law and Order Restoration Council
SPDC State Peace and Development Council
SSA-N Shan State Army North
SSA-S Shan State Army South
TNLA Ta’ang National Liberation Army
UDHR Universal Declaration of Human Rights
UNHCR Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
UNITAR United Nations Institute for Training and Research
UNOSAT UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme
USDP Union Solidarity and Development Party
UWSA United Wa State Army
WFP World Food Programme
MaBaTha Association for the Protection of Race and Religion
MaHaNa Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee
NaSaKa Border Area Immigration Control Headquarters
NaTaLa Ministry for Development of Border Areas and National Races “model villages”
SaYaPa Myanmar Intelligence Office
I. Executive summary
1. This report provides an update on conflict-related and other human rights violations and abuses in Myanmar since the Mission’s last report to the Human Rights Council in September 2018. The report focusses on the situation of ethnic minorities in Myanmar’s Rakhine, Chin, Kachin and Shan States. More specifically, the report highlights the situation of the Rohingya, the armed conflict between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw, and the situation in northern Myanmar. The report documents violations and abuses under international human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law, principally by the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, and also by ethnic armed organizations (EAOs). The report also provides a brief overview of the situation of the Karen in Kayin State and the Kokang Self-Administrative Zone in northern Shan State.
The situation of the Rohingya
2. The situation of the Rohingya continues to be of grave concern to the Mission. The Mission did not document in relation to the last year violations of a similar gravity to the Tatmadaw’s “clearance operations” after attacks on police and military posts on 25 August 2017, described in its last report. However, it confirmed that the Rohingya remain the target of a Government attack aimed at erasing the identity and removing them from Myanmar, and that this has caused them great suffering. Additionally, many of the factors that contributed to the killings, rapes and gang rapes, torture, forced displacement and other grave human rights violations by the Tatmadaw and other government authorities that the Mission documented in its 2018 report are still present. This has led to the conclusion that the situation of the Rohingya in Rakhine State has remained largely unchanged since last year. The laws, policies and practices that formed the basis of the Government’s persecution against the Rohingya have been maintained. With another year having passed without improvements to their dire living conditions, prospects for accountability or legal recognition as citizens of Myanmar, their plight can only be considered as having deteriorated.
3. The Government of Myanmar has made no progress towards addressing the underlying structural discrimination against the Rohingya by amending the discriminatory laws, including the 1982 Citizenship Law. State policies that impose and force Rohingya to accept national verification cards (NVCs) have intensified. The Rohingya continue to perceive the NVCs with scepticism due to their history as a tool of persecution, having been used to disenfranchise and “other” them from the rest of the population.
4. The Mission found that movement restrictions, applied to the Rohingya in a discriminatory and arbitrary manner, touch almost every aspect of the lives of the 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Rakhine State, affecting basic economic, social and cultural rights, including their ability to sustain themselves, obtain an education, seek medical assistance or even pray and congregate.
5. The lack of safe and viable homes and land for Rohingya to return to is further exacerbating their situation. The Mission found that Rohingya villages continue to be bulldozed and razed. An estimated 40,600 structures were destroyed between August 2017 and April 2019, with over 200 settlements almost completely wiped out. Instead, new structures are being built on land that used to be cultivated and lived on by those who fled. Paradoxically, the Mission found that Rohingya have been forced to work in constructing new housing developments, in conditions that amount to forced labour.
6. Against the backdrop of these unbearable conditions, insecurity has been heightened as a result of the conflict between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw in northern Rakhine, in areas from which Rohingya were expelled. This has been an additional contributing factor to making a safe, dignified and sustainable return of the Rohingya population impossible at this time.
7. Justice remains elusive for the victims of grave crimes under international law that the Mission documented in its last report, in particular those perpetrated during the 2016 and 2017 “clearance operations”. The Government of Myanmar has not taken the necessary measures to effectively investigate or prosecute those responsible.
8. The cumulative effect of these factors has led the Mission to conclude on reasonable grounds that the Government’s acts continue to be part of a widespread and systematic attack against the remaining Rohingya in Rakhine State, amounting to the crimes against humanity of inhumane acts and persecution.
9. Furthermore, having considered the Government’s hostile policies towards the Rohingya, including its continued denial of their citizenship and ethnic identity, the living conditions to which it subjects them, its failure to reform laws that subjugate the Rohingya people, the continuation of hate speech directed at the Rohingya, its prior commission of genocide and its disregard for accountability in relation to the “clearances operations” of 2016 and 2017, the Mission also has reasonable grounds to conclude that the evidence that infers genocidal intent on the part of the State, identified in its last report, has strengthened, that there is a serious risk that genocidal actions may occur or recur, and that Myanmar is failing in its obligation to prevent genocide, to investigate genocide and to enact effective legislation criminalizing and punishing genocide. Against this background, the Mission deems that the conditions enabling the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of close to one million Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh do not yet exist. The current conditions makes their return impossible at this time. Because of the absence of positive change over the past two years, the Mission cannot foresee when repatriation will be feasible.
The conflict between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army
10. The most recent conflict between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army in northern Rakhine and southern Chin States bears many of the hallmarks of the Tatmadaw’s brutal military operations, in line with its notorious “four cuts” strategy. In an attempt to prevent civilian support to the insurgency, the Tatmadaw has cut the lifelines of ethnic Rakhine communities, restricting both people’s freedom of movement and humanitarian access, with direct consequences on access to food and livelihoods. Again the civilian population, especially ethnic Rakhine and Chin communities, bear the brunt of the Tatmadaw’s operations.
11. The Mission found that attacks by the Tatmadaw have resulted in civilian loss of life, including the lives of children. The Tatmadaw continues the practice of rounding up men and boys of fighting age in villages, interrogating them and, in some instances, detaining and torturing them for the purpose of obtaining confessions about their support to the Arakan Army. The Mission also documented deaths in custody that were the direct result of this practice. All of these acts have undeniably led to a general climate of fear and insecurity for the ethnic Rakhine.
12. The Mission concluded on reasonable grounds that a number of Tatmadaw attacks that took place over the last months, in the context of its conflict with the Arakan Army, violated several rules of international humanitarian law, in particular the rule prohibiting indiscriminate attacks. The Mission’s findings of violations of international humanitarian law also constitute violations of the right to life under international human rights law, which is applicable alongside international humanitarian law in situations of armed conflict. The Mission also calls attention to the military use of schools and places of worship and encourages the parties to the conflict to cease this practice.
13. Many of the patterns of violations, such as forced labour, torture and ill-treatment, that are associated with all of the Tatmadaw’s operations, were found to be prominent features of its conflict with the AA. These constitute violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including war crimes that require effective criminal investigation.
14. The Mission also concluded on reasonable grounds that the Tatmadaw’s firing indiscriminately into the ancient town of Mrauk-U violated rules under international law that protect cultural property.
15. Notably, however, the Mission did not find evidence of the Tatmadaw engaging in widespread mass sexual violence against ethnic Rakhine women as a part of its military strategy to combat the AA. This is in striking contrast to the widespread and systematic use of sexual violence against the Rohingya during the 2017 “clearance operations”. It indicates that the highest levels of command appear to be able to control when their troops do or do not use sexual violence during attacks on civilians and civilian populations.
16. Although to a much lesser extent than the Tatmadaw, the Mission found that the Arakan Army has also been responsible for human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including forced labour and abductions of civilians. The Mission finds that these violations require effective investigation.
17. The Mission found that many of the patterns of violations in northern Myanmar, documented in its last report, have continued despite the Tatmadaw’s unilateral ceasefire since December 2018. While fighting has decreased in Kachin State, it has continued and recently increased in northern Shan State, resulting in the death and injury of civilians. Casualties may have been the result of indiscriminate attacks by the parties to the conflict in violation of international humanitarian law and warrant further investigation.
18. The Mission found that torture by Tatmadaw and Tatmadaw-supported militia of suspected members of EAOs have continued throughout the last twelve months. The Mission also found that, while sexual and gender-based violence was not prevalent in some other ethnic conflicts, it remains a prominent feature of the conflicts in Shan and Kachin States, although not on the scale or with the extremity as against the Rohingya in 2017.
19. The humanitarian situation in northern Myanmar continues to be of grave concern, with another year passing without UN access to non-government controlled areas and with IDPs unable to return to their lands, due to the prevailing insecurity in the region. The amendment of the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Management Act has further exacerbated the situation. It has created uncertainty over land titles and communal usage of land, indispensable for the many ethnic populations in northern Myanmar dependent on land for their livelihoods.
20. The Mission also found that EAOs have been involved in human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in the context of the armed conflicts in northern Myanmar. Abuses have included arbitrary detention and cruel treatment. The Mission also documented or received information on alleged cases of EAOs forcibly recruiting adults, recruiting and using children, using landmines and exposing civilians under their control to the effects of attacks. The Mission also collected information about allegation of the persecution of the Christian minorities that warrants further investigation. The Mission also concludes that further investigation is requird into reports of sexual and gender-based violence by EAOs in Kachin and Shan States.
21. The Mission gathered limited information on the situation of the Karen ethnic group in Kayin State and the ethnic groups of the Kokang Self-Administrative Zone from northern Shan State, with a view to drawing attention to these situations and the need for further investigations.
22. With respect to the Karen, the Mission found that further investigations into allegations that the Tatmadaw continues to violate their rights in the context of long-standing armed hostilities that date back to 1949 are warranted. The Tatmadaw’s construction of a road has been the cause of renewed fighting between the Tatmadaw and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). That has triggered credible reports of new human rights violations, with significant displacements. The hostilities stand in the way of a potential return of the Karen refugees who have settled in refugee camps along the Myanmar-Thai border.
23. The situation in the Kokang Self-Administrative Zone also requires further investigation. Cyclical bouts of hostilities in this region of northern Shan State appear to bear some of the hallmarks of Tatmadaw’s operations, including the killing of civilians and a range of restrictions, including on humanitarian access, that have led to significant displacement of the civilian population.
24. While each of the situations of the ethnic minorities in Myanmar is distinct with its own facts and dimensions, a common thread underlies the situation of each of the ethnic groups. All ethnic groups highlighted in this report have suffered human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law at the hands of the Tatmadaw. They have experienced the insecurity and hardship that prevail wherever the Tatmadaw operates. They have all been driven off their traditional lands and subjected to forms of marginalisation as a result of the Tatmadaw’s policies.
25. All the ethnic minority communities that the Mission investigated have been deprived of justice for the serious human rights violations perpetrated against them. For this reason, the Mission found it necessary to highlight once again the situation of ethnic minorities in Myanmar, to provide an independent and impartial assessment of the violations committed against them, and to call on the Government of Myanmar and the international community to put a halt to these violations by finally breaking the cycle of impunity that protects the Tatmadaw and leads to further violence in the future.
26. This report complements the Mission’s report submitted to the Human Rights Council pursuant to resolution 39/2, by which the Council extended the mandate of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (“the Mission”). The Council requested the Mission to present a final report on its activities to the Council at its forty-second session.
27. This report focuses on human rights developments since September 2018. It highlights the situation of ethnic groups in Rakhine, Chin, Kayin, Kachin and Shan States, focussing on conflict-related human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. It also provides a legal analysis of the situation of the Rohingya under the rules of State responsibility and the 1948 Genocide Convention, to which Myanmar is a party. The Mission further presents its findings on the situation of the conflict between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army since the beginning of 2019 and the latest developments in northern Myanmar.
28. The Mission comprised three experts: Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia, chair), Radhika Coomaraswamy (Sri Lanka) and Christopher Sidoti (Australia).
29. The Mission regrets the continuing lack of cooperation from the Government of Myanmar, despite the numerous appeals made by the Human Rights Council and the Mission. During the reporting period, the Mission requested to meet with the Permanent Representative of Myanmar in Geneva on two occasions and requested country access on 12 February 2019. It sent a detailed list of questions pertaining to the mandate of the Mission on 28 March 2019. The Mission received no official response to any of its communications. The Mission’s draft main findings were shared with the Government prior to its public release, providing an opportunity to comment or make factual corrections. No response was received. This conference room paper, containing the detailed findings of the Mission in relation to conflict-related and other human rights violations, was also shared with the Government on 11 September 2019. No response was received. The Mission’s letters are in annex 2.
III. Mandate and follow up to Human Rights Council resolution 39/2
A. Interpretation of the mandate
30. In extending the Mission’s mandate, the Human Rights Council sought to avoid an investigative gap between the end of the Mission and the operationalization of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar. The mandate given to the Mission by the Council in its resolution 39/2 therefore includes the extension of its original mandate, as contained in Council resolution 34/22, to establish the facts and circumstances of the alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces, and abuses, in Myanmar, in particular in Rakhine State, with a view to ensuring full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims. Accordingly, the Mission focused on investigating both alleged human rights violations and abuses perpetrated since the end of its previous investigation and some previously undocumented historical incidents and patterns of human rights violations and abuses. This report has been prepared with a view to fulfilling this part of the Mission’s mandate.
31. The Mission continued to base its factual findings on the “reasonable grounds” standard of proof (A/HRC/39/64, para. 6). The Mission also continued to employ the same methodology as it did for its 2018 report, unless otherwise indicated.
32. Between February and June 2019, the Mission conducted 419 interviews with victims and witnesses, both targeted and randomly selected. It obtained and analysed satellite imagery, photographs and videos and a range of documents. It cross-checked the information against secondary information assessed as credible and reliable, including organizations’ raw data or notes, expert interviews, submissions and open source material.
33. In this second phase of its work, the Mission took special care to avoid re-interviewing victims and witnesses with a view to avoiding re-traumatisation and contamination of evidence.
34. The Experts travelled to Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to interview victims and witnesses and hold other meetings. The secretariat undertook six additional field missions between February and June 2019. The Mission held consultations with other stakeholders, including intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, researchers and government officials and diplomats, in person and remotely.
35. The Mission strictly adhered to the principles of independence, impartiality and objectivity and to the obligation to “do no harm”. Special attention was paid to the protection of victims and witnesses, considering their well-founded fear of reprisals, especially following the publication of the Mission’s previous report.
C. Legal framework
36. The Mission assessed facts under international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international criminal law, as applicable in Myanmar. The Mission’s 2018 report provides a detailed analysis of those bodies of law. This report cross references and supplements that analysis as needed in its legal findings and conclusions. The Mission also finds it necessary to set out the obligations that Myanmar has to respect, protect and fulfil the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food and housing, and right to the highest attainable standard of health as a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The Mission also finds it necessary to elaborate on the rules of State responsibility under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, to which Myanmar is a party.
1. Economic, social and cultural rights
37. The ICESCR places obligations on States to recognize and ensure the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food and housing, and the highest attainable standard of health. The CRC provides similar obligations towards children specifically. Under these obligations, State parties are generally required to undertake steps, to the maximum of their available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of these rights. These rights apply to everyone including non-nationals, such as stateless persons, regardless of legal status and documentation. Complaints of violations should be promptly, impartially and independently investigated and adjudicated, providing the complainant with access to an effective remedy where appropriate. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child further consider that their respective treaties requires States parties to adopt an active approach to eliminating discrimination, with the former explaining that for systematic discrimination:
Tackling such discrimination will usually require a comprehensive approach with a range of laws, policies and programmes, including temporary special measures. States parties should consider using incentives to encourage public and private actors to change their attitudes and behaviour in relation to individuals and groups of individuals facing systemic discrimination, or penalize them in case of non-compliance. Public leadership and programmes to raise awareness about systemic discrimination and the adoption of strict measures against incitement to discrimination are often necessary. Eliminating systemic discrimination will frequently require devoting greater resources to traditionally neglected groups. Given the persistent hostility towards some groups, particular attention will need to be given to ensuring that laws and policies are implemented by officials and others in practice.
38. While the right to an adequate standard of living and the highest attainable standard of health are to be progressively realised, Myanmar, as a party to the ICESCR and CRC, must take immediate action, irrespective of its resources to, inter alia, eliminate discrimination, comply with the components of rights that are not subject to progressive realization because they do not require significant resources, and refrain from retrogressive measures that would reduce the enjoyment of the Covenant’s rights, unless there are strong justifications for doing so.
39. States’ obligations in relation to the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food and housing, and the right to the highest attainable standard of health, do not cease in times of emergency or humanitarian crisis. In such situations, violations of the right to food can occur, for example, through the prevention of access to humanitarian food aid and the failure to regulate individuals or groups restricting others’ access to food. The Special Rapporteur on the right to food defined the right to food as “the right to have regular, permanent and free [unobstructed/unrestricted] access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensures a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free from anxiety”. The right to food and health are also closely linked to non-derogable rights, such as the right to life: “without food there is no life, and with the wrong food, life is shorter and more prone to ill-health”. This requires, for example, States to take measures to increase life expectancy, especially in adopting measures to eliminate malnutrition.
2. Rules of State responsibility
40. Based on the Mission’s past and present findings, the Mission has considered Myanmar’s obligations under the rules of State responsibility, under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, to which Myanmar is a party. Relatedly, the Mission welcomes the efforts of States, in particular The Gambia and Bangladesh, and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to encourage and pursue a case against Myanmar before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) under the Genocide Convention. Elected officials in The Netherlands and Canada have also called on their governments to pursue such a case.
41. Many of the people to whom the Mission spoke emphasized the need for perpetrators of the most serious crimes of international law to be held criminally accountable. The Mission discussed this in its 2018 report. Many of those people also stressed that the safe and dignified treatment of the Rohingya people required legislative and institutional reforms that run deeper than sanctioning individuals. The rules of State responsibility help address this demand by providing for forms of reparation that are reformative and additional to what criminal accountability most often provides.
42. Under the rules of State responsibility, reparation is often assessed not by the injury caused to individuals but by the injury caused to a State, which includes material and moral damages. In the case of a State that commits genocide or other violations against its own people, it would be more appropriate for reparation to benefit the individuals directly harmed and the international community as a whole. Such reparation may include, as required, restitution, compensation and satisfaction, either singly or in combination. The purpose of these reparations is to “wipe out all the consequences of the illegal act and re-establish the situation which would, in all probability, have existed if that act had not been committed”. The enormity and scope of the destruction that Myanmar caused to people’s lives makes it impossible to suggest that reparation could ever achieve this purpose. At the same time, the enormity and causes of the acts that the Mission has documented indicate that Myanmar’s reparation obligations are far reaching and wide ranging.
43. Restitution may require, depending on the breach, restoration of liberty; enjoyment of human rights, identity, family life and citizenship; return to one’s place of residence; and restoration of employment and return of property. This may include requiring juridical restitution through legislative modifications. Compensation may be required for economically assessable damage, such as physical or mental harm; lost opportunities, including employment, education and social benefits; material damages and loss of earnings, including loss of earning potential; and costs required for legal or expert assistance, medicine and medical services, and psychological and social services. Compensation may also be payable in respect of damage suffered where restitution is either not possible or not possible in full. The inability to restore people’s homes and property, because they have been destroyed, is an example of a situation in which compensation is payable as a result of inability to make restitution. Satisfaction may require effective measures aimed at the cessation of continuing violations; verification of the facts and full and public disclosure of the truth; the search for the whereabouts of the disappeared and killed and assistance in the recovery, identification and reburial of bodies; official declarations or judicial decisions restoring the dignity, the reputation and the rights of the victim and of persons closely connected with the victim; public apology, including acknowledgement of the facts and acceptance of responsibility; judicial and administrative sanctions against persons liable for the violations; and commemorations and tributes to the victims. When a State breaches its international obligations under the rules of State responsibility it must also cease the wrongful act, if it is continuing, and the State must offer appropriate assurances and guarantees of non-repetition if circumstances require.
(a) Prohibition on committing genocide
44. Under the Genocide Convention, States parties have an implicit obligation not to commit genocide and express obligations to prevent and punish genocide crimes. For a State to be in breach of the genocide prohibition, it must be shown that State organs, or persons or groups whose acts are attributable to the State, committed one or more specific acts “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”. Those acts, referred to as “underlying acts”, are (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. The Mission’s 2018 report provides the Mission’s assessment that the Rohingya constituted a protected group under the terms of the Genocide Convention and that the violence directed at them constituted underlying acts (a), (b), (c) and possibly (d).
45. To establish that a State had the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a protected group, an investigator must be able to establish either that a State had a plan expressing the intent to commit genocide or that a pattern of conduct reveals such intent. To make a finding of genocide under the rules of State responsibility it is sufficient to demonstrate that genocide is attributable to a State organ, such as a ministry or security force, without identifying specific individuals who are responsible for the genocide. In the case of Myanmar, the Mission has concluded on reasonable grounds that the Tatmadaw is the most notable, but not the only, State organ that engaged in underlying genocidal acts with the inference of genocidal intent. In sum, State involvement through military and civilian acts, organs and persons was extensive.
46. There is limited guidance for assessing what factors are relevant for making a finding of genocidal intent under the rules of State responsibility. When assessing whether a pattern of conduct reveals genocidal intent, the Mission was guided by case law from international criminal tribunals and took into account interrelated factors, as documented in its previous report and supplemented by the Mission’s 2019 investigation.
(b) Obligation to investigate genocide
47. The Genocide Convention places a general obligation on all States parties to prevent and punish genocide. Article III places an obligation to punish all genocide crimes regardless of the suspect’s government position. Article VI places a specific obligation on States parties in whose territory genocide was committed to try in a competent court individuals charged with genocide or, alternatively, allow them to be tried by an international tribunal with jurisdiction. Article V requires States parties to enact legislation to give effect to the Convention’s provisions and, in particular, to provide effective penalties for persons guilty of genocide.
48. The Mission interprets the Genocide Convention as placing an obligation on Myanmar to effectively investigate allegations of genocide where reasonable grounds exist and, where appropriate, to bring charges. This interpretation follows the approach of international and regional human rights treaties. Any other interpretation would render much of the Genocide Convention ineffective and go against the Convention’s object and purpose of freeing the world of such as “odious scourge”. If there were no obligation to conduct an effective investigation and prosecute where appropriate, a State’s obligation to enact legislation to “give effect” to the Genocide Convention, as well as the State’s obligation to hold perpetrators criminally accountable, would be rendered meaningless. Moreover, punishment without an investigation, prosecution and conviction would contravene basic procedural guarantees and the right to a fair trial.
49. The obligation to conduct an investigation typically requires that the investigation be carried out whenever there is “reason to believe” or a “reasonable ground” to believe that an offence has been committed. The obligation is one of conduct, not of result. In meeting that obligation, it is generally recognized that an investigation must always be independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, credible and transparent.
(c) Obligation to enact legislation
50. Article V of the Genocide Convention requires States Parties to enact the necessary legislation to give effect to the Convention and, in particular, to provide effective penalties for persons guilty of genocide and persons who incite genocide, attempt to commit genocide or are complicit in genocide. Although there is limited guidance on how courts would interpret a State’s obligation under the Convention to enact effective legislation, the legislation that Article V requires States to enact has been understood as a statutory law that results from formal domestic enactment procedures. For the legislation to “give effect” to the Convention the State’s domestic criminal law must include the specific acts in Article II and the list of offenses in Article III. Legislation that simply criminalizes individual acts without referring to genocide, for example homicide, is insufficient. The Convention also places requirements on how States penalize the crimes of genocide. The penalties must be “effective” and the penalties and the form of the penalties must be sufficiently defined. The duration of a penalty of imprisonment must meet a minimum threshold of severity, given the grave nature of the crime, taking into account a State’s national scale of penalties, including domestic penalties for the ordinary crime of murder. The Convention requires that legislation that criminalizes and penalizes acts of genocide does not permit a person convicted of genocide to receive a pardon or to be free from punishment.
(d) Obligation to prevent genocide
51. The obligation to prevent genocide, which includes a corresponding duty to act, arises when a State “learns of, or should normally have learned of, the existence of a serious risk that genocide will be committed”. The Mission does not consider that a “serious risk” requires that the risk be imminent or immediate. Such a narrow interpretation would hollow out the preventive nature of the Convention by effectively requiring States to act only once the genocide were inevitable. But once a serious risk of genocide is identified, a State is under a duty to make use of available means to deter “those suspected of preparing genocide, or reasonably suspected of harbouring specific [genocidal] intent”. In the case of Myanmar, it may appear incongruous to place expectations on a State to prevent genocide when its own organs and agents are the ones that pose the serious risk of committing genocide. Nonetheless, Myanmar has a legal obligation to apply important and potentially wide ranging deterrent measures, arising from the core of the Convention’s object and purpose, to bring an end to genocide.
(e) Responsibilities of third party states
52. The Mission’s findings also attract the obligations of all States through general rules of State responsibility, international humanitarian law, arms transfer law and international human rights law. As a general matter, States must not aid or assist another State in the commission of unlawful acts. States must also cooperate to bring to an end the gross or systematic failure of another State to abide by obligations arising under a peremptory norm of general international law, which includes crimes against humanity, torture, genocide, racial discrimination and apartheid, and slavery. They must also not render aid or assistance in maintaining a situation that arose from such failures.
53. The Genocide Convention specifically requires all States parties to prevent and punish genocide. These obligations are not territorially limited or merely abstract. The obligation to prevent genocide has a corresponding duty to act that arises when a State “learns of, or should normally have learned of, the existence of a serious risk that genocide will be committed”. Once this happens, a State is under a duty to make use of available means to deter “those suspected of preparing genocide, or reasonably suspected of harbouring specific intent”.
54. States with greater influence over deterring genocide should do more. Factors for determining influence can include political, military and financial links. Levels of influence can also depend on geographic proximity, regularity of contact and legal powers. But even a State with limited influence retains obligations under the duty to prevent genocide. Moreover, the failure to prevent genocide does not require proof that the State definitely had the power to prevent the genocide. It is sufficient that the State manifestly refrained from using its powers when it had the means to do so. International law restricts States from doing only what is legally permissible when fulfilling their duty to prevent genocide.
55. The Genocide Convention is silent on the issue of States prosecuting people who are under their jurisdiction but who committed genocide on another State’s territory. Conversely, the Rome Statute recognized in its preamble “that it is the duty of every State to exercise its criminal jurisdiction over those responsible for international crimes”. Regardless of whether the Genocide Convention contains a similar obligation on foreign States parties to prosecute or extradite, the Mission continues its call to States to exercise their criminal jurisdiction over perpetrators of genocide crimes.
IV. The situation of the Rohingya
56. In its 2018 report, the Mission found that the attack on the Rohingya population of Myanmar was “horrendous in scope”. It found that, in much of northern Rakhine, “every trace of the Rohingya, their life and community as it had existed for decades, was removed” and that “indeed the clearance operations were successful”. The Mission concluded on reasonable grounds that, in addition to crimes against humanity and war crimes, the factors allowing for inference of genocidal intent were also present.
57. Based on information gathered by the Mission over the last year, this section describes the human rights situation of the approximately 600,000 Rohingya that remain in Rakhine State, of which 126,000 are in internally displaced camps and the remaining non-displaced population is spread across 10 townships.
58. Rohingya are faced with a situation where they continue to be denied the legal status of citizens and live in dire conditions. The Mission’s findings conclude that the Myanmar Government bears responsibility for the severe inhumane suffering that displaced Rohingya are facing. The policies and practices also make return impossible and are indicative of the continued persecution of the Rohingya population as a crime against humanity. The Mission concludes, based on its findings, that grave violations against the Rohingya continue and that there is a real and significant danger of the situation deteriorating further. The Mission also has reasonable grounds to conclude that the evidence that infers genocidal intent on the part of the State against the Rohingya, identified in its last report, has strengthened, that there is a serious risk that genocidal actions may occur or recur, and that Myanmar is failing in its obligation to prevent genocide, to investigate genocide and to enact effective legislation criminalizing and punishing genocide.
59. One year since the publication of its report, and two years since the “clearance operations” that began on 25 August 2017 and resulted in the exodus of over 743,000 Rohingya to neighbouring Bangladesh, the situation in Rakhine State also makes the prospect for a return of the Rohingya population impossible in the foreseeable future. This was the conclusion of the Mission last year and this remains its conclusion at present.
60. In its 2018 report, the Mission found that “the lack of legal status and identity is the cornerstone of the oppressive system targeting the Rohingya”. It found that the denial of citizenship had a profound impact on the enjoyment of other fundamental rights and that the requirement of membership of a “national race” as a key criterion of Myanmar citizenship was profoundly discriminatory against the Rohingya.
61. Section 347 of the 2008 Constitution of Myanmar stipulates that the Government is to “guarantee any person to enjoy equal rights before the law and shall equally provide legal protection”. The reality is that rights, such as the right to access to education, health care and livelihood activities, are linked to citizenship. Most notably, Constitutional provisions link land ownership with citizenship, giving rise to a well-founded fear that Rohingya can be legally dispossessed of their lands without confirmation of citizenship.
62. The Citizenship Law 1982 provides three categories of citizenship: “citizen”, “associate citizen” and “naturalized citizen.”
63. Only those identified as belonging to one of the 135 “national races” recognized in Myanmar’s Constitution are eligible for full citizenship, effectively making Myanmar a race-based State, where full rights are only reserved for those who are recognised as from one of the “national races”. The Rohingya are automatically disqualified from full citizenship, not being one of the 135 recognised national races. Individual Rohingya people may however qualify for associate or naturalised citizenship if they prove ancestral links to residence in what is now Myanmar since 1824 or a link that predates the establishment of the State in 1948. In a country where over 25 per cent of the population lacks official documents and where many have lost documents due to violence or departures, a large portion of the population, in particular the Rohingya, is unable to meet these requirements and so is unable to claim any of these categories of citizenship.
64. The few Rohingya who have been successful in obtaining citizenship in the past received the lesser “naturalised citizenship”. To qualify for naturalised citizenship, Section 44 of the 1982 Citizenship Law requires applicants to be over 18 years of age, speak one of the ethnic languages, be of good character and of sound mind. Naturalised citizenship falls short of full citizenship in that naturalized citizens may not hold political office or form a political party, and their citizenship may be revoked on various grounds. These provisions adversely affect women, who are less likely to speak an ethnic language. A UNHCR assessment of a group of 2,000 Rohingya from Myebon Township, who received citizenship documentation in a pilot project that began in 2014, found “no tangible changes” in their overall situation and found that “their constraints on freedom of movement persist, as well as their access to basic services including education, health and livelihoods”.
65. In 2017, the Rakhine Advisory Commission urged the authorities to review the 1982 Citizenship Law, acknowledge the arbitrary deprivation of nationality of the Rohingya community and restore their citizenship rights through a speedy administrative process developed through meaningful consultation with the Rohingya community. The Mission is not aware of any steps taken by the Government to review the 1982 Citizenship Law. Instead, the Government has intensified its efforts to force Rohingya to enter into a citizenship verification process by accepting National Verification Cards (NVCs) that explicitly recognize cardholders as non-citizens who need to apply for citizenship. Moreover, without amendments to the Citizenship Law, the NVC process could at best give them the status of either associate or naturalised citizens, neither of which confers the same level of rights as enjoyed by full citizens, further entrenching long-standing discrimination against the Rohingya community.
1. National Verification Cards
66. The Government claims that the National Verification Card process is a means for it to assess, verify and confirm or grant citizenship to the Rohingya. The process applies equally to Rohingya displaced internally, displaced across an international border and not displaced. An NVC declares that the holder is a “Bengali”, a term Rohingya reject as it implies the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and so not citizens of Myanmar. The Government is coercing people into accepting NVCs. It implies that accepting NVCs can lead to receiving citizenship and the fulfilment of other rights but in practice, for the great majority of those holding NVCs, it does not.
67. Intensified efforts by the Government of Myanmar in the lead up to and since the August 2017 “clearance operations” to coerce Rohingya to accept NVCs have been of grave concern. As one interviewee stated: “The authorities have linked everything to the NVC. People cannot fish or cut wood in the forest without holding a NVC. Businesspersons cannot do their business and families cannot visit relatives in prison. The Government is using every possible means to force people to obtain NVC.”
68. The Government has denied the Rohingya access to essential life-saving and life-supporting goods and services as punishment for refusing to accept the NVCs. Rohingya believe their refusal to accept NVCs in 2017 has led to the genocidal “clearance operations”, as described by the Mission’s 2018 report. Some civil society actors have gone so far as to suggest that the enforcement of the NVC process is a tool to commit genocide. The Government’s use of NVCs in this manner makes it inconceivable that they could be a pathway for the Government to respect the human rights of Rohingya; it is also inconceivable that Rohingya should trust the NVC process.
What the Government of Myanmar claims the NVCs provide
69. The Government continues to claim that the only pathway to citizenship for the Rohingya is through the NVC process. On 31 May 2019, the Government claimed that 67,699 individuals nationwide had received NVCs during the past three years. On 7 March 2019, U Shein Win, the deputy director-general of the National Registration and Citizenship Department of the Ministry of Labor, Population and Immigration, said that 14,000 NVCs had been issued in Rakhine, with half of the holders subsequently applying for citizenship. He noted that most of the successful applicants received green cards (Naturalized Citizenship cards) and blue cards (Associate Citizenship cards), with few who had the most complete family records receiving pink cards (Nationality cards). He did not indicate how many Rohingya had received citizenship through the NVC process.
70. Senior government officials claim that the NVC allows Rohingya to apply for citizenship in accordance with Myanmar’s Citizenship Law. In April 2018, a senior government official stated that “anyone who holds a NVC can apply for citizenship and can become a citizen within five months”. In May 2019, Dr Win Myat Aye, Vice-chair of Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine stressed that the returnees would be entitled to citizenship only after obtaining a NVC. This, he said, “is the first step in officially providing them with the right to citizenship”. In late July 2019, during a visit to the camps in Bangladesh, the Myanmar Government delegation restated the position about the requirement of a NVC to determine citizenship status.
71. The Mission received credible information suggesting that some applications for citizenship have remained unanswered for an extensive period and that the few successful applicants received only naturalized citizenship rather than full citizenship. Despite the Government’s claim to the contrary, the Mission found no evidence that supports its claims that the NVC process is to be extended to other ethnic groups apart from the Rohingya.
72. The Government of Myanmar claims that the NVC also provides cardholders with a series of rights, including registered residency and the ability to travel in accordance with local laws, orders and instructions. In January 2019, the Rakhine State Minister stated that NVCs will facilitate travel within Myanmar. Informational brochures prepared by the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population state that “the holders of NVCs in Rakhine State have the right to travel within Rakhine in accordance with the local orders and directives of the Rakhine State Government”. This followed reports that, in certain areas, NVC-holders could enjoy freedom of movement. For instance, in June 2018, the Government announced that NVC-holders can enjoy freedom of movement in Maungdaw district. In January 2019, authorities in central Rakhine’s Pauktaw Township announced that Rohingya traveling to neighboring villages require a NVC.
73. On 14 January 2018, during a visit to Sittwe Township, Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, Dr. Win Myat Aye, stated that NVC-holders can use the NVC as an official fishing licence and can overcome the difficulties of procuring food, clothing and shelter. In October 2018, during a visit to Cox’s Bazar, a delegation from Myanmar distributed brochures to refugees that also stated that travel, fishing rights, social and economic activities and “guarantees of life” all require the possession of an NVC.
Image of brochure distributed by a Myanmar delegation in Cox’s Bazar in October 2018 (page 1)
Image of brochure distributed by a Myanmar delegation in Cox’s Bazar in October 2018 (Page 2)
Rights conferred on NVC-holders in practice
74. While the Government has claimed that NVCs “are not for foreigners but for people residing in Myanmar” and that it allows for the enjoyment of a wide range of rights, the Mission finds that these various statements do not reflect the facts on the ground.
75. First, the NVCs do not grant automatic citizenship or trigger an automatic assessment of the applicant’s citizenship status. With the NVC, the cardholder may apply for citizenship and will need to undergo a citizenship assessment in accordance with Myanmar’s citizenship law. The card states this explicitly: “the holder of the card is a person who needs to apply for citizenship in accordance with the Myanmar citizenship law”. With the exception of the group of 2,000 Rohingya from Myebon, who received a form of citizenship in the pilot verification exercise that began in 2014, the Mission is unaware of any cases where NVCs have led to the same, or similar, results.
76. Second, the NVCs have not granted cardholders the ability to travel more freely or access their rights in a more meaningful way. Information from interviewees indicates that NVC-holders, similar to non NVC-holders, continue to face harassment and extortion at security checkpoints by the Tatmadaw and Border Guard Police (BGP) officials, affecting their freedom of movement. The Mission is also aware of reports of fishermen in Sittwe in possession of NVCs still being permitted to fish for only two days a week.
Harassment, intimidation and coercion
77. In its 2018 report, the Mission found that Rohingya were forced to accept NVCs through administrative pressure, threats and acts of violence. BGP and immigration officers consistently used threats and intimidation to force Rohingya to accept NVCs. Rohingya were told that they were Bengali, as the NVCs recorded, and did not belong to Myanmar. These derogatory statements were often accompanied by threats that their villages would be burnt down and people killed if they refused to accept the NVC. In some instances, Rohingya were told that they had to either accept the NVC or leave the country.
78. Some of these patterns continue to be reported to the Mission. In incidents that the Mission investigated, authorities resorted to extreme measures, including by making NVCs compulsory to enjoy freedom of movement, which resulted in the deprivation of livelihoods and work. NVCs have become the mandatory document to be checked at the security checkpoints, in the context of an increased number of security checkpoints throughout northern Rakhine State. One interviewee stated to the Mission:
My brother and I used to work as drivers in Maungdaw Town. Following the August 2017 violence, authorities began checking NVC when traveling from one location to another. Prior to the violence, only driving licence was required for driving. Without NVC I was unable to travel a long distance and could only move within my hamlet. The lack of job, shortage of food and movement restrictions without NVC, forced me to leave my village.
NVCs and prisoner release
79. The Government also forced NVCs on Rohingya prisoners as a condition of release, through threats and other forms of coercion. Individuals refusing to receive the document were at risk of indefinite arbitrary detention. A prisoner told the Mission: “I was handed a NVC on the day of my release. When I objected, I was told that I should either take a NVC or spend my entire life in prison.” Without asking Rohingya prisoners if they wanted to receive the cards, immigration officers made the prisoners accept the cards by forcing the prisoners to sign, electronically or on paper, and to have identity photos taken inside the prison. During this process, prisoners were not allowed to ask questions and were reminded that they were “Bengali”. The cards were prepared in advance and handed over to prisoners on the day of their release. Additionally, Rohingya prisoners had to pay 10,000 Kyat (7 USD) to receive the card. Prisoners from other ethnic communities were not issued NVCs.
80. A Rohingya man, who was released from Buthidaung prison in late 2018, after having served for 44 months, stated:
Prior to my release, prison officials issued me a NVC against my will. They forced me to accept the document. Prison officials threatened that they would keep me in prison for an indefinite period if I refused. My release was strictly conditional upon NVC and I knew refusal to accept would mean additional suffering inside the prison. I had no option but to give in and accept NVC card.
81. Authorities also required Rohingya family members to present a NVC to be able to visit relatives in detention. Individuals unwilling or unable to produce a NVC could not visit family throughout the course of their detention.
82. As an indication of what a repatriation process might include for the thousands of displaced Rohingya, authorities forced NVCs on Rohingya who were returned to Myanmar from India in October 2018 and January 2019. In its preliminary needs assessment for repatriation in Rakhine State, ASEAN-ERAT confirmed this process, noting that returnees will be issued NVCs upon completion of the registration process at the Reception Centre. It was said that the NVC would serve as a guarantee for the returnees to access livelihood opportunities and basic needs such as health and education services. However, the experiences of Rohingya with NVCs to date indicate the contrary.
Attitudes towards the NVCs
83. The Mission heard many accounts from the Rohingya community about their strong opposition to the NVCs. There appears to be a complete distrust in the Government’s sincerity regarding its assurances that the NVCs are a pathway to citizenship. The inherent distrust arises from a variety of factors, including a long history of cancellation or replacement of previous cards with new cards for Rohingya.
84. The Rohingya perceive the NVC as a tool of suppression that adversely affects nearly every aspect of their lives and erodes their fundamental freedoms, including their right to an identity, as it does not allow them to identify as Rohingya. Rohingya in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Malaysia and other parts of the region have consistently shared concerns with the Mission over the NVC and the associated process, and it has been cited as one of the main factors leading to their decision to leave the country and not return.
85. The NVC application form gives Rohingya no other option than to identify as “Bengali”. The Government’s apparent attempt to address this issue was to remove references to religion and ethnicity in an updated NVC sometime last year. However, the NVC application form still includes this specification, which renders the process deeply inadequate. The NVC application form is completed by the authorities, who record “Bengali” under ethnicity.
Image of the NVC application form (Page 1)
86. Rohingya also have the well-founded view that the NVC process is a deliberate attempt by the authorities to force Rohingya to concede they are foreigners who do not have Myanmar citizenship. The application form for the NVC requires applicants to provide information on “ethnicity and nationality, date and entry into Myanmar and place of arrival, vehicle and transport route into Myanmar”, all of which implies they came from elsewhere. The NVC states that the cardholder is someone who needs to apply for citizenship. This language implies that Rohingya are outsiders and plays into the false hate-filled narratives of Rohingya as “Bengali intruders”. This language on the NVC implies the cardholder is not already a citizen.
Image of the NVC application form (Page 2)
87. Given that, under the Constitution, land ownership is connected to citizenship, for Rohingya who registered land titles at a time when they were considered citizens, acceptance of the NVC may carry a real risk of a loss of their land and connected livelihood opportunities.
88. Many Rohingya also reject the NVC and its process due to a lack of clarity regarding the rights conferred upon NVC-holders. Rohingya interviewed by the Mission stated that NVCs do not grant them rights and discrimination continues regardless of whether the individuals are in possession of an NVC, as detailed above.
Part of an image of a NVC
89. Overall, Rohingya the Mission spoke to, did not believe NVCs provide a clear pathway to citizenship. They perceived NVCs as unwarranted because their ancestors were nationals of Myanmar, who actively participated in democratic processes, including elections, and some of whom held senior ministerial positions in the country. They assert a right to be recognised as full citizens and to be treated equally with other ethnic groups. An interviewee told the Mission:
We are citizens of Myanmar. Our grandparents were citizens of Myanmar. The Government introduced NVC to deprive us of our nationality. We will never give in to pressure and will never accept NVC. We knew by accepting the NVC, we would run into more sophisticated problems.
90. These attitudes are well-founded and understandable. Statements by government officials demonstrate that the “clearance operations” beginning on 25 August 2017 were a response to Rohingya villagers collectively refusing to accept NVCs and, that the “clearance operations” were not aimed at crushing the ARSA, as the Government claimed. The Mission has evidence that these statements were made at important village meetings, in front of large audiences of soldiers and Rohingya civilians, immediately preceding the “clearance operations” against the Rohingya.
91. At a 22 August 2017 meeting in the village of Chut Pyin in northern Rathedaung Township, a Tatmadaw commander from the 33rd LID told a group of Rohingya villagers, in the presence of members of the 33rd LID, that he would kill and burn them if they did not accept the NVCs. The commander told the audience, “We came from Yangon, from LID 33. You don’t belong to this country. As you are here, we gave you place to stay. You have to live here as how we want, we decide. You have to follow our order. We came from Kachin and Shan. We killed many people. We came here directly from there. We will kill you as well. You have to receive the NVC. We will burn your village and turn into ashes.” A few days later, on or around 27 August, the 33rd LID attacked villages in the Chut Pyin village tract after villagers rejected the cards.
92. A similar meeting took place on the same day in front of an old mosque in Min Gyi (Tu Lar Tu Li) village tract in northern Maungdaw Township. It is less clear who from the government attended or spoke at the meeting. When the villagers said they would not accept the NVC cards, the person conducting the meeting, referred to by one witness as “the chief”, said “If you don’t receive it, you will suffer, you will be destroyed.” Soon after the Tatmadaw attacked the village.
93. In March 2018, the media quoted Senior General Min Aung Hlaing as saying, “Rohingya do not have any characteristics or culture in common with the ethnicities of Myanmar” and “the current conflict has been fuelled because the Bengalis demanded citizenship”. These incidents and statements strengthen the inference that the military’s attack on the Rohingya was carried out with genocidal intent to destroy the Rohingya, in whole or in part, as a people.
2. Annual household list
94. Government authorities conduct an annual household listing exercise to record those living in Myanmar. Each year’s list adds newborns and deletes the names of the departed or deceased. The process includes taking photos of all family members in a household, often carrying a card with individual names and their “serial number” on the household list.
95. Household lists are issued and updated by the Ministry of Immigration and Population and the Ministry of Home Affairs. They are the only form of identification for many Rohingya since the revocation of Temporary Registration Cards on 31 March 2015, which established their place of origin and rights to their property. The household lists are so important that Rohingya the Mission interviewed in camps in Bangladesh showed interviewers their household photos, with the cards with their names that they had brought with them when they fled Myanmar.
96. Being absent from a household list puts people at risk of arrest, detention and extortion. Individuals not on a household list could also be denied access to basic services, including healthcare, education or other essential administrative services, including NVC applications, and marriage and travel permits.
97. These risks are so severe that Rohingya who arrived in Bangladesh during the reporting period told the Mission that they had fled due to their inability to register on the household lists.
98. Persons interviewed by the Mission reported that authorities were aggressive during the annual listing process and randomly removed individuals from the list, including those who were absent at the time when the officials went house to house to update the lists. Individuals not registered are at risk of arrest, detention and extortion. An interviewee from Buthidaung, who sought shelter in Bangladesh in early April 2019, stated:
BGP and immigration officers carried out an unannounced and sudden household inspection in early 2019. They removed the names of villagers who were absent. My family members were able to register but I could not, since I was not present when the officials carried out the inspection. I pleaded the village Administrator for help, which he refused. Following the removal of my name, I was risking arrest for staying in the village and had to flee Myanmar.
99. After the “clearance operations”, the BGP and the Committee for the Prevention of the Illegal Immigration of Foreigners, or Makapa, commenced a “household list” updating exercise in late 2018. Conducting population checks after the “clearance operations” had a particularly detrimental impact on the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who were unable to return to their homes to be present for the checks. The Mission received accounts of inspection authorities deleting the names of Rohingya who had fled to Bangladesh following the August 2017 events.
100. One victim recounted to the Mission that the household list updating exercise in his village, that took place in February 2019, was accompanied by intimidation, coercion, arbitrary arrests, extortion, high unofficial fees and physical and sexual violence. Women were forced to remove their veils, which is culturally and religiously sensitive, and in many cases they were inappropriately touched and sexually harassed by male officials. The interviewee said officers also used insulting and derogatory language. In addition, each family had to pay between 3,000 and 5,000 Kyat (2 to 4 USD) to the registering officers as a bribe. Families had to be photographed carrying a card representing their serial number on the household list, for an additional fee of 5,000 Kyat (4 USD).
3. Conclusion and legal findings
101. Consistent with its 2018 report, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds, and for the same reasons, that the Government of Myanmar continues to exceed its sovereign right to establish laws governing the acquisition, renunciation and loss of citizenship by violating the prohibition against discrimination and arbitrary deprivation of citizenship, including when it would result in statelessness. The Mission restates its position that the 1982 Citizenship Law is discriminatory, is inconsistent with Myanmar’s international human rights obligations and arbitrarily denies Rohingya the possibility of attaining full citizenship. As a result, the Rohingya are also denied access to basic services, including education, health care and livelihood opportunities, thereby depriving them of fundamental human rights.
102. The Mission also concludes on reasonable grounds that the Government is using the NVC process and its annual household list as tools to deny the Rohingya these rights. The Government uses NVCs to deny Rohingya their right to citizenship in exchange for false promises of an effective citizenship process and other fundamental human rights. The Government is using its annual household list process as a tool to limit the number of people who can apply for NVCs.
103. When used in this manner, the NVC process is as an integral part of the Government’s protracted attempts to deny the Rohingya their identity and citizenship. Authorities are holding hostage the fundamental human rights of Rohingya through the NVC process, with a policy of denying the Rohingya their universal human rights unless they accept the NVC. When Rohingya refused to accept the NVCs in August 2017, authorities used it as a pretext to uproot and remove them from Myanmar through mass forced displacement, death and destruction. For all these reasons, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the NVCs are being used in this manner only against the Rohingya population and that the NVC process is incapable of serving the purposes that the Government claims. Instead, the NVC is a tool that undermines and distracts from the immediate and effective legislative and other reforms required to resolve the human rights crisis that the Rohingya are facing.
104. Authorities enflame the situation by carrying out the household listing in a manner that intentionally omits people from the list and, in doing so, puts them at risk of detention, extortion and denial of access to basic services, including healthcare, education or other essential administrative services, such as marriage and travel permits. Rohingya who arrived in Bangladesh during the reporting period told the Mission that they fled because the consequences of not being on the household list were so severe. The Mission therefore concludes on reasonable grounds that the manner in which the Government applies the household list further demonstrates the disingenuous nature of its claims that the NVC is a pathway to citizenship.
105. The Mission also concludes on reasonable grounds that Rohingya have a deep-rooted and well-founded distrust in the NVC process and that the Myanmar Government must implement effective guarantees to acknowledge or recognize the citizenship of Rohingya through a direct citizenship application process, with due process rights guaranteed. Such a process cannot be through the NVC procedures. Rather, the right to citizenship of Rohingya must be recognized in an amended Constitution and Citizenship Law. This will support the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. Consideration should be given to enable Rohingya to apply for citizenship from Bangladesh and elsewhere.
106. To understand the full consequences of the Government’s 1982 Citizenship Law, NVC process and household lists for the Rohingya people, the Mission finds it appropriate to assess this issue in combination with its other findings and conclusions. As explained in greater detail in the report’s Conclusions and legal findings: the impossibility of return, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the Government’s citizenship restrictions contribute to the continued persecution of the Rohingya people and deny them rights that result in serious or great inhumane suffering, both of which are crimes against humanity. The manner in which the Government restricts citizenship also denies Rohingya their identity and deprives them of the rights people need to survive and live with dignity. The Mission regards such restrictions and denials as one of several indicators that it has identified to infer that the Government continues to harbour genocidal intent and that the Rohingya remain under serious risk of genocide. Finally, the Mission concludes that citizenship restrictions contribute to an overall condition that makes it unsafe, unhumane, unsustainable and impossible for Rohingya to return to Myanmar.
B. Land clearance, destruction, confiscation and construction
107. The Government of Myanmar has made statements to the effect that it will restore peace and stability in Rakhine State in order to facilitate repatriation. However, the Mission has found that the conditions under which some 600,000 remaining Rohingya live in Rakhine State are such that do not allow for safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation. Indeed, the Mission found that the Government of Myanmar has not put in place the necessary conditions to allow the returning Rohingya population to return to their land.
108. In May 2019, the Experts of the Mission visited Konarpara, Zero Point Zone, on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, where approximately 4,000 internally displaced Rohingya remain trapped, predominantly inside Myanmar territory, since September 2017. Immediately after their arrival at the Zero Point Zone, Myanmar authorities replaced an old border fence with concrete, steel and wire barriers. This was aimed at preventing the displaced Rohingya from returning to their homes and land. The displaced population explained to the Mission that they have been unable to return to their places of origin despite repeated requests and pleas to the Myanmar authorities.
109. In March 2018, Myanmar authorities through loudspeakers demanded that they leave the area. High-level Myanmar officials visited the area and spoke with the displaced population. Rohingya requested the visiting delegation to allow them to return to their places of origin. Their responses had always been that they would discuss the matter with authorities in Naypyidaw, the capital. However, to date, there has been no progress on their return. The population remains in a precarious situation with limited access to humanitarian support, with only the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) providing humanitarian assistance to the displaced population.
110. New arrivals in Bangladesh, with whom the Mission spoke, paint a bleak picture of the reality on the ground in Rakhine. This section summarises these findings.
The Situation of the Internally Displaced
111. Myanmar has 128,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in central Rakhine who have been living in camps or camp-like settings for the past seven years. Some 126,000 of them are Rohingya; all of them are Muslims. About 80 per cent of the camp population are women and children. These camps were established following the 2012 violence, which resulted in the displacement of over 140,000 people. Most of them were Rohingya. During the violence, security forces committed serious human rights violations against Rohingya and Kaman and failed to intervene to stop the violence, leading the Mission to find that the violence was pre-planned and instigated and that the security forces acted in complicity with ethnic Rakhine.
112. The harsh living conditions to which the Government is subjecting Rohingya IDPs is additional evidence that the Rohingya are not welcome. It indicates what premature repatriation of Rohingya from camps in Bangladesh would look like.
113. When the camps were established, the Government asserted that they would not be permanent. The Mission’s 2018 report described the camps’ appalling conditions. Seven years on, in May 2019, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, raised concerns over restrictions on IDP freedom of movement and access to livelihoods. The United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ursula Mueller, reaffirmed that same month that “After seven years of displacement, the conditions in camps have deteriorated and are simply unacceptable”. At the end of a three day visit to Myanmar, on 31 January 2019, the UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, remarked that living conditions in one of the camps she visited in Rakhine State were “sub-optimal, stripping children of their dignity and exposing them to violence, exploitation, disease and neglect. Families were confined to the camps, depriving them of a livelihood and leaving their children malnourished.” The camp was designed as a temporary shelter but had been housing families for over six years.
114. In June 2018, the Government announced a strategic plan to close IDP camps in Rakhine, Kachin, Shan and Kayin States. However, over a year later, a few camps have been declared “closed” but Rohingya residing there continue to live in the same conditions, dependent on humanitarian assistance, due to a lack of access to sustainable livelihood opportunities and basic services, further entrenching segregation. The draft plan states that the objective of the camp closure strategy is “to ensure sustainable resettlement …. and to create livelihood opportunities…” as well as to “…proceed with resettlement arrangements in accordance with the will of those residing in the camps in order to enable the residents in those camps to become independent and resume their normal lives…” While the draft strategy is welcome, it is important for the authorities to hold meaningful consultations with the affected communities and to take on board any of their concerns in implementing it. It is essential for the strategy to be implemented in a way that ensures the human rights of the IDPs.
115. In a recommendation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission in 2017, the Government was called upon to ensure freedom of movement, access to education, health, livelihood and basic services to the IDPs. However, in declaring a few camps closed, the Government has focused only on infrastructure and shelter changes without addressing the fundamental issues identified by the Commission, such as freedom of movement and access to livelihoods and other services. Without these reforms, IDPs remain unable to achieve normal and sustainable living conditions and to access basic services such as education, health and livelihoods. The lack of access to basic services and livelihoods and the movement restrictions have only increased the reliance of IDPs on humanitarian assistance.
116. The human rights crisis that the Rohingya remaining in Rakhine state are facing is in large part due to the Government’s confiscation and re-appropriation of land they once lived on and cultivated. This is in addition to the Government’s clearance and destruction of Rohingya lands during its 2017 “clearance operations”. According to a UNOSAT assessment, from the start of the “clearance operations” that began in August 2017, up until April 2019, 214 Rohingya settlements were completely or almost completely (more than 90 per cent) destroyed and another 202 settlements were partially destroyed. UNOSAT estimates that 40,600 structures were destroyed in these 416 settlements.
117. The Government of Myanmar established the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine (UEHRD) in response to widespread international condemnation of the August 2017 “clearance operations” in northern Rakhine State. The UEHRD is a public-private partnership for implementing government policy in Rakhine State. Its stated aims are to provide humanitarian assistance to violence-affected populations and facilitate the return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh. It has an Infrastructure Development and Construction task force for renovating buildings and undertaking new construction in partnership with private companies. The UEHRD is chaired by State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, with the Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, Dr. Win Myat Aye, as vice chair.
118. As outlined under the UEHRD Action Plan, the Ministry of Construction leads village development and Regional and State governments, carry out village construction, as well as the Infrastructure Development and Construction task force and the Ministry of Construction, using UEHRD funds. Donations for building new homes for victims of conflict are also accepted from private individuals and local foundations. Available information indicates that the UEHRD has engaged crony companies for these construction projects and that these companies and their leaders, with enduring links to the Tatmadaw, are financing UEHRD development projects in northern Rakhine. In her keynote remarks to an investment fair sponsored by Japan in Rakhine State on 22 February 2019, State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, said,
For too long the international community’s attention has been focused narrowly on negative aspects related to problems in north Rakhine rather than on the panoramic picture that shows the immense potential of this state for peace and prosperity.
119. The FAO and WFP also reported in July 2019 that the Ministry for the Progress of Border Areas and National Races (now the Ministry of Border Affairs) constructed new “model villages” to host relocated “Burmese and Arakan people” on confiscated land in northern Rakhine. These villages, the report concluded, were mostly concentrated around Maungdaw Township and “were part of a scheme to remodel the demographics of Northern Rakhine State”.
Deprivation of Rohingya-owned and cultivated land
120. The forced deportation of over 812,000 Rohingya from Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung Townships in 2016 and 2017 has significantly depopulated northern Rakhine. Prior to the clearance operations, Rakhine State was home to 1.2 million Rohingya – with two thirds residing in Buthidaung, Maungdaw and Rathedaung Townships. There are now estimated to be 600,000 Rohingya left, of which 126,000 are IDPs and the remaining non-displaced population is scattered across 10 Townships in central and northern Rakhine. In a highly agrarian area, this has meant that large areas of agricultural land have been left unattended to and unharvested.
121. The Myanmar Government, including through the UEHRD, has adopted several measures that have resulted in the large-scale confiscation of land where Rohingya had lived and farmed and in the appropriation of profits from that land into the national budget, under Union Government policy. One measure has been the harvesting of untended rice paddies by government personnel, in collaboration with private sector companies, under the auspices of the UEHRD. According to an official statement from the UEHRD information and communications office, another measure has involved Agriculture Mechanisation Department personnel, including additional staff from Sagaing and Mandalay States, recording ownership of paddies, plot numbers and quantity harvested, so that any rice or profit could be returned to the “original owners”. However, according to the Rakhine State Chief Minister, the proceeds of sale of the harvest from 70,000 acres of rice paddies in Maungdaw Township will be transferred to the national budget. The Chief Minister was quoted as saying, “We don’t want the paddies to go to waste so we are doing our utmost to quickly reap them and plus this can contribute to the national budget as well. The money that we receive from sales of these crops will be used in this state’s development. We have already signed a contract with [a local buyer]… We are currently reaping the paddies in Rathedaung and southern Maungdaw, and we will eventually head towards Buthidaung. As per the contract, money from the sales of the paddies will be deposited in a bank account as part of the national budget. As to how the money will be utilised will depend on the policies and guidelines the Union Government puts forward.”
122. Prior to the 2016 and 2017 “clearance operations”, 80 per cent of the population of Maungdaw Township was Rohingya. In Rakhine State, 85 per cent of agricultural land under cultivation was used for rice paddy cultivation. The Myanmar Rice Federation and Myanmar Agribusiness Public Cooperation were involved in the harvesting of Rohingya owned and cultivated land in 2017 and 2018. The General Secretary of the Myanmar Rice Federation stated that, to assist the UEHRD, the Myanmar Rice Federation would provide harvesters and dryers to harvest 30 to 40,000 acres of rice paddies in Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships “because farmers and owners left their places”.
123. Rohingya-owned and cultivated land was also confiscated in areas of northern Rakhine State where Rohingya remained. Rohingya farmers living in Ah Lel Chaung in Buthidaung described the situation as becoming increasingly difficult from around October 2017, when security forces began harvesting Rohingya fields to the west of the village and took the crops away in trucks. According to the Rakhine State Minister of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry and Mining, the UEHRD oversaw the harvesting and sale of 45,000 acres of “ownerless Bengali land” in northern Rakhine State. A Rakhine State lawmaker was quoted as saying that farmland formerly owned and cultivated by Rohingya would be leased out to local ethnic [Rakhine] farmers and private rice-growing companies.
124. Recent amendments to the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Managament Act (VFV Law) increase greatly the insecurity of tenure Rohingya people have over the land they own and farm. Under the VFV Law as amended, anyone living on land categorized as “vacant, fallow, or virgin” must apply for a permit to continue using it. Failure to do this can result in harsh criminal sanctions, including imprisonment and fines. In May 2019, the Government announced that it would confiscate 19,000 acres (7,689 hectares) of land for not complying with the law. According to government estimates, “vacant, fallow or virgin” land totals more than 20 million hectares, 30 per cent of Myanmar’s land area. Seventy-five percent of this land is located in Myanmar’s most ethnically diverse states, as a result of the Government’s failure to recognize the ethnic groups’ traditional and informal documentation of land ownership. Rakhine State has one of the highest proportions of land categorized as “vacant, fallow or virgin”, amounting to 42 per cent of its land area. Under the VFV Law, Rohingya cannot apply for permits for their land as they are not recognized as members of a “national race”. This could result in the confiscation of the land owned by nearly one million forcibly displaced and deported Rohingya.
125. In 2019, seven Special Procedures mandate holders of the UN Human Rights Council expressed serious concerns that the law could result in the dispossession of land without adequate notice, loss of livelihoods and adequate food and that it could drive people into poverty. Combined with the Government’s other land access restrictions, the law will have a disproportionate impact on Rohingya.
126. The Mission received information from Rohingya directly affected by the Government’s land policies. This included accounts of the Tatmadaw and ethnic Rakhine confiscating Rohingya land for the construction of security bases or camps. In some cases, the Tatmadaw confiscated cultivatable lands that belong to Rohingya who fled Myanmar. In other instances, ethnic Rakhine forcibly occupied Rohingya lands. One interviewee described to the Mission how the military marked the land by placing a military flag - a sign indicating that the land had been confiscated. Some Rohingya told the Mission that they were no longer allowed to consume products from their own lands following the confiscation and that the land was used for the Tatmadaw’s own interests. One interviewee described how he and his brother were driven out of their house and how their house was destroyed and the site turned into a police base. An interviewee who was released from prison in early 2019 gave the following account:
After my release, I spent a couple of days in Buthidaung Township before I visited my village. As I arrived, I found the entire village demolished. The authorities were constructing a huge compound. It looked like a military compound or an IDP camp. The area was fenced and the compound was constructed on around 200 hectares of land. I saw huge bulldozers, vehicles and construction materials. The construction of the building was yet to begin. I couldn’t stay in the village for fear of arrest.
127. Satellite imagery confirms these types of accounts and that new construction is taking place, particularly in Maungdaw and Buthidaung Townships, on sites of Rohingya villages that were either burnt or abandoned around the time of the “clearance operations” in 2017.
128. UNOSAT identified destruction still occurring in northern Rakhine State after November 2018, mostly concentrated in central Maungdaw and Buthidaung Townships. Between November 2018 and May 2019, a total of 30 villages, including five new villages, across these two townships were destroyed, mostly by burning. These five villages are Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son village, Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son village tract, the three villages of Ka Nyin Tan, Doe Tan, and Na Khaung To, Ka Nyin Tan (a) Alel Than Kyaw Ka Nyin Tan village tract, Maungdaw Township and the village of Taung (Pale Taung), Nan Yar Kone village tract, in Buthidaung Township.
129. Demolition of a significant number of structures was also visible throughout the reporting period as was construction of new structures throughout the analysed area.
Image around the village tracts of (Pa) Nyaung Pin Gyi, Tha Yae Kone Tan, Zaw Ma Tet, Than Dar, and Ka Nyin Tan (a) Alel Than Kyaw Ka Nyin Tan, Maungdaw Township dated 10 April 2019 showing structures damaged by fire
130. In addition, UNOSAT detected four small cleared areas in Maungdaw Township: the first related to previous road improvement works 500 meters south of Khway Lar Bin Gar, Thi Ho Kyun village tract; the second affected a small damaged portion of the Tha Yae Kone Tan (North) village, Tha Yae Kone Tan village tract, possibly a small excavation site; the third in Myin Hlut Ywar Thit village, Myin Hlut village tract, potentially related to an enlargement of a recently constructed small security post; and the fourth at Zay Di, Kyauk Pan Du village tract, in a previously detected new construction site, with new buildings (on top of a damaged area) and possible security features constructed in the area.
Image of Zay Di, Kyauk Pan Du village tract dated 30 March 2019 showing terrain clearing, newly constructed features and previously damaged areas bulldozed in the area
131. Further damage has been identified mainly in three different areas: around Yin Ma Zay village, Nga Yant Chaung (a) Taung Bazar village tract, Buthidaung Township; in Dar Gyi Zar village, Dar Gyi Zar village tract, Maungdaw Township; in the village tracts of (Pa) Nyaung Pin Gyi, Tha Yae Kone Tan, Zaw Ma Tet and Than Dar, Maungdaw Township, affecting also three previously intact villages: Na Khaung To, Doe Tan and Ka Nyin Tan, Ka Nyin Tan (a) Alel Than Kyaw Ka Nyin Tan village tract. This last large affected area was almost completely destroyed in September 2017, and was mainly marked by freshly burnt fields and structures, with fire still visible in the images.
Image of damage within and around the village of Yin Ma Zay, Nga Yant Chaung (a) Taung Bazar village tract, Buthidaung Township, as of 29 April 2019
132. Construction of a considerable number of new single structures or very small groups of houses was also visible during the reporting period. New structures were also constructed in 3 village tracts which were destroyed previously, namely Shein Kar Li, Hla Poe Kaung village tract (Maungdaw), Gu Dar Pyin in Gu Dar Pyin village tract (Buthidaung) and Chein Khar Li in Koe Tan Kauk village tract (Rathedaung). Minor infrastructure construction was identified in Yae Myet Taung and Gaw Du Thar Ra (Ywar Thit Kay) in Maungdaw Township. In Gu Dar Pyin, in addition to the new houses, built in November 2018, more than 50 additional structures were built on the areas destroyed in September 2017. In the north between the villages of Hla Poe Kaung and Shein Kar Li, Maungadaw Township, a total of 120 structures were detected forming a possible reception centre planned in the area. This area is near the resettlement camp constructed by March 2018 over the bulldozed damaged area of the former Haw Ri Tu Lar village, Zin Paing Nyar village tract. In Chein Khar Li, a new site under construction was identified that would possibly accommodate 50 structures.
Image of new construction in Gu Dar Pyin village, Buthidaung Township as of 2 April 2019
Image of new structures north of the resettlement camp of Haw Ri Tu Lar village between 23 November 2018 and 8 April 2019
Image of Chein Khar Li (Ku Lar), Koe Tan Kauk village tract, Rathedaung Township as of 20 March 2019 showing new structures under construction in the village
133. UNOSAT identified further development in four village tracts including Aung Ba La village in Shwe Zar Kat Pa Kaung village tract, Maungdaw Township, Inn Din village tract in Maungdaw Township, Yin Ma Zay village in Nga Yant Chaung (a) Taung Bazar village tract, Buthidaung Township, and a security area in the northern Buthidaung region. In Aung Ba La a large new site appeared completed with 150 structures. In the small port area west of Ka Nyin Chaung village in Maungdaw Township, a small road network, a new bridge and a couple of additional features were under construction.
Image of Aung Ba La, Shwe Zar Kat Pa Kaung village tract, Maungdaw Township as of 8 April 2019 showing the completion of new structures near the village
134. In Inn Din village tract, a considerable number of structures appear to be under construction in addition to the new large structures at the security post that was initially visible as of March 2018 on damaged land. In Tha Ra Zaing, Aye Yar Cha village tract, Buthidaung Township, two artillery pieces and many possible missile transport trailers were visible near the large main central buildings of the security post.
Image of Inn Din village tract, Maungdaw Township showing additional security structures as of 19 April 2019
Image of northern Buthidaung Township showing new structures and two artillery pieces dated 29 April 2019
Image showing new structures, helicopters and artillery pieces at the security post near the village of Da Pyu Chaung, Da Pyu Chaung village tract as of 19 April 2019
135. Further expansion of security posts, constructed by March 2018, were identified in November 2018, including the ones at Let Thar village, Ah Lel Chaung village tract, Kan Kya (South) village in Myo Thu Gyi village tract and Inn Din village tract.
Image of continuous security post expansion works near the village of Let Thar, Ah Lel Chaung village tract, Buthidaung Township, as of 2 April 2019
Image of Kan Kya (South) village in Myo Thu Gyi Village Tract, Maungdaw Township showing newly constructed security features and those under construction as of 10 April 2019
136. Road construction is visible in the northern part of the major north-south road axis running from Myin Hlut Ywar Thit, Myin Hlut village tract, Maungdaw Township, to Ah Ngu Maw (Kone Tan), Ah Ngu Maw Kone Tan village tract, Rathedaung Township. A new road has been constructed between Ku Toet Seik village, Nan Yar Kone village tract, Buthidaung Township, located opposite the river east of Buthidaung Town, and Pyin Shey (Rakhine) village, Kyauk Taung (a) Pyin Shey village tract, Buthidaung Township.
137. UNOSAT also reported a steady increase in securitization after November 2018, including through building fences or trenches in and around existing posts. In a few places additional structures were built inside or around the posts. Other new apparent security features include single small lines of security fences constructed around small areas, some enclosing a few new buildings. Most of them were constructed close to populated places, like NaTaLas or Buddhist villages, distinguished by proximity to pagodas. In addition, excavation activities are visible in three places, including one between Gandamar (NaTaLa) village and Buthidaung prison, a second north of Kyauk Hla Pyin village, both in Let Wea Det Pyin Shey village tract, Buthidaung Town, and the last one between the villages of Baw Di Kone and DPA (Nyein Chan Ray), (Du) Chee Yar Tan village tract, Maungdaw Township.
Image of Myin Hlut showing excavation sites as of 20 March 2019
138. The Mission acknowledges reports that the Government is purportedly building new houses for Rohingya returnees but it received strong indications that these new constructions will be used to control and manage the Rohingya population in a manner that will not respect their rights and freedoms. It appears that they will remain segregated from other ethnic communities, as has been the case with the existing Rohingya IDP camps. A man who left Buthidaung said that, around July 2018, a group of military officials said at a meeting that the Government was building these camps, while at the same time telling villagers that “This is not your country. You are Bengali, Bangladeshi. You have to follow our order. Everything belong to us –even the cows, goats.”
By its own admission, in June 2019, the Government said that it would “take into consideration the distance to original villages” in relocating returnees and that it had only “identified 42 villages to be relocated whereby a total of 80,000 houses were expected to be constructed and that as of then, only 1,036 permanent houses had been completed, 618 permanent houses were under construction, and 27 permanent houses had been earmarked but not started yet”. These numbers alone speak to the impossibility of return for the close to one million displaced Rohingya people. There are also strong indications that the constructions on Rohingya land are not destined for the returning Rohingya, but for ethnic Rakhine and other Buddhists, in an effort to ethnically re-engineer northern Rakhine State.
Conclusions and legal findings
139. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the Government undertook a concerted effort to clear and destroy and then confiscate and build on the lands from which it forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya. The consequences are two-fold. This government-led effort subjugates Rohingya to inhumane living conditions as IDPs and refugees by denying them access to their land, keeping them uprooted from their homes, depriving them of their to ability to progress in healthy and safe communities and preventing them from engaging in livelihood activities that sustain them as a people. The second consequence of the Government’s four-pronged approach of clearing, destroying, confiscating and building on land is that it is fundamentally altering the demographic landscape of the area by cementing the demographic re-engineering of Rakhine State that resulted from mass displacement. Much of this is being done under the guise of “development”, with a clear discourse emerging to this effect in the immediate aftermath of the August 2017 “clearance operations”.
140. The Government’s four-pronged land approach represents a total onslaught against the rights of the Rohingya, in particular their economic, social and cultural rights. To understand its full consequences, the Mission finds it appropriate to assess this issue in combination with its other findings and conclusions. As explained in greater detail in the report’s Conclusions and legal findings: the impossibility of return, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that land restrictions contribute to the Government’s continued persecution of the Rohingya people and result in serious or great inhumane mental or physical suffering, both of which are crimes against humanity. The manner in which the Government deprives Rohingya of land is one of several indicators that the Mission has identified to infer that the Government continues to harbour genocidal intent and that the Rohingya remain under serious risk of genocide. Finally, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the Government’s severe land access restrictions contribute to an overall condition that makes it unsafe, inhumane, unsustainable and impossible for Rohingya who remain in Rakhine State and those who might be allowed to return to Myanmar. The current situation of IDPs is a testament to what awaits Rohingya who might return after having fled across the border.
1. Restrictions on movement
141. The Mission’s 2018 report documented government patterns and practices that severely affected freedom of movement through harassment, vehicle searches, interrogation, extortion, payment of bribes and physical abuse at security checkpoints. These restrictions have continued unabated with an increased degree of severity. The movement restrictions have been imposed more strictly through increased security patrols and increased numbers of security checkpoints across Rakhine State. The consistent requirement of a NVC or other travel documentation has led to arrests, detentions and harassment of the remaining Rohingya. Rohingya face movement restrictions when they want to travel inside their village tracts or to other tracts, Townships, or States.
142. The number of new Rohingya arrivals from Rakhine State to Bangladesh has seen a dramatic drop, especially since March 2019. Only 1,051 individuals have arrived in Bangladesh during the first seven months of 2019. The Mission found that this drop in arrivals has been partly due to the increase in movement restrictions, particularly the proliferation of security checkpoints, accompanied by increased documentation verifications across northern Rakhine State.
143. Restrictions on freedom of movement are affecting almost every aspect of the way of life of the Rohingya community. Some recent movement restrictions may be attributable to some extent to the continued conflict between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army (AA), discussed below. However, the evidence is that they are targeted specifically at the Rohingya and, predominantly, they are not merely collateral to the AA conflict.
Current restrictions on Rohingya freedom of movement
144. The Government currently restricts the freedom of movement of Rohingya through a combination of local orders, verbal instructions and security checkpoints, soldiers and patrols, which have the cumulative effect of confining them to their villages and camps. The Mission received numerous and consistent accounts that the authorities in Buthidaung Township, and in particular the Tatmadaw, issued verbal instructions and threats, restricting movement of Rohingya even between villages. For inter-township travel, Rohingya have to obtain authorisation (known as a “Form 4”), even though they do not fall into the category of either “foreigners” or “Bengali”. Travel authorisation usually restricts the travel to a prescribed validity period, generally one or two weeks. The process to obtain a travel authorisation is expensive and lengthy and involves cumbersome bureaucratic procedures. For travel between villages, Rohingya have to obtain a village departure certificate to travel outside their own village tract and in some cases even for traveling between villages within the same tract. Interviewees told the Mission that, for months following the August 2017 “clearance operations”, people could not venture out of their villages.
145. Rohingya who travel without the necessary documentation risk arrest and prosecution under section 188 of the Penal Code or the 1949 Residents of Myanmar Registration Act. The latter carries up to six months imprisonment for not producing a registration card when being checked. Section 188 of the Penal Code and the Residents Registration Act provide detention sentences of one month to two years for disobeying a public servant’s order. The Mission received information that many of the female prisoners in Buthidaung Prison were serving jail terms for violating the Government’s movement restrictions.
146. Rohingya who arrived in Bangladesh during the reporting period told the Mission of a notable increase in security checkpoints and presence of soldiers along the roads and waterways across Rakhine State. The increase in checkpoints was coupled with an increase in document-checking, as well as more severe punishment for those who failed to produce a village departure certificate and/or NVC. Rohingya passing through these checkpoints regularly encountered harassment, extortion, mistreatment, mocking and insults by security forces, sometimes regardless of travel authorisation. As one interviewee stated:
From Nga Kyin Tauk village to Buthidaung township (approximately 4 km distance), the authorities have established four additional checkpoints—one BGP and three Tatmadaw—making the total number of checkpoints nine: eight Tatmadaw and one BGP. These checkpoints carry out regular documentation checks and searches.
147. Authorities at checkpoints forced women to remove their veils; male officers searched their bodies and subjected them to sexual harassment.
148. On 2 April 2019, the Rakhine State administration issued a local order authorizing a curfew in the five ethnic Rakhine dominated townships of Kyauktaw, Ponnagyun, Minbya, Mrauk-U and Rathedaung. On 11 April 2019, authorities issued an order extending a curfew that had been in place since June 2012 in Maungdaw and Buthidaung Townships, from where the majority of the Rohingya refugees of 2016 and 2017 came. In 2014, Rakhine State authorities lifted curfews in central Rakhine but in practice, they remain in effect, impeding the ability of Rohingya to move during certain periods.
149. The Government justified the expansion of the curfew in the context of the continuing fighting between the AA and the Tatmadaw, However, the Mission has received no evidence of any link between the Rohingya and the AA. Rather the expansion of the curfew is part of the incremental tightening of restrictions on the Rohingya over the past eight years. These additional restrictions have exacerbated the already difficult living conditions for the Rohingya and they have been applied less strictly to non‐Rohingya communities.
150. While the official curfew applied to Maungdaw and Buthidaung Townships are from 10 pm to 5 am, the Mission found that the authorities do not allow people to be outside their homes between 6 pm and 6 am. Interviewees told the Mission that the Village Administrator repeatedly warned residents to observe the curfew strictly from dusk to dawn. Villagers have to abide by the instructions and return home by 6 pm. In many instances, the Mission found that Rohingya working outside on farms return home by 4 pm for fear of arrest, physical violence, extortion and even death. The curfew is adversely affecting live-saving services, including healthcare and livelihood activities, especially fishing at the peak night and early morning periods.
151. In addition, the curfew prohibits gatherings of more than four people at any time in mosques, schools, gardens, streets and other locations. The curfew has affected the ability of the Rohingya to perform congregational prayers in mosques, especially the Friday and Eid prayers, which have religious significance for Muslims, or attend burial prayer or funerals. Some interviewees had to seek prior authorisation from the authorities for weddings, burials or funerals, which is burdensome and costly and represents major obstacles for community life. Such restrictions serve to weaken communal harmony and reduce economic interaction. An interviewee told the Mission:
After the August 2017 events, the Village Administrator in a meeting announced that curfew should be observed from dusk until dawn and villagers are not allowed to move out of their villages. People are not permitted to get together, not even for prayer, congregation, funeral and burial. Security forces have been ordered to shoot anyone found in breach of these strict measures. These measures only apply to Muslims because they are involved in bad acts.
Consequences of the movement restrictions
152. The imposition of stringent movement restrictions has had severe adverse effects on access to basic services for Rohingya. The tightening of movement restrictions prevents Rohingya from accessing livelihood activities, such as fishing, collecting firewood and/or bamboo from the forest and cultivating land, and accessing life-saving health services, education and food. Due to obstacles to accessing livelihood opportunities as a result of the movement restrictions, supply of food has decreased with the resulting spike in food prices. Movement restrictions have increased the dependency of Rohingya on humanitarian assistance.
153. The inability to move freely has significantly obstructed access to education in Rakhine State, which already has one of the lowest primary and secondary enrolment rates in the country, as well as among the lowest adult literacy rates. In most areas, schools remain closed. Where schools are open, children cannot travel or the school administration does not allow Rohingya children to enrol. Movement restrictions also made access to education beyond primary school for internally displaced Rohingya impossible. According to reliable sources, only 892 Muslim students were enrolled in two high schools across the State in 2018.
154. The continued movement restrictions also have a detrimental impact on the health of the Rohingya. For instance, people are unable to access life-saving treatment in areas of northern Rakhine in particular, where there is a lack of functioning health facilities at the village level, forcing residents to rely on traditional healers or to self-medicate. Pregnant women are forced to deliver babies with traditional birth attendees, often in unsafe and unhygienic places, due to movement restrictions and high hospital charges, leaving infants and mothers at risk of death and at times unable to have births registered. Newborns are at risk of being excluded from household lists and so of statelessness. This has exacerbated the already precarious health situation for Rohingya, where the maternal mortality rate is higher than in the rest of the country.
155. Fear of attack by members of the ethnic Rakhine community also drives Rohingya to restrict their own movement, opting not to move out of their villages or beyond a certain radius from their village. The fear arises from the involvement of members of the ethnic Rakhine community in the violence in 2012 and in the Tatmadaw’s “clearance operations” against the Rohingya in 2016 and 2017, the Government’s failure to hold those individuals accountable, and new instances of attacks and hostilities. Rohingya live in constant fear and do not know when or where they will be attacked and what will happen to them. An interviewee, who arrived in Malaysia in January 2019, told the Mission:
Residents from the village were afraid of ethnic Rakhine. They were scared to go outside for fear of attacks by ethnic Rakhine following the August 2017 events. They feared that, if they go out, the ethnic Rakhine were going to kill them. The ethnic Rakhine attacked and beat my uncle and cousin when they went for fishing. Their faces were bleeding.
2. Access to livelihoods
156. Since the “clearance operations” began on 25 August 2017, the Government has severely restricted access to food for Rohingya in Rakhine State, triggering heightened risk of food insecurity with related consequences on health. This lack of access is another major factor Rohingya cite for fleeing from northern Rakhine State to Bangladesh. Food insecurity is being caused by Government laws and policies, including stringent restrictions on movement and the Tatmadaw’s use of Rohingya land that prevents them from farming and related activities, both discussed above. This has resulted in significantly higher food prices. The Government’s restrictions on access for humanitarian actors are exacerbating the situation.
157. Food insecurity is particularly threatening to Rohingya. The Rohingya community has traditionally provided food for themselves and their families, including farming, especially rice, fishing, livestock rearing and collecting firewood and bamboo from the forest.
158. The 2017 “clearance operations” had such a devastating impact on the food security in Rakhine State that the United Nations human rights mechanisms had to intervene on several occasions. In 2017 the Special Procedures mandate-holders of the Human Rights Council issued communications to the Government expressing concerns about the deterioration of food security in northern Rakhine. In 2019 the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women concluded that:
The estimated 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Northern Rakhine State after the security ‘clearance operations’ of 2016 and 2017, are reportedly experiencing conditions of forced starvation, with security forces denying access to the remaining rice fields and markets.
159. In 2018 the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) conducted a food and agriculture assessment in Rakhine State at the request of the Myanmar Government. The assessment found that the the food security situation was “precarious” in the northern part of the State, notably in Maungdaw Township. There were fewer supplies than normal, accompanied by a spike in food prices and restrictive diets with increased risk of nutritional deterioration in pregnant, nursing women and young children. The assessment found that violence in northern Rakhine exacerbated food insecurity in what historically has been one of the “most vulnerable and chronically food-insecure areas in the country”. The assessment explains, “food assistance is an essential component of people’s diet”. The 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview prepared by Myanmar’s Humanitarian Country Team, consisting of the United Nations and its partners, estimated that 715,000 people in Rakhine State are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 128,000 IDPs, 470,000 non-displaced “stateless” people and 117,000 other vulnerable crisis-affected people.
160. The Mission recognizes that seasonal patterns and natural conditions may at times adversely influence food security in Rakhine State. However, government-caused factors, in particular the movement restrictions exacerbated by the lack of humanitarian access, are the main causes of the current food insecurity. Numerous interviewees from northern Rakhine reported to the Mission that people are running out of food stocks and are unable to produce or purchase supplies, because of the movement restrictions. As described below, some of these restrictions may be due to the conflict this year between the AA and the Tatmadaw. In an effort to “wipe out the insurgents”, an order dated 12 April 2019 by the Kyauktaw Township administration, for instance, provides that, in “townships in Rakhine State, any transfer of rice, food supplies, and medicines from one place to another, within the township, from one township to another, or via trade route or waterway, can only be carried out after having been inspected by the Township Police and with a letter of permission”. In the Mission’s view, the conflict between the Tatmadaw and the AA is not however the main driver of food deprivation and insecurity.
Harassment by the Tatmadaw and ethnic Rakhine
161. The Mission found that the security forces and members of ethnic Rakhine communities routinely visit Rohingya villages to confiscate food, including crops and even humanitarian aid. In some instances, members of the ethnic Rakhine community have sold the stolen materials on the market.
162. An interviewee from Buthidaung Township explained how “the army would often come to the village, search houses for food and steal anything they could find”. The interviewee recounted how this, as well as other causes of food shortages, forced people to limit and share food for survival: Of the 500 households in my village tract, only a handful remained. Living conditions were difficult and people were surviving from sharing food. We would eat only when we had to. Residents ran out of food and consumed their food stocks.
163. The Tatmadaw and ethnic Rakhine villagers also denied Rohingya people food by deliberately killing or confiscating livestock, including cattle, goats and chickens, without permission or payment, depriving Rohingya both of food and of income-generating opportunities. The military would hunt chickens with slingshots and confiscate cattle for failure to pay bribes. This was in addition to the requirement for Rohingya to register their cattle, sheep, goats, chicken and other animals with the authorities. The requirement to report and register new livestock was accompanied by extortion, confiscation of cattle or financial penalties.
164. Food insecurity is made worse in northern Rakhine State by military and members of the ethnic Rakhine communities raiding or confiscating Rohingya-owned and cultivated lands. The military also reportedly leases out farmlands, formerly owned and cultivated by Rohingya, to local members of the ethnic Rakhine communities. In some cases, according to interviewees, the military confiscated land for personal economic benefit and made Rohingya cultivate and harvest the crops without compensation. An interviewee who fled Buthidaung Township in late 2018 stated:
Military, police and members of ethnic Rakhine constantly came to the village and looted everything including food items. The military took away my seven cows that I was grassing in the hillside. I cultivated rice in my land, when it was ready for harvesting; members of ethnic Rakhine snatched the harvest. I was left with nothing except two goats, which I had to offer to the military for my release, as I was unable to pay them 100,000 Kyat. I was arrested at my home and after beating, they demanded 100,000 Kyat.
165. In some areas, the military ordered villagers not to cultivate their lands. A Rohingya from Buthidaung Township told the Mission that Rohingya cannot cultivate their lands and that access to food production activities worsened after the Government’s 2017 “clearance operations” explaining:
The military and ethnic Rakhine occupied most of our lands and residents were ordered not to cultivate their lands…residents were starving and were on the brink of famine.. Rohingya were treated worse than slaves and had control over nothing. They did not have control over their lives, livelihood, property or cattle.
Restrictions to access to markets
166. Rohingya businesses suffered serious losses during and after the 2017 “clearance operations”. In Maungdaw, many markets were either burnt or closed. The few businesses that remain open are at risk of closure due to the loss of customers and reduced supplies. This has also contributed to a spike in food prices. Interviewees told the Mission that food prices have increased many times over. One interviewee said that the price of 1 kg of potatoes has increased by one hundred-fold in price, from 50 or 60 kyats (0.035 USD or 0.042 USD) to 5,000 kyats (4 USD). He said, “As we were starving, I decided to leave”.
Restrictions on humanitarian access
167. Government-imposed access restrictions on domestic and international humanitarian organizations are interrupting life-saving assistance to Rohingya communities in need. These organizations provide support for health and nutrition, education, water and sanitation, and food security. As found in the Mission’s 2018 report, the Government suspended or severely restricted humanitarian access to Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung Townships after the 2012 violence, further tightened them in June and July 2017, and also did so after the clearance operations in 2016 and 2017. The restrictions left the population without critical lifesaving assistance, including access to food and health services. As discussed in more detail below, humanitarian access to northern Rakhine has been further curtailed following the escalation in violence in 2019 between the AA and the Tatmadaw, leaving the population in need of support and assistance.
168. The only international humanitarian organisations permitted access are the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and their access is unpredictable and arbitrary. When access is granted, they are hindered by restrictive procedures, including the short validity of travel authorisations and the requirement to provide detailed information on staff, places and dates of visits. As of April 2019, only 25 per cent of national staff were authorised to carry out operations and, with exception of food assistance, other life-saving programmes outside urban centres were suspended.
169. On 10 January 2019, the Rakhine State Government introduced new access restrictions in five townships, Kyauktaw, Ponnagyun, Buthidaung, Maungdaw and Rathedaung, citing security concerns. WFP and ICRC were exempted from these restrictions but their operations were strictly limited to food distribution. Other activities, including livelihood activities, agricultural support and other development efforts, which were not directly affected by security concerns, were suspended. With the exception of food assistance, other life-saving programmes outside urban centres remain either suspended or subject to unpredictable interruptions. At least 95,000 people, who were directly or indirectly benefiting from humanitarian and development support, were no longer able to access a number of basic services, including healthcare, education and clean water. These newly imposed restrictions are in contrast to the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State that called for full and unimpeded humanitarian access.
170. Many interviewees told the Mission that the distribution of aid was not regular or the quantity of aid was not adequate, or both. The process was marred by irregularities and discrimination. In one instance, an interviewee said that the Village Administrator, a non-Rohingya, collected money from villagers in return for the aid. The Mission also received credible reports that security forces took relief materials. Non-Rohingya Village Administrators, who receive aid from humanitarian organizations for distribution to the Rohingya communities, gave preference to ethnic Rakhine over Rohingya. Some interviewees said that ethnic Rakhine would get double the quantity. A man from Buthidaung Township, who sought shelter in Bangladesh in March 2019, explained to the Mission:
Distribution of humanitarian aid was not regular. The amount of relief materials was not sufficient for a family. Sometimes, villagers would receive aid once a month and sometimes once every 2 or 3 months. Survival became very difficult.
3. Conclusions and legal findings
171. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) became binding on Myanmar in January 2018. It places obligations on States to recognize and ensure the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, and the highest attainable standard of health. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which Myanmar is also party, provides similar obligations towards children specifically. The Government’s movement restrictions, deprivation of food and denial of humanitarian relief are all having severe effects on the right to food and health of Rohingya.
172. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the Government’s movement restrictions, deprivation of food, restrictions on land use and denials of humanitarian relief all constitute retrogressive measures that violate its obligations under ICESCR and CRC. The Government’s retrogressive measures deny Rohingya access to food and put their health and lives at risk. It is inconceivable that the Government is unaware of these consequences. The Mission also concludes on reasonable grounds that Government-imposed movement, humanitarian and food access restrictions disproportionately affected the Rohingya population due to the Rohingya’s particularly vulnerable status after the 2016 and 2017 “clearance operations” and the Government’s overall discriminatory treatment of them. The Mission also found that the movement restrictions imposed disproportionately severe penalties.
173. The Government sought to justify the further tightening of restrictions in 2019 as a necessary response to the conflict between the Tatmadaw and the AA. Its 12 April 2019 local order was to stop “the flow of rice and food supplies, medicines and medical supplies, required for the insurgents’ long-term livelihood”. If that was the basis of the restrictions, the applicable rules of international humanitarian law would apply that may under certain circumstances justify the restrictions on the basis that they are necessary to deprive the AA of supplies.
174. The Mission finds, however, that in the majority of cases it documented, the Government’s imposition of movement restrictions, deprivation of food and denials of humanitarian relief are not directly connected with the Tatmadaw’s conflict with the AA. The Government used movement restrictions and deprived Rohingya of food and humanitarian relief in many different ways and did so long before the conflict between the Tatmadaw and AA intensified in January 2019. Additionally, accounts that the Mission received that relief supplies were distributed in favour of ethnic Rakhine over Rohingya indicate that these restrictions were not done in response to the conflict with the AA. In most cases, the AA would have relied on ethnic Rakhine communities for food. Finally, in instances where the Tatmadaw may have denied Rohingya food either by the theft or destruction of food supplies or by the deprivation of farm land, with the purpose of depriving the AA of food, the anticipated civilian deaths or injuries, including malnutrition, must be assessed under the principle of proportionality under international humanitarian law.
175. To understand the full consequences that Rohingya suffer from the Government’s movement restrictions, deprivation of food and denial of humanitarian relief in Rakhine State, the Mission finds it appropriate to assess this issue in combination with its other findings and conclusions. As explained in the report’s Conclusions and legal findings: the impossibility of return, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that these restrictions, deprivations and denials contribute to the Government’s continued persecution of the Rohingya people and result in serious or great inhumane suffering, both of which are crimes against humanity. Finally, the manner in which the Government imposes its movement restrictions, deprivation of food and denial of humanitarian relief is one of several indicators that the Mission has identified to infer that the Government continues to harbour genocidal intent and that the Rohingya remain under serious risk of genocide. Finally, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the Government’s food restrictions contribute to an overall condition that makes it unsafe, inhumane, unsuitable and impossible for Rohingya to return to their homes and lands.
D. Security and safety
176. Against the backdrop of legal and physical restrictions on the remaining Rohingya population in Rakhine State, there also continue to be serious concerns about their safety and security.
177. During 2019, concerns for the safety and security of the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State have arisen from the conflict between the Tatmadaw and the AA. That conflict does not involve the Rohingya directly but, because it is most intense in northern Rakhine State, it has had some effect on those Rohingya who remain there and it poses increasing dangers. As discussed below, clashes between the AA and the Tatmadaw have intensified since October 2018 and the new spate of attacks in early 2019 marked a significant escalation in hostilities, bringing the conflict into northern Rakhine State on a large scale for the first time. The conflict has affected nine townships, including Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung Townships. The AA has stated that they are only in conflict with the Tatmadaw and its operations are not directed at the Rohingya. However, some Rohingya have been affected. One interviewee gave the following account to the Mission:
The fighting between the AA and the Tatmadaw has started in my area two months back. All villagers are very afraid of the current situation, even they are afraid to talk about the situation. One day a bomb was dropped on my village. During the time, I was at home. I heard the sound of bombing and, later on, I went to see the place where the bomb was dropped. I saw that one Muslim house and one mogh house were burnt to the ground. These houses were next to each other. Another bomb was dropped on the school. The school was destroyed. The bomb was fired from the hill at the east side. As they dropped bomb once, there is a high possibility that it would happen again. I am afraid of bombing. That’s why I left.
178. Interviewees reported that early in the conflict, the Tatmadaw warned Rohingya not to provide support to the AA and to inform the Tatmadaw if they observed any AA movements in and around the villages. The Mission received accounts of the arrest of Rohingya in Buthidaung Township on the suspicion of providing support to the AA. The use of helicopters by the Tatmadaw in recent attacks has also increased the level of fear among the local Rohingya population.
179. The Mission heard accounts that the Tatmadaw and BGP have increased patrolling, including in the forest areas where Rohingya often go to collect firewood or cut bamboo. In a village in Buthidaung Township, the Village Administrator warned Rohingya to limit their movement within the village because the military had received orders to kill anyone found in violation of these new restrictions.
180. The Mission reiterates its view that the Government’s actions targeting the Rohingya are not directly connected with the Tatmadaw’s conflict with the AA. The security situation in northern Rakhine State has deteriorated as a result of the conflict but the Mission does not consider that the conflict is the basis of the Government’s continued persecution of the Rohingya.
E. Forced or compulsory labour
181. In its 2018 report, the Mission documented a consistent pattern of the Tatmadaw using both Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine men, women and children for forced or compulsory labour. Since its 2018 report, the Mission found that the use of Rohingya as forced labour continues and has possibly increased. This trend may be related to the conflict between the Tatmadaw and the AA in northern Rakhine. There seems to have been a marked decrease in the use of ethnic Rakhine for forced labour, possibly because the Tatmadaw mistrusts Rakhine labourers.
182. Rohingya arrivals in Bangladesh in late 2018 and 2019, mostly men and boys, cited forced labour as a contributing factor for fleeing northern Rakhine State. The Mission documented patterns, similar to those outlined in its 2018 report, of the Tatmadaw physically taking a person when they passed thorough the village, or asking the village head to provide specific number of villagers for a certain period of time without any prior notice or consultation. The duration of forced labour varied but for most victims it lasted for a period of weeks. In some cases, the same person was forced to labour on several occasions. One victim from Buthidaung told the Mission that he was made to work in construction sites of new camps, six to seven times. He was beaten with sticks and slapped by the soldiers and it was only after his relatives paid the Tatmadaw 90,000 Kyat (approx. 60 USD) that he was released. However, he was again forced to labour after that. Often victims were left hungry due to insufficient and poor quality food provided.
Forced labour in the construction of camps, security checkpoints and prisons
183. The Mission previously documented forced labour that included portering, farming, maintenance of security camps, clearing of land for military bases, village guard duty and construction work for the Tatmadaw. During 2019 the Mission observed a new trend of the Tatmadaw forcing Rohingya to work on the construction of new camps that interviewees said were destined for Rohingya IDPs or returnees.
184. The interviewees said that, while deprived of their liberty as forced labourers some had to arrange their own food, did not have access to water, were kept in inadequate accommodation, were deprived of sleep and were subjected to violence if they resisted, worked slowly or rested. The Tatmadaw also extorted money from forced labourers. In one case, a victim witnessed the Tatmadaw kill a fellow Rohingya forced labourer. He died as a result of severe beating.
185. Another interviewee told the Mission that, in December 2018, her cousin had been raped and killed by the Tatmadaw in retaliation for her brother refusing to do “night duty”. One interviewee explained how in late 2018 he was severely beaten with the butt of a rifle by the Tatmadaw and then forced to carry heavy materials on his wounded shoulder. Another explained that in July/August 2018:
I had to hide in my house when the military came searching for men. They found me and took me forcibly to their base, kept me for 3 days where I was severely beaten with a bamboo stick, was kicked with the boots. I was not given any food during the time. I still carry marks of the beatings. My relatives had to pay 90,000 Kyat (60 USD) to the military for my release.”
186. The Mission corroborated forced labour cases from Maungdaw and Buthidaung Townships, although it is likely that Rohingya in Rathedaung Township have also been subjected to forced labour.
187. The Mission received consistent accounts of individuals being forced to work at the new camp construction site in Thein Taung (Ah Twin Hnget Thay), Buthidaung Township. A victim from Buthidaung Township told the Mission with respect to an incident that occurred in late 2018:
I had to flee Myanmar to avoid working in the camp that the Tatmadaw was building for the Rohingya. The military asked the head of my village for 300-400 individuals. I was amongst those selected. I served with them 6 to 7 times in the new camp construction sites. The first round ran for up to six days. I made bamboo partitions, dug lands and assisted with other construction related work. We were not provided food and had to sleep on bare floor at night
188. Interviewees also reported that Rohingya villagers were forced by the Tatmadaw to guard military bases and villages at night against possible attacks by the AA. A victim from Buthidaung Township told the Mission that every day in the early evening in February 2019, Tatmadaw soldiers would come to the village and pick around 100 persons to guard their base during the night, which was located on top of a hill. These individuals, he said, had to sit or stand 10 to15 meters away and they were not allowed to rest, sleep, talk or move away from their designated locations. He recounted how those who the military found resting or sleeping were subjected to beatings. He said that once
The military found me asleep, they beat me so badly that I could hardly move. I served for 18 consecutive nights without any break, which was overwhelming and took a heavy toll on me. I couldn’t bear it further and had to flee Myanmar.
189. Interviewees reported that they had heard that Rohingya would be engaged in the new camp construction sites in Gu Dar Pyin village in Buthidaung Township.
190. The Mission also received accounts of Rohingya prisoners being subjected to physical abuse, including beatings, while being compelled to work. Interviewees repeatedly referred to Buthidaung Prison, where prisoners were forced to work in brick kilns or farms to produce food for either the prison officials or the Tatmadaw. Prisoners were forced to work in two shifts from 8 am to 12 pm and from 2 pm to 5 pm without compensation. Ethnic Rakhine were exempted from this labour. Prison officials and ethnic Rakhine, who were appointed to be in charge of Rohingya prisoners, subjected them to physical abuse and violence, including beatings, if they became slow in their work. In some cases, prisoners were taken to military compounds, where they were forced to construct buildings, clean and perform other heavy labour. One interviewee provided the following account:
I used to be a road construction worker for 10 years. I witnessed Rohingya prisoners forced to work in the paddy fields and brickfields located adjacent to the jail. Sometimes Rohingya prisoners were taken to the forest for collecting or cutting firewood or to the waterfall side to collect rocks for the construction of roads. Prison officials used to bring prisoners in a group of 25-30. Moghs and the police used to guard them. Moghs and police carried sticks in their hands and would often beat prisoners for slowing down.
Conclusions and legal findings
191. Consistent with the Mission’s legal assessment in its 2018 report, the Tatmadaw continued to engage in the practice of forced or compulsory labour contrary to its international legal obligations. Additionally, the Tatmadaw’s beatings of forced labourers and labourers forced to work in prisons resulted in a severity of pain or suffering that amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under international human rights law. In many cases, this pain was inflicted as a means of punishment and therefore constituted torture.
192. The Mission also assesses that many of the cases of forced labour it documented had a sufficient nexus to the armed conflict between the Tatmadaw and the AA to amount to violations under international humanitarian law. This includes the Tatmadaw exposing forced labourers to the dangers of armed conflict, such as forcing them to perform guard duty at military bases, which violates the rule that parties to a conflict must take all feasible precautions to protect civilians under their control against the effects of attacks. The Mission also concludes on reasonable grounds that it documented cases that constitute war crimes of torture, cruel treatment for the infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering it caused or as outrages upon human dignity for the severity of the humiliation or degradation. All these violations of international human rigths law and international humanitarian law must be effectively investigated.
193. In addition to its obligations under international law, Myanmar’s Penal Code and the Ward or Village Tract Administration Act adopted in 2012 punish forced labour as a criminal offence. However, authorities have not adequately enforced the law. Adding to impunity, Article 359 of the Constitution, which exempts from the prohibition of forced labour “duties assigned by the Union in accordance with the law in the interest of the public” could be interpreted to exempt the military from the forced labour prohibition. According to the International Labour Organization’s Committee on the Application of Standards, Tatmadaw soldiers involved in forced labour have only faced internal disciplinary action, with the exception of one person who the Committee reported was punished under section 374 of the Penal Code.
194. Similar to the Mission’s other findings, the Mission also concludes on reasonable grounds that the Government’s use of forced labour and its unwillingness to address its regular use contribute to an overall condition that makes it unsuitable and unsafe, inhumane, unsustainable and impossible for Rohingya to return to Myanmar.
F. The repatriation process
195. In the aftermath of the “clearance operations” that began on 25 August 2017, the official rhetoric of the Government of Myanmar has been to pursue the repatriation of 912,852 Rohingya refugees, 55 per cent of them children, most of whom were forcibly deported during the 2016 and 2017 “clearance operations”. They include 743,016 refugees who have arrived in Bangladesh since the August 2017 violence. On 23 November 2017, only months after the mass exodus of the Rohingya, the Governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) as a preliminary step to begin the repatriation process. A Joint Working Group on repatriation (JWG) was established, consisting of officials from the two Governments pursuant to the MoU. At the time of writing it had held four rounds of meetings with no breakthrough regarding the question of repatriation.
196. In April 2018 Bangladesh and UNHCR signed another MoU that establishes a bilateral cooperation framework for the voluntary, safe and dignified repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. A verification team was set up to consolidate a unified database for purposes of protection, identity management, documentation, provision of assistance, population statistics and ultimately to find solutions for almost one million refugees.
197. A separate tripartite MoU was signed by the Government of Myanmar, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in June 2018. It was renewed on 28 May 2019. The MoU has not been officially released but is widely publicly available. It appears to require the Government of Myanmar to work towards a durable solution for the displaced from Rakhine and to ensure that they are able to return to their own households and original places of residence, or to a safe and secure place nearest to it of their choice, based on their well-informed decision.
198. Under the MoU between the Government of Myanmar, UNHCR and UNDP, the two UN agencies have begun implementing “quick impact projects”, but access restrictions on UN agencies remain in place. Following the signing of the MOU, after months of delay, UNHCR and UNDP were allowed to carry out two initial assessments in Rakhine State between September and December 2018, which were limited in scope and in the locations visited, prompting the agencies to call on the Government of Myanmar for effective access to Rakhine State. Further access restrictions were imposed following the recent escalation of the conflict between the Tatmadaw and the AA in Rakhine State. They have impeded the implementation and effectiveness of these “quick impact projects”. In March 2019, after almost three months during which activities were suspended, the Government issued a four-week authorisation to UNDP and UNHCR to start the implementation of the “quick impact projects” in Maungdaw and Buthidaung.
199. Alongside these repatriation discussions, Myanmar has said it has undertaken repatriation-related development and infrastructural projects in Rakhine, in particular the establishment of reception and transit centres to receive returnees. It has also said it has identified possible pilot sites for returning refugees to live. The Mission is not aware of any independent inspection carried out by humanitarian agencies to ascertain the suitability of the designated sites.
200. In June 2019, ASEAN’s Emergency Response and Action Team (ERAT) was permitted to visit Rakhine State. It produced a “preliminary needs assessment to assess the readiness of Reception and Transit Centres, including potential relocation sites that have been identified by the Government of Myanmar”. However, the report noted that whether or not conditions were in place for return was “beyond the scope” of the assessment. Notwithstanding, the assessment noted that, based on current capacity, the repatriation process can only be completed in six years for a total number of 500,000 displaced persons. The media has reported that the Government has also received bilateral assistance from China and India, including prefabricated housing units for Rohingya returnees.
201. At the time of writing, Rohingya refugees were not voluntarily returning from Bangladesh to Rakhine State. The Mission found that the overwhelming majority of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have no confidence in the Myanmar Government’s ability to guarantee their voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return. Refugees in Bangladesh repeatedly expressed their desire and willingness to return to their homes only if certain conditions are met. Refugees know that conditions are not conducive for return owing to the precarious situation of the remaining Rohingya, including denial of citizenship, the lack of access to livelihood opportunities, fear of arbitrary arrest, movement restrictions, the Myanmar authorities’ failure to implement confidence-building measures inside Rakhine and conflict between the Tatmadaw and the AA. They have also demanded equal rights and freedoms, recognition as an ethnic group, freedom of movement and guarantees of citizenship as minimum preconditions for their return.
1. Historical factors
202. Any assessment of whether the human rights conditions are conducive for return must proceed on the basis of recognition that this is not the first time Myanmar has driven large numbers of Rohingya off their lands and into Bangladesh. On the contrary, over the past sixty years there have been repeated periods of extreme violence against the Rohingya in Rakhine State leading to their displacement, indicating the Myanmar Government’s deeply rooted antagonism towards them. In the span of five years from 2012 and 2016, an estimated 168,500 Rohingya fled Myanmar as a result of violence and desperation.
203. Bangladesh has hosted Rohingya refugees on each of these occasions in the past. However, each repatriation process has been tainted by reports of involuntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees to unsafe conditions, marred by coercion and violence, to ensure their return to Myanmar. They were returned to the same conditions as they fled and so subsequent displacement back into Bangladesh followed.
204. For example, in 1977, due to military operations in Rakhine State, some 200,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh. A bilateral repatriation agreement was signed on 9 July 1978 in Dhaka. The agreement did not have a provision for voluntary return and Myanmar made no commitment in the agreement to guarantee the rights and freedom of returnees. Refugees objected to their repatriation, arguing that conditions were not conducive for return. Bangladeshi security forces reportedly intimidated the refugees, including by restricting food supplies. Médecins Sans Frontières estimated that some 10,000 refugees died from hunger and malnutrition in Bangladesh. Despite the conditions not being safe for return of refugees, over 190,000 refugees were forced back to Myanmar at the end of 1979.
205. The two Governments signed another repatriation agreement following the departure of over 260,000 Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh in 1992, following reports of extra-judicial killings, torture, rape and other violations against the Rohingya population in Rakhine. The two Governments committed to making the repatriation safe, voluntary and dignified. Once again, however, coercive tactics were reported by human rights organizations who documented Bangladesh government forces beating and intimidating refugees into returning to Myanmar.
2. Current repatriation efforts
206. In October 2018, in an announcement reminiscent of past statements leading to premature repatriation, following the third meeting of the Joint Working Group on repatriation, Bangladesh and Myanmar announced that the repatriation of refugees would start by mid-November 2018. A total of 485 families consisting of over 2,000 people were identified for the repatriation.
207. On 13 and 14 November 2018, at the request of the Government of Bangladesh, UNHCR undertook an “assessment of voluntary return intentions of refugees”. The assessment was conducted with the families approved for return by Myanmar. UNHCR concluded that none of the refugees consulted expressed willingness to return to Myanmar. UNHCR, OHCHR and the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar also noted that conditions were not conducive for the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees to Rakhine State, warning that the return could put the lives and freedoms of returnees at serious risk. In an extreme demonstration of their resistance to forced repatriation, several refugees threatened suicide and two elderly men attempted to take their life. Additionally, most of the individuals who Myanmar identified as potential returnees reportedly went into hiding. Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar also held a demonstration opposing the planned repatriation, chanting “We won't go back”. Bangladesh decided to halt the repatriation programme, emphasising that it was committed to the principle of non-refoulement and voluntary repatriation.
208. The fourth meeting of the Joint Working Group on repatriation took place in May 2019, where no agreement was reached in terms of timelines for return. Instead, the Bangladesh delegation proposed that Myanmar “send a team to interact with the Rohingya and persuade them to return to their homes after creating a favourable condition for safe, dignified, and sustainable repatriation”. On 27 July 2019, a Myanmar Government delegation, consisting of 19 members led by Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Myint Thu, visited Cox’s Bazar and held discussion with refugees on possible return. During the meeting, refugees insisted on citizenship and freedom of movement as preconditions for their return. Bangladesh continued to position itself in support of repatriation only upon appropriate conditions being put in place for voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return. Myanmar continued to maintain its position that repatriation should take place in the context of the bilateral agreements between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
209. In August 2019, the Government of Myanmar agreed to the repatriation of 3,450 Rohingya refugees, who were cleared from a list of approximately 25,000 individuals that the Government of Bangladesh had shared. The first group of refugees were scheduled for repatriation on 22 August 2019. The Government of Bangladesh stressed the voluntariness of the process and noted that nobody would be forced to return. While the Government of Bangladesh made logistical arrangements for their return, none of the selected families agreed to the planned repatriation. Instead the refugees held protests against the repatriation and demanded accountability, full citizenship rights, return of land and properties. UNHCR interviewed the refugees who had been cleared for repatriation. On 22 August, UNHCR publicly acknowledged that none of them had indicated a willingness to return.
G. Conclusions and legal findings: the impossibility of return
210. The Mission determined in its 2018 report that the level of oppression faced by the Rohingya was hard to fathom. Over many decades Government laws, policies and practices made life for the Rohingya in Rakhine State slowly but steadily unbearable. Rights were eroded and removed, in a process of marginalisation, exclusion and “othering”. Layers of discrimination and ill-treatment were added. This occurred through the denial of legal status and identity and the denial of the right to freedom of movement. It occurred through restrictions on access to food, livelihoods, health care, education, humanitarian access and additional restrictions affecting private life. And it occured through the oppression of arbitrary arrest, detention and other measures. The State-sanctioned laws, policies and practices occurred in the context of State-sanctioned discriminatory rhetoric. Hateful and divisive language targeted the Rohingya on the basis of their ethnicity, religion and status. The Mission concluded that the severe, systemic and institutionalised oppression, from birth to death, amounted to persecution.
211. The Mission also concluded in its 2018 report that there were reasonable grounds for an inference that the Tatmadaw and other security force carried out attacks against Myanmar’s Rohingya population with genocidal intent. The Mission found there were reasonable grounds to also conclude that members of Myanmar’s security forces, and members of the Tatmadaw in particular, committed crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Rohingya. Based on these findings, the Mission determined that a competent prosecutorial body and court of law should investigate and adjudicate cases against specific persons to determine individual guilt or innocence.
212. Based on its second phase of investigation, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the situation of the Rohingya remains largely unchanged since the Mission’s 2018 report. If anything, the situation of the 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Myanmar is worse after another year of living under deplorable conditions.
213. The Mission draws four main conclusions from the final investigation under its mandate:
• Myanmar continues to commit crimes against humanity of inhumane acts that inflict great suffering and of persecution as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the Rohingya population.
• Myanmar incurs State responsibility for committing genocide and is failing in its obligations under the Genocide Convention to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute genocide. It is also failing to enact effective legislation criminalising and punishing genocide.
• The State of Myanmar continues to harbour genocidal intent and the Rohingya remain under serious risk of genocide.
• Conditions in Myanmar are unsafe, unsustainable and impossible for approximately one million displaced Rohingya to return to their homes and lands.
1. Crimes against humanity of persecution and other inhumane acts
214. Crimes against humanity are among the gravest crimes under international law and the legal threshold for crimes against humanity is high. In its consideration of whether the facts it established amount to crimes against humanity, the Mission relied on the legal analysis from its 2018 report. Based on that analysis, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that, since the publication of the Mission’s 2018 report, the Government has committed the crimes against humanity of “other inhumane acts” and “persecution” in the context of a continued widespread and systematic attack against the Rohingya civilian population in furtherance of a State policy to commit such an attack.
215. Under the definition of crimes against humanity, an “attack” does not need to involve a military attack or the use of armed force; it can, for example, encompass mistreatment of the civilian population. This is the nature of the Government attack being perpetrated against the Rohingya today. Since the end of the 2017 “clearance operations”, the Government has continued its widespread and systematic attack on the Rohingya through its denial of fundamental rights, including citizenship, through its laws, policies and regulations; its denial of access to land they once lived and relied on; and its denial of items essential to human survival, in particular food.
216. The Myanmar Government’s implementation of laws, regulations and policies, including the 1982 Citizenship Law, the NVC process and the annual household lists that result in the denial of citizenship and other fundamental human rights, is causing the type of serious or great physical or mental suffering to the Rohingya people that constitutes the crime against humanity of “other inhumane acts”. The gravity and impact of discriminatory laws and policies of this nature were highlighted in the Nuremburg Judgement of Goering et al, where the Court found defendants guilty of inhumane acts and persecution for, among other acts, their role in issuing and implementing a series of discriminatory laws which restricted the “family life [of Jews] and their rights of citizenship”.
217. The Mission also concludes on reasonable grounds that the Myanmar Government is continuing its concerted efforts to keep Rohingya off the land from which they were uprooted and forcibly displaced. These efforts cause the type of “serious mental harm” that, in the words of an ICTY Appeals Chamber, invariably occurs in situations of “forced departure from the residence and the community, without guarantees concerning the possibility to return in the future”. The Mission concludes that Rohingya face suffering and anguish because the Government continues to prevent them from accessing their property and living in their homes. In the Mission’s view, this suffering and anguish are comparable to the suffering caused by the forcible transfer or deportation, both of which are crimes against humanity. It constitutes a crime against humanity of “other inhumane acts” because “other inhumane acts” must be as serious and grave as other crimes against humanity. In other words, the Government’s systematic denial of Rohingya’s return to their lands through destruction, confiscation and construction is causing great mental suffering analogous to forcible transfer or deportation and, therefore, amounts to the crime against humanity of “other inhumane acts”.
218. The cumulative impact of restrictions on movement and denial of humanitarian access is also inflicting great suffering tantamount to a crime against humanity. Their access to food through farming is limited and in some cases nearly eliminated due to movement restrictions and confiscation of property. Government-imposed restrictions on access to humanitarian aid are also depriving the remaining Rohingya population of access to food. This physical and mental distress and suffering is compounded by the continued risk to their physical and mental safety and security through harassment and fear of physical abuse at checkpoints and during searches. The Government’s establishment and maintenance of this system that ensures deplorable living conditions for the Rohingya population also amounts to the crime against humanity of “other inhumane acts”.
219. In addition, the Mission has reasonable grounds to conclude that the Government has continued to commit the crime against humanity of persecution. Persecution is an act or omission that (i) discriminates in fact and which denies or infringes upon a fundamental right laid down in international customary or treaty law (actus reus); and (ii) was carried out deliberately with the intention to discriminate on one of the listed grounds, including race, religion, ethnicity, and culture See, also, Rome Statute, art. 7(1)(h). (mens rea). International courts and tribunals have found that “it is not necessary that every individuals act underlying the crime of persecution … be of a gravity corresponding to other crimes against humanity: underlying acts of persecution can be considered together”. It is clear from the findings that the Rohingya are the target of the inhumane acts outlined above, all of which include the denial of fundamental rights.
2. Genocide under the rules of State responsibility
Inference of genocide
220. The Mission’s 2018 report called for investigations and prosecutions of certain individuals for the crime of genocide under the rules of international criminal law. In this report, the Mission has examined the question of whether Myanmar as a State bears responsibility too. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the evidence supports an inference of genocidal intent and, on that basis, that the State of Myanmar breached its obligation not to commit genocide under the Genocide Convention under the rules of State responsibility. The Mission draws this conclusion based on four main findings that build upon its prior assessment of the crime of genocide under international criminal law. First, the Rohingya constitute a protected people under the Genocide Convention. Second, the Rohingya were the victims of numerous underlying acts of genocide, including killing, serious bodily and mental harm, and conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction, and may also have been victims of measure intended to prevent births. Third, those acts were attributable to the State and committed intentionally. Finally, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the State engaged in a pattern of conduct with, through inference, the genocidal intent to destroy the Rohingya in whole or in part as a people.
3. State attribution for underlying acts of genocide
221. The rules of State responsibility focus on the acts and intentions of a State through its organs and agents. Under the rules of State responsibility, the State, not the individuals, bears responsibility and must be held to account for its actions. By contrast, international criminal law focuses on individual criminal liability and therefore focuses on the acts and intentions of individuals. Under international criminal law the individual, not the State, bears responsibility and must be held to account for the individual’s actions.
222. To conclude that a State is responsible for genocide it is sufficient to demonstrate that genocide is attributable to a State organ, such as a ministry or security force, without identifying specific individuals who are responsible for the genocide. The Tatmadaw is the most notable State organ that engaged in genocidal acts but it is not the only one. The Genocide Convention does not require the entirety of the Myanmar State to be involved in genocide to make a finding of genocide under the rules of State responsibility. However, in the case of the “clearance operations” against the Rohingya beginning on 25 August 2017, the vastness of the State’s involvement is inescapable. The Tatmadaw and the other security forces acted in a planned and organized fashion under a unified chain of command. Military vehicles, such as navy vessels and helicopters, were reportedly used in the military operations. Soldiers and BGP prepared and launched attacks from government security bases and security forces tortured people in government detention facilities. There are strong indications that the State provided its resources and gave directions to members of non-Rohingya ethnic groups and informal armed groups who acted alongside, complementary to, and usually in tandem with, the Tatmadaw and other security forces during attacks. Local government officials, notably ethnic Rakhine administrators or former administrators, were seen at the sites of many of the attacks, including many of the most serious attacks with heavy loss of life. Prior to the attacks, government officials relied on discriminatory laws and policies as tools to justify their forthcoming genocidal attacks. After the attacks, the State adopted and implemented plans and policies that effectively endorsed everything that preceded it, by denying wrongdoing, destroying evidence, refusing to conduct effective investigations and clearing, razing, confiscating and building on land from which it displaced Rohingya, while ensuring that the Rohingya who they forced out of Myanmar would not be able to return. In sum, State involvement through military and civilian acts, omissions, organs and persons was extensive.
4. Establishing genocidal intent
223. For the Mission to demonstrate that the State of Myanmar harboured the genocidal intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the Rohingya as a group, the Mission must be satisfied either as to the existence of a State plan that expresses that intent or as to evidence that demonstrates a pattern of conduct that reveals or infers such intent. There is limited guidance from the case law for assessing what factors are relevant for making a finding of genocidal intent under the rules of State responsibility. The case law from international criminal tribunals, the Mission’s review of that case law in its 2018 report and information the Mission collected during its 2019 investigation all compel the Mission to conclude on reasonable grounds that genocidal intent on the part of the State of Myanmar can be inferred.
224. The Mission has identified seven indicators from which it inferred genocidal intent to destroy the Rohingya people as such, all based on the consideration of indicators of genocidal intent in international case law: first, the Tatmadaw’s extreme brutality during its attacks on the Rohinyga; second, the organized nature of the Tatmadaw’s destruction; third, the enormity and nature of the sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls during the “clearances operations”; fourth, the insulting, derogatory, racist and exclusionary utterances of Myanmar officials and others prior, during and after the “clearance operations”; fifth, the existence of discriminatory plans and policies, such as the Citizenship Law and the NVC process, as well as the Government’s efforts to clear, raze, confiscate and build on land in a manner that sought to change the demographic and ethnic composition of Rakhine State, the goal being to reduce the proportion of Rohingya; sixth, the Government’s tolerance for public rhetoric of hatred and contempt for the Rohingya; and seventh, the State’s failure to investigate and prosecute gross violations of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law, both as they were occurring and after they occurred. These seven indicators also allow the Mission to infer that the State did not object and in fact endorsed the Tatmadaw’s “clearance operations” and the manner in which they were conducted.
225. Every one of these indicators is linked to the acts or omissions of Myanmar State organs, including the military, other security forces, ministries, legislative bodies, the UEHRD and other civilian institutions. Collectively they demonstrate a pattern of conduct that infers genocidal intent on the part of the State to destroy the Rohingya, in whole or in part, as a group. For reasons explained in its 2018 report, there is no reasonable conclusion to draw, other than the inference of genocidal intent, from the State’s pattern of conduct.
5. Failure to investigate and punish genocide
226. Having concluded on reasonable grounds that the State of Myanmar is responsible for carrying out acts of genocide with genocidal intent, the Mission also concludes that Myanmar is not meeting its obligations under the Genocide Convention to conduct an effective criminal investigation into allegations of genocide. The Mission draws this conclusion based on the Government’s pattern of ignoring compelling evidence that genocide took place on its territory and its failure to put in place investigative mechanisms that are independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, credible and transparent. The Government’s failure to reform legislation that promotes impunity, its destruction of evidence and its punishing of those who try to expose the crimes that occurred during the Government’s 2017 “clearance operations”, all of which the Mission has documented in its other reports, provide additional indications of State responsibility for a failure to investigate.
227. The Mission’s 444-page report, publicly released in September 2018, provided sufficient information at that time to trigger Myanmar’s obligation to conduct an effective criminal investigation into genocide. The report provided extensive details of the methodology the Mission used to make its findings. The report also explained that the Mission used a “reasonable grounds” standard, consistent with the practice of United Nations fact-finding bodies. Numerous reports from other UN mechanisms, civil society, and investigative journalists similarly exposed information that constituted evidence of underlying acts of genocide. Despite this, the State has not undertaken an effective investigation into genocide.
228. The Government of Myanmar clearly had knowledge of the Mission’s findings. The Mission’s report was provided officially, in advance of its release, to the Myanmar Government through its Permanent Mission in Geneva. Myanmar attended the “interactive dialogue” at the Human Rights Council in September 2018 where the Mission presented its report and States discussed the report’s findings. Myanmar’s representative made a formal response to the report in the Human Rights Council. Myanmar’s ambassador to the UN in New York also made a presentation to the Security Council when the Mission briefed the Security Council on the report. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted the ambassador’s full statement on its Facebook page. The Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief, Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, who has ultimate say over military justice, made similar statements. Myanmar’s Parliament discussed the Mission’s report(s) several times. The report received widespread international and domestic media attention. It has been posted on the Mission’s webpage since its release. The Mission also issued a shorter but official version of the report in Myanmar language.
229. Statements by the Government of Myanmar claiming that the Government had established effective investigation mechanisms and has undertaken effective investigations are further indications of the Government’s knowledge of possible crimes. In August 2019, the Government of Myanmar wrote to the President of the UN Security Council objecting to a meeting on the topic of “mass atrocities” and accountability in Myanmar, saying that the Government “is addressing the issue of accountability by setting up the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICoE). The Myanmar Armed Forces has also established its own Court of Inquiry to address the allegation of human rights violations in northern Rakhine”.
230. The Government’s accountability efforts are woefully inadequate. In its 2019 report to the Human Rights Council, the Mission found a near complete absence of accountability at the domestic level for gross violations of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), in her Request for authorisation of an investigation pursuant to article 15, concluded much the same.
231. The Myanmar Government’s ICOE does not constitute an effective independent investigations mechanism. The ICOE lacks a clear mandate. Its chairperson has said that it is not an accountability mechanism. Its methodology is opaque. Its operating procedures are questionable. It is dependent on the Myanmar Government. There is no possibility that its investigations will identify perpetrators, promote accountability and justice, and provide redress to victims.
232. The Government’s unwillingness to pursue accountability was demonstrated vividly by the release of seven Tatmadaw soldiers in November 2018. The seven soldiers had been convicted and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for the killings of 10 Rohingya civilians in the village of Inn Din, Maungdaw Township, on 2 September 2017. The Commander in Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, pardoned them, releasing them after less than one year in detention. By contrast, two Reuters journalists, whose investigation of this incident led to the soldiers’ convictions, were imprisoned for 18 months, significantly longer than the time served by the actual perpetrators of the crimes. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is one of the persons recommended by the Mission for investigation and prosecution for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.
233. In light of the Government’s awareness that reasonable grounds existed that genocide occurred on its territory, its continuing failure to initiative effective criminal investigations into genocide or its underlying acts, its continuing failure to reform legislation that promotes impunity, its destruction of evidence relevant to a genocide investigation and its willingness to punish those who try to expose the crimes that occurred during the Government’s 2017 “clearance operations”, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that Myanmar has breached, and is continuing to breach, its obligation under the Genocide Convention to conduct an effective investigation in relation to crimes of genocide.
6. Failure to enact legislation
234. The Mission also assessed Myanmar’s criminal justice system to determine whether it is meeting its obligations under Article V of the Genocide Convention to enact the necessary legislation to give effect to the Convention and, in particular, to provide effective penalties for persons guilty of genocide and persons who incite genocide, attempt to commit genocide and are complicit in genocide. The Penal Code has no provisions on the crime of genocide. Part of this can be explained by the fact that Myanmar’s Penal Code has not been substantially amended since it was first enacted in 1891, well before the term “genocide” was first used in 1943 and before it became part of international criminal law.
235. At the time of writing, no provisions in Myanmar’s Penal Code reflected the substance, object, purpose, letter or spirit of the Genocide Convention. The Penal Code lacks provisions that contain the defining elements of the crime of genocide, including the element of intending to destroy a protected group. It does not contain “ordinary crimes” that could amount to the underlying acts of genocide.
236. Based on this assessment, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that Myanmar is failing in its obligation to enact legislation that gives effect to the Genocide Convention. Given that Myanmar does not have legislation proscribing genocide, by extension it also does not provide any penalties for genocide. This means that Myanmar is also breaching its obligation under Article V to “provide effective penalties for persons guilty” of the crime of genocide.
237. Even if Myanmar enacted domestic legislation to give effect to the Genocide Convention, Myanmar’s Constitution allows Myanmar military personnel convicted of any crime to be pardoned or potentially protected from prosecution. Article 20(b) of the Constitution gives the military “the right to independently administer and adjudicate all affairs of the armed forces” and Article 343(b) gives the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services the power to make final and conclusive decisions on military justice. Thus, the Commander-in-Chief has the Constitutional authority to pardon a member of the Myanmar military convicted of genocide, even if such a prosecution were possible. The Commander-in-Chief not only has the power to pardon but he has demonstrated his willingness to use it, as he did when he pardoned seven soldiers convicted and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for the killings of 10 Rohingya civilians in the village of Inn Din. The Mission therefore considers that Myanmar is also in breach of its Article V obligations because, at this time, Myanmar does not have a justice system capable of ensuring “effective penalties for persons guilty” of the crime of genocide.
7. Continuing genocidal intent
238. The Mission’s second phase of investigation provided further evidence that strengthens the inference of genocidal intent identified in its report in September 2018. The Mission has also concluded on reasonable grounds that there is sufficient evidence for it to infer that the State continues to harbor genocidal intent. This is evident in the Government’s acts and omissions that maintain a system of persecution and other discriminatory treatment against the Rohingya, depriving them of their fundamental rights so that they live in deplorable and inhumane conditions. These acts and omissions include the failure to reform the Citizenship Law, the inhumane use of the NVC process and the annual household listing process. They include the Government’s clearance, destruction, confiscation and building on lands of the forcibly displaced Rohingya. They include the Government’s application of laws and policies that keep Rohingya uprooted and living in inhumane conditions through their inability to return home and the deprivation of items essential to their survival. They include the lack of any accountability and of public condemnation to prevent “clearance operations” from recurring and to end the continuing persecution of Rohingya. They include the Government’s tolerance for public rhetoric of hatred and contempt for the Rohingya. All of these measures embody the discriminatory rationale for the underlying acts of genocide and all of them remain present in Myanmar at the time of writing. The Government is able but unwilling to bring them to an end. This strengthens the inference of genocidal intent in the past and provides the basis for an inference that the State continues to harbor genocidal intent.
8. Serious risk of genocide
239. The Mission’s final assessment of the rules of State responsibility under the Genocide Convention pertains to Myanmar’s obligation to prevent genocide. This obligation is triggered when there is serious risk of genocide. There is limited case law to assist the Mission in making its assessment of whether a risk is present and is serious in nature. The Mission made its assessment by comparing the current situation in Rakhine State with the genocide risk factors identified by the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect.
240. The UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect has identified eight common risk factors for “atrocity crimes” and two specific risk factors for genocide. All these factors are present in Myanmar at the time of writing. The Mission therefore concludes on reasonable grounds that the risk of genocide continues at the level of “serious” risk.
241. The Mission applied the eight common risk factors to the present situation in Myanmar. It found on reasonable grounds: first, Rakhine is plagued with instability; second, the Tatmadaw has a record of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law; third, State structures, in particular civilian oversight of the military and an independent judiciary, are weak; fourth, the Government has motives and incentives to remove the Rohingya and take over their lands; fifth, the Tatmadaw has demonstrated a capacity to commit atrocity crimes; sixth, there is an absence of mitigating factors, including outside pressure from influential third party states; seventh, the Tatmadaw is empowered by strong Constitutional authorities that grant it discretion and freedoms to engage in violations and to make the preparatory actions to do so; eighth, Rakhine State is in a fragile situation where relatively isolated acts, such as intercommunal tensions, protests and criticisms from Rohingya or the use of force by an armed group, could trigger atrocity crimes. The two risk factors that the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect identified specifically for genocide are also present: first, intergroup tensions or patterns of discrimination against the Rohingya remain, without abatement; second, signs of an intent to destroy a protected group, in whole or in part, persist.
242. In view of this assessment, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the Rohingya people remain at serious risk of genocide under the terms of the Genocide Convention.
243. Having formed this conclusion, the Mission points out the obligations of all States parties, under the Genocide Convention, to prevent genocide. It is not directly within the Mission’s mandate to assess whether specific States other than Myanmar have failed or are now failing in their obligations to prevent genocide. However, it is appropriate for the Mission to refer States to the Legal framework section of this report, in which the Mission observes that the obligation to prevent genocide has a corresponding duty to act that arises when a State “learns of, or should normally have learned of, the existence of a serious risk that genocide will be committed”. In these circumstances, all States parties to the Genocide Convention have a duty to make use of the means they has available to deter “those suspected of preparing genocide, or reasonably suspected of harbouring specific intent”.
9. Impossibility of return
244. International law affords persons displaced from their country the right to voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return to their country of origin. These principles are embedded in the obligation of non-refoulement. The four elements reflect the basic provisions of international human rights law that protect the humanity and dignity of all people. Return on this basis is also a rule of international humanitarian law. Assisting with voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation of refugees was a founding purpose of UNHCR.
245. The requirement of voluntariness has been interpreted by UNHCR as involving the individual making a free and informed choice. Repatriation must also provide individuals with physical, legal and material safety and efforts towards reconciliation, including non-discriminatory access to services, access to means of survival and basic services in early stages of return, the promotion of equity between displaced persons and local residents, and an enabling legal framework to ensure, for example, citizenship, property, registration and documentation. Voluntariness, safety and reconciliation are critical for ensuring that the return is safe and sustainable and that the Government and neighbouring communities are prepared to accept and facilitate the reintegration of those returning.
246. The Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons (Guiding Principles) provide authoritative guidance on how States should protect people from displacement within their borders and protect people during such displacement. They provide standards for return, resettlement and reintegration. Though not legally binding, they reflect and are consistent with international human rights law, international humanitarian law and analogous refugee law. They also restate the relevant principles applicable to IDPs, clarify any areas of uncertainty and address the protection gaps. Similar to human rights, refugee and international humanitarian law, under Principle 28, Myanmar must establish conditions and provide the means that allow IDPs “to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, to their homes or places of habitual residence, or to resettle voluntarily in another part of the country”. Principles 28 also provides that those authorities must endeavour to facilitate the reintegration of IDPs and should “ensure the full participation” of IDPs in the “planning and management of their return or resettlement and reintegration”.
247. When assessing the situation of the displaced Rohingya inside and outside Myanmar’s borders in the context of the right to voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the necessary conditions for return have not been met and, in fact, cannot be met at this time. Rohingya have repeatedly reaffirmed this when expressing both their desire to return home as soon as possible and their refusal to be forced back because the conditions are appallingly unacceptable. They are fully justified in their refusals. The Mission draws the conclusion that it is unsafe, inhumane, unsustainable and impossible for Rohingya to return on the same bases on which it draws its conclusion that the Rohingya continue to be the victims of crimes against humanity, it infers that the Government harbours genocidal intent and it concludes that the Rohingya are at serious risk of being the victims of genocide.
248. The Government is able but unwilling to change conditions in Rakhine State to ensure the Rohingya are able to enjoy all their human rights. This is perhaps the strongest indication of why Rohingya justifiably insist that they are not prepared to return at this time.
249. The Mission also takes note that Myanmar should comply with the Principles on housing and property restitution for refugees and displaced persons (Pinheiro Principles), which apply to the issue of land, home, and property restitution for people displaced due to arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of their homes, lands, properties or places of habitual residence. The Pinheiro Principles reflect widely accepted principles of international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law and related standards. Under the principles, everyone who has been arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived of housing, land and/or property should be able to submit a claim for restitution and/or compensation. The notion of “arbitrariness” under international human rights law is broader than “against the law” and must be interpreted to include elements of inappropriateness, injustice, lack of predictability, due process of law, reasonableness, necessity and proportionality.
250. Additionally, the process, including appeals, should be independent and impartial and should be just, timely, accessible, free of charge, and age and gender sensitive. States should also ensure that the restitution claims process is accessible for refugees and IDPs regardless of their location during displacement, no one should be persecuted or punished for making a restitution claim, and restitution programmes are carried out with adequate consultation and participation with the affected persons. Arbitrary and discriminatory laws, as well as statutes of limitations, should not prejudice the restitution process, and States should immediately repeal laws with discriminatory effect on the enjoyment of the right to housing, land and property restitution. All refugees and IDPs have the right to full and effective compensation as an integral component of the restitution process.
10. Business and development assistance in Rakhine State
251. The Mission reiterates its view that businesses and development assistance programmes in Rakhine State should take the necessary steps to ensure their actions do not enrich the Tatmadaw or support Government efforts that reshape the demographic composition of Rakhine State through the relegation of Rohingya to inhumane living conditions, by pushing them off their lands and by keeping them off their lands. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that ending the Rohingya’s human rights crisis requires, among other measures, both accountability and humane investment in “clean” markets and industries that are not tainted by their links to the Tatmadaw. Those considering business or development assistance in Rakhine State need to undertake a comprehensive and effective evaluation of the Government’s policies towards Rohingya to ensure that any economic engagement does not directly or inadvertently perpetuate the widespread pain and suffering the Government is causing the Rohingya, the damage the Government has caused to their homes and properties, and the risks that the Government’s policies pose to future generations of Rohingya, in particular children, to live with dignity and respect. The Tatmadaw’s tight hold on Rakhine State and the continuing persecution of the remaining Rohingya population make it impossible under the current circumstances to undertake business, investment or development there without either enriching the Tatmadaw further or reinforcing both the expulsion of the majority of the Rohingya population and the marginalisation of those who remain. The Mission concludes that a moratorium should be imposed on domestic and international investment and development assistance in Rakhine State at this time. Such moratorium could be ended once the restrictions on the remaining Rohingya population in Rakhine are lifted and they can enjoy rights free from discrimination on the basis of equality with the non-Rohingya population. This, in turn, would allow the Rohingya to benefit from investment and development assistance on an equal footing with the rest of the population in Rakhine State. In implementing a moratorium, due consideration should be given to ensure it does not have adverse socio-economic impacts on Rohingya and other communities in Rakhine State that would result in further harm. The moratorium must not prevent life-saving programmes and services from being provided.
V. The Conflict between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army
252. On 4 January 2019, as Myanmar celebrated its Independence Day, the Arakan Army (AA) launched coordinated attacks on four border police outposts in northern Buthidaung Township, Rakhine State, killing 13 police officers. On 7 January 2019, the spokesperson of the President’s Office reportedly stated that the Myanmar Government had “directed” the military to carry out “counter-insurgent operations”. There have been clashes between the AA and the Tatmadaw since 2015, predominantly in Paletwa Township in Chin State, resulting in continuing displacement of Chin communities. The conflict intensified from October 2018. However, 4 January 2019 marked a significant escalation in hostilities, bringing the conflict down into Rakhine state for the first time on a large scale.
253. Since January 2019, the Tatmadaw has been conducting airstrikes with fighter jets, deployed helicopters, and relied on heavy artillery to target AA positions, as well as engaged in gunfire battles, including in and around villages. The Mission documented the Tatmadaw’s use of force resulting in loss of civilian life, civilian injury, and damage to civilian objects, including important objects of cultural heritage. In several instances, this was due to the Tatmadaw’s use of force in areas close to civilian settlements. In some cases the attacks were conducted with such disregard for civilian life as to constitute indiscriminate attacks or to indicate that the attacks were directed against the civilian population. The Tatmadaw also used other tactics in its military operations that the Mission previously documented in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States, such as torturing people suspected of being members of, or associated with, the AA, using forced labour, restricting humanitarian access and seizing civilian property, including food and other items indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.
254. The Mission also documented the Tatmadaw’s use of schools and religious buildings for military purposes. The conflict between the AA and the Tatmadaw is having devastating consequences for civilians in Rakhine and Chin States. Ethnic Rakhine are the main victims of the conflict, but Chin minority groups and Rohingya who reside in active conflict areas are also severely affected. An estimated 50,000 civilians have been displaced into makeshift temporary displacement sites, many of whom do not have access to adequate humanitarian assistance.
255. The Mission has also received credible reports of at least four ethnic Rakhine villages being burned by the Tatmadaw. The Mission was unable to verify these reports through satellite imagery due to persistent cloud cover during the rainy season and due to the Government imposed internet shutdown that began on 20 June 2019. The Mission is nonetheless concerned about these allegations because the burning of villages is a known tactic of the Tatmadaw. Further investigations are therefore warranted.
256. The Myanmar Government’s response also included a crackdown on fundamental freedoms, which included the internet shutdown. The shutdown creates an information vacuum that makes it difficult to monitor the human rights impact of the Government’s military operations. It has consequences for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The Mission is also concerned with the Government’s increasingly unnecessary and disproportionately aggressive response towards those reporting on the military’s activities, in particular those highlighting human rights violations.
257. In June 2019, the AA reported that, between January and May 2019, the AA was responsible for 1,144 Tatmadaw casualties, a figure that the Tatmadaw reportedly disputes. Credible information indicates nonetheless that Tatmadaw casualties likely number in the several hundred. Although the AA has not reported on its estimated casualties, credible estimates indicate that they may number over 100.
258. The Mission also verified abuses by the AA, committed predominantly against Chin civilians. These include the AA’s use of forced labour, arbitrary deprivation of liberty. The AA also engaged in theft of civilian property. Some of these abuses may amount to war crimes.
259. At the time of writing, the conflict did not appear to be dissipating. To the contrary, the conflict has affected nine townships of Rakhine State and Paletwa Township of Chin State. The unilateral ceasefire declared by the Tatmadaw in other States on 21 December 2018 and extended until 21 September 2019 appears to have enabled the security forces to focus their attention and resources on Rakhine State. It is estimated that approximately 10,000 Tatmadaw troops are presently in the region. This includes the deployment of elements of at least eight Light Infantry Divisions (LID), namely LIDs 11, 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77 and 99. Some of these LIDs are notorious for their flagrant disregard for international human rights law and international humanitarian law. The Tatmadaw have also deployed Border Guard Forces from Karen State to support its soldiers in Rakhine.
260. The Mission remains deeply concerned that the current situation, already grave, could deteriorate further, with wide-reaching and long lasting implications not only for Rakhine and Chin States, but also for the country and the region.
B. The Arakan Army
261. Following its formation in 2009, reportedly as a small group of approximately 20 recruits, the AA grew rapidly in strength and capabilities. The AA is a well-trained force that operates under a clear command structure. The AA’s proclaimed “Commander-in-Chief”, Twan Mrat Naing, has overall control of and decision-making authority for the group. Up until 2014, the group was largely located in Kachin State, in Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) controlled territory, where it continues to maintain its headquarters. From 2015, groups of AA fighters slowly started to move into Paletwa Township, Chin State. By 2018, they had started taking up positions in remote parts of northern Rakhine State.
262. The AA has military and political wings. The military wing is organized hierarchically. Twan Mrat Naing, who has the overall decision-making authority for the group. He is based in Kachin State at the AA headquarters in Laiza. AA fighters wear military style uniforms with badges showing their ranks, although in some circumstances fighters do not wear uniforms, especially when carrying out intelligence operations. The political wing of the AA is the United League of Arakan (ULA). Some leaders of the ULA reside outside Myanmar and often represent the organization, including in political negotiations.
263. Today, the AA, is estimated to have between 7,000 and 10,000 fighters, some of whom remain in Kachin State, but many of whom are now actively deployed in the active conflict areas of Rakhine and Chin States. The AA may also have access to Bangladeshi territory due to the porous nature of the border. The AA’s sustained, sophisticated attacks on the military demonstrate the AA’s military capabilities and access to weaponry, which includes sniper rifles, light artillery and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Credible reports indicate that much of their weaponry is obtained from other ethnic armed organisations in northern Myanmar.
264. While attacks by the AA against the Tatmadaw have been taking place since 2015, the NLD decision in 2016 to nominate a NLD candidate for the position of Rakhine State Chief Minister, who was not favoured by the ruling Rakhine political party, coupled with the absence of visible improvements for Rakhine in the months after the NLD party took office, further drove the AA to pursue its goals through military means.
265. In January 2018, government security forces shot and killed seven ethnic Rakhine protesters in Mrauk-U Town. The impunity that followed, and the jailing of Rakhine political leader Aye Maung on what were criticized as politically motivated charges for high treason, also fuelled the AA’s resentment against the Tatmadaw and the Union level government.
266. The AA espouses a political agenda of Rakhine self-determination through a confederacy under which the Rakhine would have autonomy, except in matters of defence, trade regulation and foreign affairs. The AA refers to the historical Rakhine Kingdom, sometimes referred to as the “Kingdom of Arakan”, and to their colonization by the Bamar, as they promote “the way of the Rakhita”, an ideology focused on self-determination for the Rakhine. They also claim that Paletwa Township, in Chin State, belongs to the Kingdom of Arakan. The AA has stated that they are only in conflict with the Tatmadaw, that its operations are not aimed at the Rohingya, and has denied any connection to ARSA.
267. The AA is a member of the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC), a bloc of seven ethnic armed groups that have not signed the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). The FPNCC has put forth alternative principles for negotiations that it expects the Government to consider before its member organizations sign the NCA. The demands include a proposal for a confederate system for Myanmar.
268. In December 2018, the unilateral four month ceasefire, declared by the Tatmadaw in all other States, and currently extended until 21 September 2019, excluded Rakhine State and therefore the AA. The Northern Alliance, which includes the AA, put out a statement when the ceasefire was announced calling for Rakhine State to be included. Furthermore, some members of the FPNCC have indicated they would fight alongside the AA in Rakhine State if needed, despite their own areas of operation being covered by the ceasefire. At the time of writing the Mission has not received information that other EAOs have provided fighters to support the AA in Rakhine State. However, the AA has admitted to joining other EAOs in an attack on a military academy near Mandalay in northern Shan State on 15 August 2019 as part of the Northern Alliance.
269. There is widespread support and sympathy for the AA among the ethnic Rakhine people. Against the backdrop of perceived persistent discrimination and political disenfranchisement by the Bamar-majority Government, ethnic Rakhine people broadly perceive the AA as a legitimate armed group that represents their interests. As one Rakhine man said, “The AA is fighting for the freedom of Arakan, as the Arakanese have been oppressed by the Tatmadaw. The Tatmadaw is not our Army. They abuse us.” Popular support for the AA appears to be growing as a result of the heavy-handed Tatmadaw operations and bolstered by widespread support for its leader Twan Mrat Naing.
270. Ethnic Rakhine are joining the AA from their villages, from mining areas closer to the AA headquarters in Kachin State and from the diaspora communities across Asia. The AA recruits both female and male members. The Mission has not received any reports of forced recruitment, although some members of the Chin community feel at risk of being forced to join. The AA claim not to recruit soldiers under the age of 18. The Mission has not found any cases of children being forcibly recruited.
271. The AA maintains a strong and sophisticated social media presence. They have numerous websites and regularly post photographs and semi-professionally produced videos, including promotional materials such as videos of military training demonstrating the group’s fighting abilities and weaponry capacity. The AA has also developed the #ArakanDream2020 hashtag, calling for escalated actions ahead of the 2020 nationwide elections. It has stated its aim of achieving self-determination by the end of 2020. The AA has a dedicated spokesperson who regularly engages with the media and the AA regularly issues public responses, including rebuttals to statements issued by the Tatmadaw.
272. On 5 February 2019, Facebook banned the AA from its social media platform alongside three other EAOs that have not signed the NCA, namely the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Kachin Independence Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. Facebook imposed the ban on the basis that it wanted to prevent offline harm by removing groups it branded “dangerous organisations”, adding it would remove “praise, support and representation” of the groups.
C. Violations by the Tatmadaw
1. Unlawful Attacks by the Tatmadaw
273. The Mission documented attacks by the Tatmadaw, during its conflict with the AA that have led to loss of civilian life, civilian injury and destruction of civilian property. The Mission assessed these incidents under international human rights law and international humanitarian law. In making its legal assessment of each attack, the Mission was guided in part by the case law of international criminal law, which takes into account such factors as the means and method used in an attack, the distance between the victims and the attackers, the absence or presence of combat activity at the time and location of the incident, the presence of military activities or facilities in the vicinity that came under attack, and the status of the victims and their appearance.
274. The Mission documented a pattern of the Tatmadaw using small arms fire and munitions with wide area effect inside and in close proximity to densely populated civilian areas. Government sources consistently claimed that the AA was present in the towns and villages where attacks have occurred but the AA and villagers consistently denied this.
275. Although it remains difficult for the Mission to verify with certainty whether AA fighters were in a particular village at a particular time, the Mission received corroborating accounts that in many locations the AA was not actively fighting from within the town or village at the time of the Tatmadaw’s attack. In many of the attacks that the Mission documented, it received no information or indication that AA fighters were killed or injured. This implies that AA fighters were not present in the town or village at the relevant time. Witnesses also consistently told the Mission that the military did not provide advance warning to civilians prior to the attacks. Civilian casualties may have been avoided, or at least minimized, if villagers had been given advanced warning of the attack.
276. While the Mission did not seek to undertake a comprehensive count of civilian casualties, credible organizations have estimated that, at the time of reporting, the conflict has resulted in approximately 91 civilian deaths and injuries to over one hundred injuries to others, including the elderly, women, men and children. Casualties have included ethnic Rakhine, Rohingya and members of Chin minorities.
277. IEDs and/or landmines have also caused deaths and serious injuries, although the Mission was unable to determine who deployed those weapons.
278. The Mission investigated six attacks that resulted in the civilian deaths and injuries, including children. Despite the internet shutdown across the region, credible reports indicate that attacks following similar patterns continue to occur across the ten affected townships, with arrests, casualties and destruction of property.
(a) Mrauk-U town and Ywar Haung Taw, Mrauk-U Township - 18 March 2019
279. Mrauk-U, formerly known as Mrohaung, was the capital of the Mrauk-U Kingdom from 1430 to 1785, the first Arakanese Kingdom. The town’s temples, stupas, monasteries, pagodas and other monuments and structures have religious, historical and cultural significance. There are over 200 temples and pagodas from the ancient town remaining, spread out over an area of 6 by 7 kilometres. For reasons explained in the conclusions and legal findings to this section, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the ancient town of Mrauk-U and various structures within that area constitute “cultural heritage” as defined and protected under international law.
280. The Government recognizes and promotes the area’s cultural significance. It has taken steps to nominate the ancient town of Mrauk-U for recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area has been on a “tentative list” for recognition under the UNESCO 1972 World Heritage Convention since 1996. The Final Report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State also noted the cultural significance of Mrauk-U and recommended that steps be taken to ensure its inclusion on the UNESCO list.
281. On Monday 18 March 2019, two Tatmadaw attacks took place in Mrauk-U Township, one of the largest townships in Rakhine State. The first attack occurred at approximately 7 pm, when a convoy of approximately eight Tatmadaw trucks filled with soldiers drove into Mrauk-U town and opened fire. The attack took place while the convoy drove along the road through various wards of Mrauk-U town. The Mission has been informed that many people were out on the streets at the time. The convoy first passed through Htan Ma Rit and Law Ka Mu wards, with soldiers shooting towards houses, resulting in damage to buildings. A KBZ bank opposite a monastery was also damaged by the shooting. The convoy continued along the road, with soldiers shooting towards houses, injuring people and damaging property. According to media reports and other information that the Mission received, six people suffered bullet wounds as a result of the attack.
282. The Mission received credible reports that, when the convoy passed through Let Kauk Zay ward in Mrauk-U Town, soldiers fired towards a monastery, damaging a 500 year old pagoda known as the Rakkha Muni Pagoda which is located inside a monastery compound. This firing also caused damage to the face, arm and stomach of a Buddha statue located inside the monastery compound. Photographs the Mission received of the damaged Buddha are consistent with the testimony. It was reported that, on 18 March 2019, the Myanmar Archaeologist Research Association requested that Mrauk-U be declared a no-war zone.
283. The Mission also received information that the Tatmadaw placed artillery around Mrauk-U in proximity to historical monuments, namely the Nibuzar pagoda, the Shwe Taung pagoda and the Ratanamanaung pagoda. The positioning of this artillery exposed the ancient town of Mrauk-U and its monuments to AA counter-attacks. The firing of artillery from such close proximity to those monuments also endangered them by producing significant damaging vibrations, according to archaeologists and experts. The media reported that soldiers also damaged historical structures when they “dug up trenches and used stones from ancient monuments as bunkers”. One resident of Mrauk-U observed in March 2019: “Every day now the Tatmadaw shoot big weapons towards the pagoda. At the moment people cannot pay homage at the pagodas. Some pagodas have been destroyed by the weapons.”
284. In a series of statements posted on its official website, the Tatmadaw claimed that the shooting in Mrauk-U town on 18 March 2019 was in response to an AA attack from civilian houses and from both sides of the road. According to the media, earlier in the evening the AA attacked a Tatmadaw convoy on a road from Sittwe to Mrauk-U. However, that attack was approximately 30 kilometres from where the Tatmadaw opened fire on the town of Mrauk-U. The Mission found no indications of an AA presence in the town of Mrauk-U or that the Tatmadaw came under attack there, including in the wards through which the convoy passed.
285. At approximately the same time that the Tatmadaw convoy opened fire as it drove through Mrauk-U town, security forces also attacked the Rakhine village of Ywar Haung Taw located on the eastern outskirts of Mrauk-U town. Tatmadaw officials claimed that “AA terrorists attacked a military convoy, while the convoy was marching into Mrauk-U town for security” and that “AA terrorists took position in civilian houses”. It was unclear if this was the same AA attack that the Tatmadaw used to justify its convoy opening fire in Mrauk-U town. Villagers denied the presence of AA in the village during the attack. On 18 March 2019, at around 7 pm, Tatmadaw soldiers shelled the village. Credible reports indicate that Tatmadaw forces stationed inside Police Regiment No. 31, nearby to the village, or the 540th Light Infantry Battalion based in Mrauk-U fired the munitions.
286. As a result, at least six people, including children, sustained injuries. One house was completely destroyed and other houses were damaged.
287. A monk who arrived at the village late that night to assist survivors described the scene he encountered:
Injured people were coming out of their houses and bunkers. Some had been hit in the arms and legs. They were injured because of the artillery. There were no bullet holes, just damage because of the artillery explosions. One private house was on fire and other houses were hit by shrapnel.
288. Many of the villagers subsequently fled the village and sought refuge in a monastery in Mrauk-U town. A number of individuals injured in the attack sustained permanent disabilities as a result, including being unable to use their arms properly after injury, resulting in an inability to work. Some individuals who were wounded and sought treatment at the hospital in Mrauk-U town were later paid compensation by soldiers from the 22nd LID.
Conclusions and legal findings: Indiscriminate and other unlawful attacks
289. The two attacks on 18 March 2019 in Mrauk-U town and Ywar Haung Taw village left twelve people, including children, injured from bullets and shelling. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the attacks were indiscriminate and therefore in violation of international humanitarian law. They were indiscriminate because the attacks did not appear to be directed at a specific military objective. Instead, the Tatmadaw appeared to target Mrauk-U town and Ywar Haung Taw village as a single military target without distinguishing between what it was lawfully allowed to attack and what it was prohibited from attacking under the rules of international humanitarian law.
290. The Tatmadaw claimed that it opened fire in these two areas in response to an AA attack on a Tatmadaw convoy that took place 30 kilometres from the village. The military also claimed that the AA took positions in civilian houses, presumably in the areas that the military attacked. The Mission found no evidence of this. The Mission’s information also indicates that the Tatmadaw’s fire was haphazard and random, as the armed convoys drove through Mrauk-U town and Ywar Haung Taw village, hitting people, houses, a 500 year-old pagoda, a Buddha statue and a bank. The fact that the Mission received no reports or indications of injuries to AA fighters further supports the conclusion that the Tatmadaw’s fire was not directed specifically at the AA. Additionally, the type of munitions used in the shelling of the village indicate that the Tatmadaw may have indiscriminately shelled the village.
291. The Mission also concludes on reasonable grounds that, having carried out an indiscriminate attack on Mrauk-U town and Ywar Haung Taw village, the Tatmadaw did not take feasible precautionary measures to avoid, or in any event minimize, the civilian injury and damage to property that it caused, as required under international humanitarian law.
Conclusions and legal findings: Attacks on cultural property
292. The Mission also concludes on reasonable grounds that the Tatmadaw’s indiscriminate fire in the ancient town of Mrauk-U was a violation of rules under international law that protect cultural property. The right of access to and enjoyment of all forms of cultural heritage is guaranteed by international human rights law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Myanmar is a party. In its resolution 6/1 on the protection of cultural rights and property in situations of armed conflict, the Human Rights Council reaffirmed that the destruction of or any other form of damage to cultural property may impair the enjoyment of cultural rights, in particular under article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
293. Additionally, Myanmar is a State party to the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of an Armed Conflict. The Convention contains rules applicable during a non-international armed conflict that prohibit Myanmar from using cultural property and its immediate surroundings, or of the appliances in use for its protection, for purposes which are “likely to expose it to destruction or damage”. The Convention also prohibits acts of hostility directed against cultural property except in cases of imperative military necessity. The Convention obliges States to prohibit, prevent and put a stop to theft, pillage, misappropriation or vandalism directed against cultural property, and absolutely prohibits acts of reprisals directed against cultural property. The Convention defines cultural property as “property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people, such as monuments of architecture, art or history, whether religious or secular; archaeological sites; groups of buildings which, as a whole, are of historical or artistic interest…” The Convention also establishes a system of special heightened protections for cultural property that has been internationally recognized as being culturally significant. The Convention’s obligations are applicable to each party to the conflict and reflective of customary law. Customary international law also prohibits the destruction of or wilful damage to cultural property. Intentionally directing attacks against religious or cultural objects is a war crime provided they are not legitimate military objectives.
294. While Mrauk-U has not yet been listed under the 1972 UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, it has been recognized, since 1996, as a site of outstanding universal cultural value that is set to be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List. The Government also recognizes Mrauk-U’s cultural significance. Given the facts of the situation, the Mission regards the ancient capital of Mrauk-U and its various structures to constitute cultural property under international law that should be afforded heightened protection under the 1954 Convention.
295. The 18 March 2019 attack that damaged the Rakkha Muni Pagoda, as well as the artillery positions of the Tatmadaw near the Nibuzar pagoda, the Shwe Taung pagoda and the Ratanamanaung pagoda, are all within the Government-nominated cultural property area of Mrauk-U.
296. As such, the Tatmadaw’s positioning of artillery near historical monuments, including the Nibuzar pagoda, the Shwe Taung pagoda and the Ratanamanaung pagoda, as well as its alleged use of stones from ancient monuments, indicate that the Tatmadaw violated the absolute protections that international law affords cultural property from being used for military purposes and from being wilfully damaged, misappropriated or vandalized. The damage that the Tatmadaw’s 18 March 2019 attack on Mrauk-U town caused to cultural property also indicates that the Tatmadaw violated the protections afforded under international law to cultural property from acts of hostility. The Mission makes this finding because it concluded on reasonable grounds that the protected objects did not constitute military objects and that there existed no imperative military necessity that justified their use or damage.
(b) Sin Taung, Buthidaung Township –– 21-22 March 2019
297. In the afternoon of Thursday 21 March 2019, soldiers from the 22nd LID entered the village of Say Taung in Buthidaung Township, a village that had been hosting people from other villages displaced by the conflict. Some soldiers based themselves in a monastery east of the village, where they rested and ate. The same soldiers also set up a number of large artillery pieces inside the temple complex. Other soldiers walked around the village during the afternoon, some of whom rested under trees on the other side of the river to the monastery. Villagers did not regard the soldiers located in and around the village as a threat and the soldiers did not act as if they were in danger of an AA attack. Villagers continued their business as normal. While villagers were surprised at the troop presence, they did not anticipate any violence. As one woman stated:
When the soldiers arrived in the village, they did not do anything, some just stayed inside the temple, and others walked around, and were sitting under trees in the shade. The soldiers were cooking and eating. Everyone was functioning normally. Since the villagers don’t have any real business with the soldiers, there was nothing suspicious, so we, the women, continued to go to the water pump and go about our business.
298. After dark, at around 9.30 pm, a commander inside the temple gave an order and soldiers started launching munitions towards the village. Tatmadaw soldiers stationed around the village and in the temple also opened fire. Simultaneously, security forces fired artillery towards the village from the direction of Buthidaung Town. A man who took shelter in the temple described the situation:
The Tatmadaw Commander inside the temple had a kind of military communication equipment. He would talk into this machine, and then an artillery would fire from the direction of Buthidaung town. So it seems like the soldier was giving the directions to the military base which allowed them to shoot towards the location.
299. Once the shelling started, villagers sought shelter in homemade bunkers. One villager, who lost a number of family members that night, described how he and his wife took shelter in a bunker:
My wife and I were in our bunker, our faces were in the dirt. We could barely even breathe. The shooting went on for what felt like hours, then stopped and started again. We thought we would die I was so afraid during the attack. Bullets were raining down.
300. The gunfire lasted until morning. But when, villagers tried to assess the extent of the casualties and damage, Tatmadaw soldiers started shooting again towards the village, inhibiting relatives from assisting the injured or recovering the bodies of those killed.
301. The attack killed five villagers. Four individuals, all relatives, were found dead in one bunker. The fifth person, an elderly woman, was found inside her house. Many others sustained injuries, including wounds from bullets and shrapnel. Houses and farmlands were damaged by shelling.
302. A statement issued by the Office of the Commander-in-Chief on 22 March 2019 accused the AA of using a civilian settlement as cover and said that, in executing its defence strategy, “inevitable loss and injuries may happen”.
303. Villagers denied the presence of, or any attack launched by, the AA from the village at the time of the attack by the Tatmadaw. The Mission did not receive any indications that the monastery from which the Tatmadaw launched its attack sustained damage or that soldiers stationed in the monastery were injured or killed. This implies that there was no AA attack on the military.
304. The Mission also obtained information that civilian casualties may have been avoided, or at least minimized, if villagers had been given advanced warning of the attack. People said that the Tatmadaw did not give any warning despite being stationed inside the village throughout the day. A man from the village recalled that, when soldiers were in the village in the afternoon:
There was no kind of warning that the people should leave. If we would have received a warning that an attack was coming, we would have fled, and then maybe no one would have died.
Conclusions and legal findings
305. The Mission was unable to determine what triggered the Tatmadaw’s attack on Sin Taung on 21-22 March 2019. However, the Tatmadaw did not appear to aim its fire, which came from the monastery and from the direction of Buthidaung Town, at specific persons or objects. There are also strong indications that the Tatmadaw knew the AA was not present in the village at the time of the attack. The soldiers’ public manner and amount of time they took to set up camp, place artillery at a monastery, walk around the village and rest under trees before opening fire on Sin Taung indicates that the Tatmadaw was not concerned that the AA was present in the areas, would attack them or could prepare for a counterattack. There are no indications that the monastery, from which the Tatmadaw launched its lengthy attack, sustained any damage or that soldiers stationed in the monastery were injured or killed. This also indicates to the Mission that the Tatmadaw knew that the AA was not present immediately before or during the course of its attack.
306. The Tatmadaw must have known that the village was populated with civilians, who went about their daily activities as they saw the Tatmadaw enter the area. The Tatmadaw also opened fire on the morning of 22 March deterring villagers from collecting and caring for the wounded. With strong indications of the AA’s absence and undeniable indications of a civilian presence in Sin Taung, the Mission concludes on reasonable ground that the Tatmadaw’s attack on Sin Taung on 21-22 March 2019 was either indiscriminate or may have been directed against civilians, both are violations of international humanitarian law and the latter amounts to a war crime. The Mission also concludes on reasonable grounds that the Tatmadaw violated its obligation to enable the wounded villagers to be collected and cared for. The Tatmadaw violated this obligation in two respects. First, the Tatmadaw could and should have collected the wounded and it violated this obligation when it failed to do so. From all indications, soldiers were available and the AA was absent from the area. Other operational constraints, such as time and distance, did not appear to be constraining factors. Second, even if it was unreasonable for the Tatmadaw itself to collect the wounded, the Tatmadaw violated its general obligation to enable the wounded to be collected and cared for when it fired upon villagers who sought to assist the wounded. Furthermore, given that the Tatmadaw had ample time to warn villagers of an impending attack and that doing so would have had no noticeable negative military repercussions on the Tatmadaw, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that, even if the military’s attack was directed at the AA, the Tatmadaw failed in its obligation to give effective advance warning to the civilian population under circumstances that permitted it to do so.
(c) Sai Din Waterfall, Buthidaung Township - 3 April 2019
307. The Mission received credible reports that, on the afternoon of Wednesday 3 April, the Tatmadaw used two helicopters during an attack that resulted in the deaths of at least nine Rohingya. More than ten Rohingya, including at least five minors, were seriously injured in the attack.
308. The attack occurred in the Sai Din (San Goe Taung) mountain areas in Buthidaung Township where Rohingya from surrounding villages were working in the bamboo plantation site near a waterfall and forest. The Rohingya were from the villages of Phon Nyo Leik, Kin Taung, Dabyu Chaung, Hteik Htoo Pauk and Thaet Pyin. During the attack, Rohingya men and boys were working in different groups in the area and were cutting and collecting bamboo. Helicopters flew low and circled before launching the attack. One interviewee, who was in the area of the attack together with six others, explained:
While I was making the bundles of bamboo, I noticed two military helicopters started flying over the area. There were many small and big hills. The helicopters flew over the areas 3 to 4 times, and all of a sudden, a helicopter dropped bombs on the ledge of the hills. My brother was working with another villager between the hills and the waterfall. Both of them were killed instantly. He was a little bit far from me. Parts of the bombs hit him and other villagers.
309. The interviewee also described how the two dead bodies were severely disfigured from the attack. He described one as having his body “blown apart”. Photographs that the Mission received of injured villagers were consistent with the severity of injuries described by the victims of the attack.
310. Major General Tun Tun Nyi, a spokesperson from the military, acknowledged the helicopter attack and stated that it was to deter the AA from firing at Tatmdaw soldiers. He also claimed the victims were with AA fighters. Another military spokesperson, Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, was quoted by the media as providing a similar justification for the attack, saying six Rohingya were killed and others were injured because they were “together with the AA” Some injured villagers later admitted to Buthidaung Hospital received compensation from the Myanmar Army.
311. The survivors of this incident had difficulties transporting injured people to hospitals, as boat transport was the only means for moving the victims. The ICRC in a statement said that it had visited the wounded in hospital and that they were in “urgent need of surgery”. They offered their support, in case of need, including medical supplies or transfer to Sittwe hospital.
312. The Mission did not receive any reports from witnesses who saw, or knew of the AA being, in the immediate area at the time of the attack. The AA spokesperson Khine Thukha denied that the AA was engaged in any fighting in the area on the day of the helicopter attack. From photographs of the victims, reviewed by the Mission, the victims all appeared to be in civilian clothing.
Conclusions and legal findings
313. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the Tatmadaw’s helicopter attack in the Sai Din (San Goe Taung) mountain area on 3 April 2019 constituted an indiscriminate attack that killed and injured civilians, possibly as a result of the Tatmadaw failing to do everything feasible to verify that the people it attacked were civilians. The facts also provide strong indications that the attack may in fact have been directed at Rohingya civilians. These are all violations of international humanitarian law. Making civilians the object of attack is also a war crime. The Mission draws this conclusion from several observations. AA fighters regularly wear identifiable uniforms while operating outside populated areas, whereas the people killed in the attacks wore civilian clothes. The helicopter operators must have been able to observe this distinction when the helicopter flew low and circled the attack point several times before firing on the group. The attack did not result in any known AA casualties, indicating they were not in the vicinity of the attack. Finally, the Mission has received no indications of Rohingya joining or supporting the AA in a manner that would make them lawfully targetable under international humanitarian law. Based on these factors, the Tatmadaw could not have reasonably had a serious or genuine belief that the civilian Rohingya were taking a direct part in hostilities in support of the AA.
(d) Baung Dut, Mrauk-U Township - 17 April 2019
314. On Wednesday 17 April 2019, Tatmadaw soldiers from Battalions 377 and 378 stationed in the hills surrounding the village of Baung Dut Village in Mrauk-U Township came out of their base at approximately 9pm and started shooting directly into the village. The village is located approximately three kilometres south of Mrauk-U’s urban centre.
315. Witnesses described the shooting as continuous and directed towards and around the village. One man who sought shelter in his bunker explained: “They were shooting toward the village, towards the houses. They were firing consistently.” Shells also landed in the village, causing injuries and damaging property”.
316. Two elderly men died in the attack. One of them was killed instantly; the second died later at a hospital. Another man was injured inside his house after a bullet grazed his face, resulting in permanent disfigurement. A bullet also injured his fourteen year-old daughter, hitting her arm and causing permanent disability.
317. The next morning, when the shooting and shelling subsided, those injured sought treatment at Mrauk-U Hospital. Local charity organizations assisted the injured father and daughter with medical bills, as the Government provided no compensation or assistance. Villagers displaced from the village due to the attack sought shelter in an ad hoc displacement site located inside a monastery.
318. The Commander-in-Chief of the Tatmadaw claimed that the AA had ambushed a military base in the area from a government-run school on that same evening. The statement made no reference to deaths, injuries or damage to property. Villagers denied that there were any AA fighters inside the village or any kind of attack launched by the AA from within the village that day.
Conclusions and legal findings
319. Based on the harm caused to civilians and damage to civilian property, the manner in which witnesses described the attack to the Mission and reports of the AA not being in the village at the time of the attack, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the attack may have been directed at civilians, was indiscriminate or was not proportionate. The Tatmadaw may also have failed to take appropriate precautionary measures to verify military targets or avoid, or at least minimize, loss of civilian life, civilian injury or damage to civilian objects. All of these acts are violations of international humanitarian law. Attacks directed against civilians are war crimes.
(e) Ywar Haung Taw, Mrauk-U Township –13 June 2019
320. When villagers from Ywar Haung Taw returned to their homes weeks after fleeing the 18 March 2019 attacks, Ywar Haung Taw was subject to a second attack, on Thursday 13 June 2019. Many had returned to protect their land and property.
321. In the afternoon of 13 June 2019 at around 3.30pm, a Tatmadaw convoy was travelling on a road near Ywar Haung Taw when there was an explosion nearby. Upon hearing the explosion, the soldiers stopped their vehicles, disembarked and entered the village on foot, shooting and launching rocket propelled grenades towards the village. A monk who was visiting the village described the soldiers as shooting “at everything”. Three people were injured in the attack, including a boy who was near a school compound. The school was also damaged.
322. Villagers told the Mission and the media that the AA was not present in the village at the time of the attack. The AA made similar denials.
323. The Myanmar Government claimed that the AA had attacked a military convoy with explosives earlier in the week. It further claimed that the “troops fired back in response [to the explosion against the convoy], but in the opposite direction from the village”, adding that government soldiers were not to blame for injuries sustained by villagers during the battle.
324. Villagers arranged for the injured to be transported to the hospital for treatment, with no assistance from the soldiers who departed the village immediately.
Conclusions and legal findings
325. The Mission concludes that the Tatmadaw’s 13 June 2019 attack on Ywar Haung Taw village may have been indiscriminate and therefore a violation of international humanitarian law. After soldiers in a Tatmadaw convoy heard a nearby explosion, they soldiers disembarked and fired on the village in a random and indiscriminate manner. As one villager described, the soldiers were shooting “at everything”. The attack injured three people, including a boy, and damaged a school. Based on the interviews the Mission conducted, the Mission concluded that the Government’s claim that the Tatmadaw soldiers were not to blame for the injuries lacks credibility.
(f) Overall conclusions and legal findings on Tatmadaw attacks
326. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the Tatmadaw’s attacks on Mrauk-U town and Ywar Haung Taw village on 18 March 2019, on Sin Taung on 21-22 March 2019 and on Sai Din Waterfall on 3 April 2019 violated several rules of international humanitarian law, in particular the rule prohibiting indiscriminate attacks. The attacks on Baung Dut, Mrauk-U Township, on 17 April 2019 and on Ywar Haung Taw village on 13 June 2019 may also have violated international humanitarian law. The Mission finds that these violations also constitute violations of the right to life under international human rights law.
327. The Mission takes note that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has held that indiscriminate attacks under certain circumstances may qualify as direct attacks against civilians. International humanitarian law prohibits direct attacks against civilians. Such attacks constitute war crimes. The Mission concluded that in some instances the manner in which the Tatmadaw conducted its indiscriminate attacks may infer that those attacks were directed at civilians. In the conclusions of its investigation, the Mission found that the attack on Sin Taung and the helicopter attack at Sai Din may have been directed at civilians. The Mission also concluded on reasonable grounds that the Tatmadaw’s attacks and other military operations in the ancient capital of Mrauk-U violated the rules under international law that protect cultural property. Under both international human rights law and international humanitarian law, the Government of Myanmar has an obligation to conduct effective investigations into these violations, including criminal investigations especially when the violations amount to war crimes.
2. Military use of and damage to schools and religious sites
328. In the course of its military operations against the AA, the Tatmadaw has used schools and monasteries as military bases and living quarters. The military has also used schools as detention and interrogation facilities. Using these locations for military purposes has increased their exposure to the conflict and negatively affected the ability of children to receive education and of people to practise their religion. In several cases, schools and places of worship were damaged during attacks by the Tatmadaw and/or the AA.
329. The impact of the conflict on schools and access to education requires further investigation. Based on the Mission’s initial assessment, the conflict has resulted in many schools in the region being closed and otherwise negatively affecting the access to education of children irrespective of ethnicity In Rakhine and Chin villages Tatmadaw soldiers install themselves in schools and use them as barracks where they sleep and cook. One Chin woman from Paletwa Township explained: “Since the Tatmadaw soldiers arrived, the school has been closed”.
330. The Tatmadaw also used schools as detention and interrogation sites, in particular for ethnic Rakhine villagers accused of supporting the AA. One ethnic Rakhine man described how he and a fellow villager were detained by soldiers of the 55th LID in a school on grounds of supporting the AA. “They kept us in the hot sun at a school compound, and we were beaten with the barrel of a gun by Tatmadaw soldiers of the 55th LID.”
331. In the village of Kyauk Tan in Rathedaung Township, the Tatmadaw used a school to detain and interrogate ethnic Rakhine villagers for weeks. As detailed below, the Tatmadaw opened fire on the detainees, killing seven and injuring eight others.
332. The Tatmadaw’s use of schools may also contribute to them being the object of attacks by the AA. During a clash between the AA and Tatmadaw in and around the Chin village of Auk Pyin Wa in Paletwa Township, a Chin villager described how heavy AA gunfire damaged a school in her village and said the AA may have targeted the school because they thought the Tatmadaw was inside: “I cannot say exactly how many bullet holes in the school, but the whole side wall, and the top of the roof, there were holes everywhere”.
333. Tatmadaw attacks have also damaged schools. As detailed above, on 13 June 2019, in the village of Yraw Haung Taw in Mrauk-U Township, the Tatmadaw fired munitions that damaged a school and injured at least one student inside the school’s premises.
(b) Religious sites
334. Tatmadaw soldiers have also set up bases in monasteries and temples from which they have carried out military operations and attacks. One villager described how, on 4 March 2019, hundreds of Tatmadaw soldiers wearing the badge of the 22nd LID entered a temple in Hpa Ywar Gyi village in Mrauk-U Township:
I knew the soldiers had set themselves up inside the temple in my village that day. It was possible to see the firing as well as the sound of the artillery - it was all coming from the temple.
335. A monk who confirmed the presence of the soldiers in the temple to the Mission saw the soldiers setting up artillery inside the compound. When the monk returned to the village later to request the soldiers to vacate the temple, the soldiers refused:
I went to speak to the military officer and told him to move out of the temple. However, the high- ranking officer of the army refused the request. That man was wearing a military uniform and, he was clearly wearing the 22 badge. There were about 150-200 soldiers still inside the temple at that time.
336. The Tatmadaw also used a monastery and its temple as a military base to position heavy artillery for its 21 March 2019 attack in Sin Taung, Buthidaung Township. A man described to the Mission how the temple was “full of soldiers … and they were firing their big guns, shells and launchers and also were shooting guns nonstop from inside the Monastery”.
337. Another man described how military soldiers had installed themselves in a pagoda near U Gar village in Rathedaung Township, since January 2019. He commented: “As the military are staying in the pagodas, the villagers cannot go there to pray”. As a result of the military use of the temple in Hpa Yuar Gyi, Mrauk-U, all the monks from the temple were forced to leave the monastery, including the chief monk, who was 85 years old.
338. In all three cases monks and temple-goers were denied access to their places of worship as a result of the Tatmadaw’s military use of the temples and pagoda.
339. The Mission verified two Tatmadaw attacks that caused significant damage to religious sites, in addition to civilian casualties.
Sa Par Htar, Minbya Township – 3 June 2019
340. On 3 June 2019, there was heavy fighting between the Tatmadaw and the AA near the village of Sa Par Htar in Minbya Township. Some villagers sought shelter in bomb-shelters in their own houses they had dug for their own safety. Hundreds of other villagers sought shelter in the local monastery.
341. Shelling and shooting continued for several hours without break. Weapons were fired once every couple of minutes from a Tatmadaw temporary base set up along the riverside of Mrauk-U town.
342. In the early afternoon, sometime between 2 and 3 pm, shells hit the monastery. The area was covered with smoke and villagers could hardly see each other. At least four people were killed in the monastery as a result of the shelling. A further two villagers, including a minor, died later from their injuries in a hospital in Minbya Town. At least eight others, including women and a minor, were seriously injured.
343. One interviewee explained how his niece’s backside was severely injured in the attack and how she was taken to the hospital. Another witness gave the following account:
We all fled to the monastery for safe shelter, immediately after the fighting broke out between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army in the morning. I was upstairs in the monastery. Around 2 pm, a shell dropped on the monastery. Everything became dark; we were not able to see.
344. The monastery suffered severe damage as a result of the shelling and shooting, in particular its walls, windows and roof.
345. Witnesses confirmed that neither the Tatmadaw nor the AA were present in the village during the attack. The spokesperson of the Tatmadaw’s Western Regional Command, Colonel Win Zaw Oo, stated in an interview that “no artillery was fired by the Tatmadaw across the river and that the AA fired the artillery first, prompting Tatmadaw soldiers to fire back”.
346. Villagers who had remained inside their houses ran to the monastery soon after the munitions hit. They assisted transporting the injured to a hospital in Mrauk-U.
Myauk Taung, Kyauktaw Township - 19 June 2019
347. On 19 May 2019, a 10-year-old-girl, Athein Chay, was killed while walking alongside her 14-year-old brother on her way back to her village of Myauk Taung. They had been visiting a monk in a nearby monastery to donate goods from the family.
348. At around 5 pm, before the sun had set and as the children were leaving the monastery on foot, a military convoy stopped along the highway and opened fire. Athein Chay was killed by a bullet that struck the back of her head. Her brother was able to escape.
349. There was continuous gunfire, including the sound of shelling, and military presence throughout the night. Some shells landed in the village, some of which were unexploded. The Mission received photographs of mortars that villagers claimed to have been found in the village following the attack, consistent with the testimony.
350. Artillery shells also fell near the monastery and pagoda, causing damage to the temple. Shelling also affected a neighbouring village, Marlar Taung, injuring two more people, one of whom was a child.
351. The following morning, the deceased girl’s father went with other villagers to collect her body. A bullet had penetrated her skull from behind. Colonel Win Zaw Oo, spokesperson for the military’s Western Regional Command, commented in public statements to the media that government forces engaged in a firefight with the AA after AA soldiers attacked a Tatmadaw convoy with mines and fired on troops from within Myauk Taung village. The Tatmadaw reportedly stated they “couldn’t be sure who shot the bullet”. Villagers and the AA deny that the AA was inside the village.
(c) Conclusions and legal findings
352. Schools are civilian objects under international humanitarian law. As such, they must not be the object of direct attack or the object of indiscriminate attacks and are afforded the protections of precautionary measures unless and for such time as they become legitimate military objects. International humanitarian law also requires the Tatmadaw, to the extent feasible, to avoid locating military personnel and objects in schools when they are within or near densely populated areas. The purpose of this rule is to guard civilians from the dangers of conflict.
353. The Mission shares the United Nations Security Council’s concerns that a military’s use of schools in contravention of applicable international law “may render schools legitimate targets of attack, thus endangering children’s and teachers’ safety as well as children’s education”. The Safe Schools Declaration, which at the time of writing 95 States endorsed, similarly recognizes that educational facilities used by parties to armed conflict “expose students and education personnel to harm, deny large numbers of children and students their right to education and so deprive communities of the foundations on which to build their future”. The Declaration has guidelines that instruct parties to armed conflict not to use functioning schools and universities in support of their military efforts. The guidelines also instruct parties not to use schools and universities that have been abandoned or evacuated because of the dangers of conflict for any purpose that supports the military effort, except in extenuating circumstances when they are presented with no viable alternative.
354. The Mission demands that the military cease its use of schools. It calls on the Government of Myanmar to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration fully as a matter of urgency. The Tatmadaw should also always assess the necessity of using schools for military purposes and determine whether alternative options are available to ensure the protection of children, teachers, education and schools. When a school is in a densely populated area, the military is obligated to do this.
355. Similarly to schools, places of worship receive general protections of international humanitarian law as civilian objects. This means they cannot be the object of attack, are protected from indiscriminate attack and enjoy the protections of precautionary measures. International humanitarian law requires the Tatmadaw, to the extent feasible, to avoid locating military personnel and objects in places of worship that are within or near densely populated areas. Depending on the historical and cultural significance of the religious sites that the Tatmadaw used or damaged, international law may also afford them the protections of cultural property. The Tatmadaw’s use of places of worship denies people their right to worship and can make places of worship legitimate targets of attack.
356. The incidents that the Mission investigated, that left temples damaged and civilians dead and injured, may have been indiscriminate. Further information is required. The military should always assess the necessity of using places of worship for military purposes and determine whether alternative options are available to ensure the protection of civilians and their right to worship. When a place a worship is in a densely populated area, the military is obligated to do this.
3. Torture, arbitrary detention and deaths in custody
357. The Mission documented a pattern of Tatmadaw soldiers moving into ethnic Rakhine villages and rounding-up groups of ethnic Rakhine men for collective questioning. The interrogations often took place inside or just outside the village. The Mission received many accounts of the Tatmadaw beating the men and insulting them verbally.
358. One Rakhine man described to the Mission how in his village near Mrauk-U town soldiers beat and kicked him and a group of men whom they questioned about the AA. The Tatmadaw gathered both men and women in one place, and then took approximately 40 men to a location outside the village. There, the soldiers forced the group to strip naked, lie on the ground and do jumping exercises under threat of being shot. The man also described how the soldiers “kicked us with their boots and slapped our faces and pointed their guns at us. They beat us badly.”
359. In other cases, Tatmadaw soldiers violently forced ethnic Rakhine men into military vehicles and drove them to formal detention sites, including military bases and police stations, where they were subjected to brutal beatings, psychological abuse and verbal threats. A man who was arrested with three fellow ethnic Rakhine villagers told the Mission what happened when nine soldiers came to his cell immediately after they were placed there:
They blindfolded us and started interrogating us about our involvement with the AA. While asking questions, the soldiers beat us using a bamboo rod, kicked us with their hard boots, and punched us.
360. In another case, an ethnic Rakhine man described how Tatmadaw soldiers from the 55th LID, which he identified by their badge, tied him and a fellow ethnic Rakhine villager up because they were not in possession of their identity documents. The soldiers detained the two in the yard of the village school for several hours in the hot sun, accused them of belonging to the AA, beat them with the barrels of their guns, kicked them and threatened that they would shoot them. They were eventually released without any charges.
361. Detainees were often unaware of the location of their detention, were not informed about the charges laid against them and were unable to contact relatives or obtain legal representation. Often men after suffering beatings in detention were released without charge, sometimes upon payment of a bribe.
362. Some ethnic Rakhine men who were detained have never returned to their village. Relatives and friends reported to the Mission that they have had no news from these individuals and presume that they remain in detention and have been charged. These relatives have not been able to find out where they are detained or what charges have been filed against them.
363. The Mission also received reports of Tatmadaw soldiers rounding up Rohingya men and subjecting them to similar physical and verbal abuse while asking them about AA activities or accusing them of assisting the AA. After beatings and interrogations, some of the Rohingya villagers were released while others were used for forced labour.
364. The Mission verified two incidents that involved a significant number of deaths in custody, as well as torture and other ill-treatment of ethnic Rakhine men.
(a) Let Ka, Mrauk-U Township, April 2019
365. On 9 April 2019, during an armed clash between the Tatmadaw and the AA it was reported that the AA attacked No. 31 Police Regiment in Mrauk-U. The following morning, there was additional fighting between the Tatmadaw and the AA near the Rakhine village of Let Ka in Mrauk-U Township. After the gunfire subsided at around 11 am, approximately 150 Tatmadaw soldiers, some of whom were wearing the badges from the 22nd and 55th LIDs, entered Let Ka village. The soldiers were armed and entered shooting. Villagers tried to seek shelter, some hiding in bunkers inside their homes.
366. The soldiers ordered all the villagers—adults, the elderly and children—to gather in the yard of a large compound inside the village. The soldiers kept the villagers for several hours under the hot sun and subjected them to verbal harassment and intimidation.
367. Some armed soldiers guarded the villagers, while others searched the villagers’ houses, taking some of their belongings. During the search, soldiers found a list of names of men who had been designated by village elders to carry out sentry duty of the village due to the proximity of fighting between the Tatmadaw and the AA in the area. The soldiers claimed that it was a list of AA members and called for all those named on the list and any male visitors in the village to come forward. The group totaled 27 and included a number of men from other villages and at least one minor.
368. The Tatmadaw soldiers led the group away from the others, forced them to lie on the ground, tied their hands behind their backs and beat them. They also threatened to shoot them. They were taken by the soldiers to the highway and transported in military vehicles to a Tatmadaw base in Sittwe where they remained detained for several weeks. During that time they endured severe beatings and other treatment that resulted in visible scars and injuries. Two persons told the Mission that the Tatmadaw tied up one detainee, put a rope around his neck and dragged him along a rough road. Detainees were denied food and water for a number of days and were forced to drink their own urine.
369. The Mission received credible information that three of the men died in detention from beatings. Detainees described to their relatives how they heard soldiers beating one of the detainees to force him to sign a confession that he was a member of the AA. When he refused, detainees heard a sound of “a cracking, like an iron bar”. Then they heard “the sound of someone falling, then silence”. Other detainees reportedly decided to sign confessions in fear of similar treatment.
370. The Myanmar military denied responsibility for the deaths, claiming that one died of respiratory problems, another of drug addiction and the third of suicide and that autopsies were performed on the bodies. Credible media reports indicate however that the bodies were cremated without consent of the families.
371. Family members of the deceased have not received any official confirmation of the deaths of their relatives, copies of the alleged autopsy reports or the ashes of their relatives. A widow of one of the deceased stated:
I never got anything from the government, not my husband’s ashes, not even his clothing. I don’t even really know if his body was cremated. I have no real information. Sometimes I think maybe he is still alive. It is hard to believe anything. My life has been destroyed.
372. While the men were in the Tatmadaw’s custody, relatives and fellow villagers were not informed of their whereabouts, despite efforts to find them.
373. In early May, following the issuance of arrest warrants by a District Court, the remaining 24 detainees were transferred to police custody and charged with terrorism-related offenses. The Mission was informed that the detainees were unable to secure legal representation immediately. The Mission also received credible information that while in police custody the prisoners were refused access to medical care to treat injuries and illness related to their treatment and detention conditions.
(b) Kyauk Tan, Rathedaung Township, April/May 2019
374. In the morning of 30 April 2019, a large group of armed security forces, including soldiers from the 22nd LID and 357th LIB and members of the BGP, entered the ethnic Rakhine village of Kyauk Tan in Kyauk Tan Village Tract in Rathedaung Township. The security forces were looking for AA members who had reportedly escaped from a nearby AA base in Pyon Nyo Leik, Buthidaung Township.
375. Soldiers ordered all male villages to gather in the school compound and threatened them with violence if they did not comply. The group numbered in the hundreds and was confined all day under the sun without access to food or water. At around 5 pm, the security forces released all boys under 15 year old and men 50 years old and above. Approximately 275 men and boys remained detained inside the school under armed guard by the security forces. They were interrogated about being members of the AA.
376. On the second night, at approximately 2 am, soldiers fired indiscriminately into the group from all sides after a detainee with a mental health condition made a commotion. The gunfire killed six detainees and wounded eight others. One man described the incident: “The soldiers switched off the light and just started shooting from all sides. People were screaming and running. I saw people with bullet wounds in the chest and leg.”
377. During the afternoon of 2 May 2019, the injured were transported to hospital, one of whom later died because of his injuries.
378. Family members of those killed were given compensation of 300,000 Kyat (about 200 USD). Many did not want to accept the money but felt pressured to do so in the hope that it would lead to the immediate release of the other men. One widow stated: “I didn’t want to take their money. I felt like yelling and screaming. My husband’s life is not worth 300,000 Kyat. But I couldn’t do this. They had guns.”
379. The entire village remained under military lockdown for two weeks. Villagers were unable to leave and there was limited access to food, medicine and livelihoods. Groups of men and older boys were progressively released from the school during this time. Those who remained detained continued to have limited access to food and lived in poor sanitary conditions. As of 14 May 2019, all but eight detainees were released from the school; the remaining eight men were charged with terrorism-related offenses.
380. The Government announced that there would be a military investigation into the killing. At the time of writing no further details had been publicized.
381. The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission undertook a separate inquiry. The Commission’s conclusions accepted the Tatmadaw’s version of the incident: that villagers launched a coordinated attack on the troops and tried to grab their guns as they were being held in a school compound. The statement of a military spokesperson, however, cast doubt on the Commission’s independence when he reportedly announced that “The Human Rights Commission member’s trip is assisted by the military”.
382. Kyauk Tan villagers criticized the Commission for not giving more weight to the many credible eyewitness accounts of villagers who refuted the claim that people in the school compound tried to take guns from soldiers. As one villager stated:
Under the name of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission I hoped that the abuses of rights our people would be exposed. However when their report came out I felt so sad and hopeless. There is no justice, and no one protects our rights.
383. The Tatmadaw announced that from July 2019 it would carry out a further investigation into the deaths by constituting a “court of inquiry”. Since this announcement there has been no public information about the status of these investigations.
(c) Conclusions and legal findings
Deaths in custody
384. International human rights law prohibits the arbitrary deprivation of life. Although Myanmar is not a party to the ICCPR, Myanmar must respect this prohibition because it is a rule of customary international law. The Human Rights Committee has interpreted the right to life to include a “heightened duty of care” to protect the lives of individuals deprived of their liberty since States assume a responsibility to care for the life and bodily integrity of people it detains. In situations of armed conflict, the Geneva Conventions also prohibit violence to life and person, and murder in particular, of people taking no active part in hostilities, including those in a Government’s custody. Collectively, these rules prohibit the use of lethal force against a person deprived of liberty when a person who is not taking an active part in hostilities presents no threat of imminent death or serious injury. In a situation where a person deprived of liberty does manage to take an active part in hostilities, Myanmar must nonetheless respect other rules of international humanitarian law, including the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks and the rule of proportionality. While it is a general rule of international human rights law that all deaths at the hands of authorities must be investigated, there is a heightened obligation for effective investigations where a person dies in State custody. These investigations must be independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, credible and transparent. Prosecutions must occur where appropriate. In addition, accountability encompasses measures to realize the right to know the truth, the right to reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. Under international humanitarian law, violence to life and person, in particular murder, is a war crime that also requires criminal investigation.
385. The Mission collected information concerning at least nine deaths in custody of ethnic Rakhine detained on suspicion of being connected to the AA. Three of the deaths appear to have been the result of torture and six others due to gunfire. Credible reports indicate that the number of deaths could be much higher. . In both cases that the Mission investigated, these people died while in the custody of the Government. Based on the facts that the Mission gathered, the nine deaths occurred in circumstances where victims appeared to have posed no threats that would have made the Government’s use of force justifiable under international human rights law or international humanitarian law. That is to say, those who died did not present a threat of imminent death or serious injury and were not at the time of death taking an active part in hostilities.
386. Under these circumstances all the deaths must be the subject of an effective investigation into arbitrary deprivation of life under international human rights law and into the war crimes of violence to life and murder under international humanitarian law. Prosecutions must occur where appropriate. In response to the Government’s claim that three of the men in its custody died of respiratory problems, drug addiction and suicide, the Government nonetheless had a responsibility for their care and an investigation remains warranted to determine if the State could have prevented deaths from such causes. In response to the Government’s claim that soldiers opened fire on the group of villagers detained in a school because the villagers tried to grab their guns, the Government nonetheless has a responsibility to investigate whether the soldiers’ gunfire was indiscriminate or lacked proportionality under the rules of international humanitarian law.
387. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that, at the time of writing, the steps the Government has taken to investigate the 2 May 2019 shooting of detainees did not constitute an effective investigation and, therefore, violated the right of victims and their families to an effective investigation.
388. The Mission also concludes on reasonable grounds that, as part of its conflict with the AA, the Tatmadaw engaged in a pattern of rounding up and interrogating male villagers, including minors, accusing them of belonging to the AA and then often subjecting them to violent interrogations that inflicted severe pain or suffering. These men and boys were predominantly ethnic Rakhine, although sometimes they belonged to members of other ethnic groups, including the Rohingya. They were often detained in areas with continuing or recent clashes between the military and the AA. The Tatmadaw interrogated these men and boys about the AA or about their alleged involvement with the AA. This practice has been more prevalent since the beginning of 2019.
389. Although Myanmar is not a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Myanmar Government is prohibited from committing acts of torture as a peremptory norm of customary international law. Under customary international law, “torture” generally means any act that is intentionally inflicted on a person when the act causes severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, for such purposes as obtaining information or a confession, for punishment, for intimidation or coercion or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind. To constitute torture under international human rights law the pain or suffering must have been inflicted with the involvement of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. Such involvement can be through that person’s instigation, consent or acquiescence. Customary international law also prohibits “other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” which has a similar definition to “torture” but without the purposive element. Myanmar is also prohibited from committing acts of torture, cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity under international humanitarian law when the acts have a connection with an armed conflict. These acts also constitute war crimes under international humanitarian law. Under international criminal law, torture and cruel treatment are defined as the infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering. Outrages upon personal dignity require a severity in the humiliation or degradation. Torture requires a purposive element, such as obtaining information or a confession, punishment, intimidation or coercion or any reason based on discrimination of any kind. Under both international human rights law and international humanitarian law, the Government of Myanmar has an obligation to conduct effective investigations into these violations, including criminal investigations especially when the violations amount to war crimes.
390. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the treatment it documented of people detained in the custody of the Tatmadaw in the context of its conflict with the AA constituted a pattern of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under international human rights law. The Mission also concludes on reasonable grounds that the treatment that the Tatmadaw subjected people to in its custody constituted violations of international humanitarian law and rose to the level of war crimes of torture, cruel treatment or outrages upon personal dignity due to the connection they had to the armed conflict between the AA and the Tatmadaw. These acts must therefore be further investigated, including as war crimes of torture, cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity.
391. Finally, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the Myanmar Government, the military side of the Government in particular, engaged in arbitrary or unlawful detention. The Mission draws this conclusion because the Government detained people and often placed them into its criminal justice system while failing to inform detainees why they were detained, denied them legal representation, blocked access to family members, refused to provide families with information about the location and safety of the detainees, and took bribes in exchange for the release of detainees.
4. Forced Labour
392. The Mission’s 2018 report documented the Tatmadaw’s widespread use of civilians for forced labour. In the context of the continuing conflict between the Tatmadaw and the AA, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that this practice is also taking place across Rakhine State and Paletwa Township in Chin State. It takes many forms and affects people from various ethnic groups. It also appears that, while the practice of forced labour of ethnic Rakhine was most notable in 2018 and early 2019, due to the escalation of conflict with the AA, the Tatmadaw may be reducing their reliance on ethnic Rakhine as a source of forced labour, and engaging in more aggressive forced labour practices against Rohingya civilians. The Mission has identified several locally based Tatmadaw battalions and Light Infantry Divisions that have subjected villagers to forced labour.
393. The Tatmadaw has subjected ethnic Rakhine, Rohingya and ethnic Chin to forced labour in carrying food and other goods and supplies, including weapons, for the Tatmadaw. Individuals from these ethnic groups, predominantly men, but also some Rakhine and Chin women, described to the Mission the arduous conditions under which they were forced to work, including being denied access to sufficient food and water and being forced to work long hours and to carry heavy loads while being subjected to physical and verbal abuse and threats.
394. The Mission also received numerous reports of Tatmadaw soldiers commandeering villagers’ boats and forcing Chin, Rakhine and Rohingya to guide and transport them through waterways. The Tatmadaw also forced Rohingya villagers to perform sentry duty at night to guard and inform the Tatmadaw about AA sightings.
395. In addition to the often harsh working and living conditions, the forced labour exposed people to the dangers of the conflict. Both ethnic Rakhine and Chin villagers described to the Mission the extreme fear they had of being the target of an attack, caught in crossfire or injured by a land mine. Chin and Rakhine villagers described to the Mission how they were injured or narrowly escaped injury from attack while performing forced labour. One ethnic Rakhine man described how Tatmadaw soldiers forcibly commandeered his boat and forced him and another Rakhine villager to sail it with them onboard. The AA shot at it. During the attack, the other villager was shot in the thigh. Another Rakhine man described how he was forced to porter for the Tatmadaw when he was caught in the middle of an exchange of gunfire between the AA and Tatmadaw soldiers. He was fortunate to escape without injury.
396. Despite being aware of the risks posed by landmines laid by the AA, the Tatmadaw has forced both Rakhine and Chin villagers to porter for them in areas where they are at risk of landmine explosions. The Mission also received reports of ethnic Rakhine and Chin men being forced to serve as guides for the Tatmadaw, requiring them to walk at the front of the patrol in what could amount to purposeful or de facto minesweeping. An elderly ethnic Rakhine man described how he and another elderly man were forced to walk at the front of a group of Tatmadaw soldiers through the jungle. The man described how a commander ordered, “all of you follow behind the old men”. Another ethnic Rakhine man recalled how three villagers had to walk at the front of a military column after having carried heavy goods. As they did so there was an explosion that was consistent with a landmine explosion.
397. The Myanmar Government has denied allegations of forced labour, claiming the Tatmadaw pays civilians for their work. Despite these claims, the Mission notes that the practice of non-payment for work remains widespread. Both Chin and Rakhine villagers who performed forced labour told the Mission that they received no compensation for their work. In some cases, payment was received but it was insufficient and inadequate. One Chin man stated: “For the Tatmadaw, sometimes they pay us for this work, but they do not really pay the real price. But we just have to accept whatever they give us”. Even when paid, the work is compulsory. Even when the work puts them at grave risk, villagers are unable to refuse to undertake the tasks that soldiers order them to do.
(a) Conclusions and legal findings
398. The International Labour Organization’s Forced Labour Convention 1930 (No. 29), which Myanmar acceded to in 1955, defines forced or compulsory labour as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily”. The Mission provided a legal assessment of forced labour in its 2018 report. In summation, international human rights law prohibits forced or compulsory labour. Prohibitions to that effect feature in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to both of which Myanmar is a party. Forced labour is also prohibited under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as a form of slavery. It also amounts to de facto deprivation of liberty under international human rights law. As such, people used in forced labour must be treated in a manner that respects their inherent dignity and must be provided with basic necessities, including adequate food, water, clothing, shelter and medical attention. Depending on its purpose and the severity of pain and suffering that accompanies forced labour, it may amount to torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Depending on the dangers to which the forced labour exposes people, it may also constitute a violation of the right to life.
399. In situations of armed conflict, including the non-international armed conflicts in Myanmar, international humanitarian law prohibits uncompensated or abusive forced labour. Similarly to international human rights law, forced labour also constitutes the prohibited act of arbitrary deprivation of liberty and, as such, places obligations towards respecting victims’ dignity and providing them with basic necessities. The ICTY has found that forcing civilians to dig trenches and placing detainees in a life-threatening situation in the context of an armed conflict can constitute the war crime of cruel or inhumane treatment. Using civilians in forced labour activities that expose them to the dangers and harms of armed conflict is also prohibited by international humanitarian law under the rule that parties to a conflict must take all feasible precautions to protect civilians under their control against the effects of attacks.
400. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the Tatmadaw forced Chin, Rakhine and Rohingya villagers to perform various tasks that amounted to forced labour. All the cases that the Mission documented were connected with the armed conflict between the AA and the Tatmadaw. For that reason, the Mission also concludes on reasonable grounds that Myanmar violated the prohibition against forced labour and arbitrary deprivation of liberty under both international human rights law and international humanitarian law. While international law permits some exemptions to the general prohibition of forced labour, the cases of forced labour that the Mission investigated do not fall within those exemptions. The conditions to which the Tatmadaw exposed these civilians failed to meet the basic dignity that Myanmar is obligated to afford to anyone it deprives of liberty, such as adequate food, water and other necessities. Some were subjected treatment or punishment that amounted to torture or was cruel, inhuman, or degrading. The manner in which the Tatmadaw exposed forced labourers to the dangers of the armed conflict, including exposing them to gunfire and landmines, contravened the right to life under international human rights law and was a violation of international humanitarian law under the prohibition of exposing civilians under its control to the effects of attack. Under both international human rights law and international humanitarian law, the Government of Myanmar has an obligation to conduct effective investigations into these violations, including criminal investigations especially when they amount to war crimes of torture, cruel treatment or outrages upon personal dignity.
401. The Mission emphasizes to all parties to the conflict that, in situations where a party breaches the prohibition on forced labour, civilians who are forced to carry out labour for armed forces do not lose their civilian status or protections, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities. Absent taking a direct part in hostilities, civilians engaging in forced labour cannot be the object of attack, must not be the subject of indiscriminate attacks, and must be afforded the protections of precautionary measures.
5. Humanitarian impacts of the conflict
402. Ethnic Rakhine, Rohingya and Chin civilian villagers have borne the brunt of the conflict between the Tatmadaw and the AA.
403. Official statistics from OCHA from August 2019 indicate that the conflict between the AA and the Tatmadaw may have displaced around 28,000 people in northern Rakhine and southern Chin states. Given the fluidity around displacement, and the fact that official statistics only count those displaced in recognised displacement sites, the true number may in fact to be much higher, with reports at the time of writing indicating as many as 60,000 persons displaced, predominantly ethnic Rakhine. Many of those displaced are now residing in makeshift temporary displacement sites, including monasteries and temporary tent-structures with minimal access to basic services. In the absence of signs of the conflict abating, the Mission fears that displacement may continue to increase.
404. The situation for IDPs has been exacerbated as a result of restrictions imposed by the Myanmar authorities. This includes the restrictions on humanitarian access to Kyauktaw, Ponnagyun, Buthidaung, Maungdaw and Rathedaung Townships for UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations, with the exception of the WFP and the ICRC. Furthermore, since early May, the Government has imposed a rice-import ban in Paletwa Township, with limitations on how much rice can be purchased per person, contributing to insufficient food supplies. This is having a disproportionate impact on Chin communities. A large coalition of humanitarian organisations active in Myanmar warned that the impact of the restrictions will be felt by displaced civilians and others affected by the conflict.
405. To reduce the hardships and humanitarian shortfalls that the restrictions are causing, ad hoc community based assistance is being provided to IDPs. Community groups, including monks, facilitate donation drives at the community level and then try to distribute assistance to those in need. However, these groups often need to operate secretly, putting themselves at risk. One Rakhine man described delivering aid provided by the community to displaced IDPs when his car was stopped by the Tatmadaw and his group was forced to sign documents that they were not delivering food to the AA. Upon returning to the village three members of the volunteer delivery group were arrested. “After the leaders were arrested we could not do any more collection. We became too scared,” he commented.
406. The humanitarian impact of the conflict is disproportionately felt by women, as many women are left behind by spouses who have been detained or fled due to the increased insecurity and many of them become displaced with their children.
(a) Impact on livelihoods and food security
407. The conflict is having a severe impact on the ability of Rakhine, Rohingya and Chin villagers who reside in and near areas of active hostilities to carry out their agrarian livelihood activities. Given the predominantly agrarian economy of the region and the large number of subsistence farmers, the Mission is concerned that the situation imposes risks to food security for years to come.
408. On 2 April 2019, the Rakhine State Government imposed a curfew, under Tatmadaw control, between 9 pm and 5 am in the townships of Kyauktaw, Ponnangyun, Rathedaung, Minbya and Mrauk-U.
409. The imposition of curfews has had an immediate negative impact on villagers’ ability to harvest rice, farm, cut bamboo and fish. The inability to conduct livelihood activities is exacerbated by villagers’ fear of accessing farmlands due to the proximity of fighting and the dangers of mines and unexploded ordinance. Villagers have also expressed their reluctance to access farmlands for fear of encountering Tatmadaw soldiers and being subjected to forced portering. The livelihoods of Chin farmers, who largely practise crop rotation, often have their farmlands far from their villages, and therefore are particularly affected by these factors. Ethnic Rakhine have a particularly well-founded fear of being detained, arrested or tortured.
410. These curfews and movement restrictions are affecting the population as a whole, but also disproportionately impact the Rohingya whose situation is compounded by their lack of legal documentation or NVCs and by their confinement to IDP camps or their villages, as explained in this report’s section on the situation of the Rohingya.
411. Further exacerbating the food insecurity is the fact that, since early 2019, villagers have been required to obtain authorisation from security forces to bring larger quantities of food items and medical supplies to their villages, affecting their ability to support themselves or others. The humanitarian restrictions is purportedly for security reasons and is consistent with the Government’s “four-cuts” strategy to limit the AA’s access to food supplies. In practice the restrictions have heightened food insecurity for IDPs and vulnerable populations, as well as lack of access to basic services.
412. Tatmadaw soldiers involved in the conflict with the AA have taken part in the widespread seizure of villagers’ property, including food and other items indispensable to the survival of the civilian population. The pattern of the Tatmadaw taking civilian supplies in times of conflict has been well documented, including by this Mission. Depriving ethnic Rakhine villagers of food and other goods indespensible to their survival is consistent with the use of its “four cuts” policy designed to deprive armed groups of supplies by targeting civilian populations that the Tatmadaw perceives as supporting those groups. On 12 April 2019 the General Administration Department of Kyauktaw Township issued a local order that ratified this approach, authorizing the Township Police to inspect and require a letter of approval for “any transfer of rice, food supplies, and medicines from one place to another, within the township, from one township to another, or via trade route or waterway”.
413. In the majority of cases, Tatmadaw soldiers have directly demanded goods from villagers without payment, including confiscation of food rations as well as domestic and farm animals. This has largely occurred either when taking up temporary residence inside a village or when passing through a village.
414. Tatmadaw soldiers have also confiscated civilian property during and after military operations. In ethnic Rakhine villages, villagers who fled when they saw the Tatmadaw entering their village returned to find their belongings taken. Other times, villagers witnessed Tatmadaw soldiers seizing their property. An ethnic Rakhine man who stayed behind in his village of Sin Taung, Buthidaung Township, described how he witnessed the systematic confiscation of property in his village by soldiers after the attack there on 21 to 22 March 2019:
During the days following the attack, the Tatmadaw was regularly passing through the village. As most of the villagers had left for the IDP camps, the soldiers stole things, and our cows and pigs were missing. Goods from entire shops were taken away by the soldiers.
415. Another ethnic Rakhine villager described how the Tatmadaw’s 22nd and 55th LID detained 27 men in the village of Let Kar in April 2019. The soldiers continued over a period of days and weeks to systematically take livestock, goods and other belongings. He observed: “Now there are no chickens, ducks or pigs left”.
416. Another ethnic Rakhine man returned to his village Sa Pha Thar the night of the attack there on 3 June 2019, to try to locate stray cattle. He described how the next day he saw soldiers moving around the village, searching each house and taking away belongings of the villagers. He commented: “When the villagers returned to the village, each household found something missing from their house”.
417. Additionally, in a number of Chin villages in Paletwa Township, villagers have been forced to provide food for Tatmadaw soldiers stationed in or near their villages. A Chin man commented: “The Tatmadaw soldiers take food from the people. If they ask villagers for supplies, the villages have to give them whatever they have.”
418. The Tatmadaw’s confiscation of property also contributed to the displacement of local populations who are forced to leave their villages due to loss of access to livestock, foodstuffs and other sources of sustenance and livelihood.
(b) Conclusions and legal findings
419. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the Tatmadaw’s seizure of food and the Government’s humanitarian relief restrictions in relation to the conflict with the AA are resulting in a serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation for the ethnic Rakhine and Chin civilian populations. The Mission also concludes that these actions are in large part due to the Government’s policy to deprive the AA of those same supplies. Focusing on the civilian population as a primary provider of those supplies is consistent with the Tatmadaw’s “four cuts” policy and reflected in the 12 April 2019 Local Order to stop “the flow of rice and food supplies, medicines and medical supplies, required for the insurgents’ long-term livelihood”.
420. This conclusion has bearing on the Mission’s assessment of the rules of international law pertaining to humanitarian relief restrictions and denying civilians goods, such as food, that are indispensable to their survival. These rules include respecting the right to adequate food and the right to life. Under international humanitarian law, humanitarian relief and goods indispensable to the survival of the civilian population are generally regarded as civilian objects and are therefore protected from being the object of an attack and from indiscriminate attack. Their incidental destruction in an attack must also comply with the principles of proportionality due to the anticipated loss or injury to civilian life that could result from denying people humanitarian relief, food and other related items. Under international humanitarian law, parties must allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief, including medicine, food and other survival items, which is impartial in character and conducted without any adverse distinction, subject to their right of control. Arbitrary restriction of humanitarian relief and assistance is impermissible. International humanitarian law also prohibits starvation as a means of warfare against the civilian population, which amounts to a war crime. To the disadvantage of the civilian population, international humanitarian law allows warring parties to deny civilian populations food and other items as a means of preventing those supplies from getting to an enemy force, provided that doing so does not breach other overriding rules of international humanitarian law or other applicable international law more generally.
421. On the basis of these various rules of international law, the context in which the restrictions on relief and denial of food is occurring, and the information available to the Mission, the Mission assessed the situation through the rules of proportionality under international humanitarian law. The rule of proportionality under international humanitarian law prohibits attacks which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life and injury to civilians which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. The loss of life and injury that a party is responsible for taking into account does not need to have a direct relationship to the attack, but it needs to be “expected”. The rule of proportionality must take into account reverberating and repercussive effects that an attack has on a civilian population.
422. Due to the Government’s refusal to grant the Mission access to Myanmar and the restrictions it places on humanitarian agencies, the Mission was unable to draw any conclusions in its legal assessment as to what, if any, legitimate military advantage the Tatmadaw gained from seizing food and livestock from civilians during attacks. The Mission was also unable to draw any conclusions on associated civilian deaths or injuries. It notes, however, that the deprivation of food and livestock in combination with humanitarian relief restrictions is resulting in a serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation for the displaced civilian population. Further investigation is required. Given that international human rights law and international humanitarian law both apply in situations of armed conflict, the Mission notes that any violation of the rules of proportionality under international humanitarian law would, at a minimum, also mean that the Government violated the right to food, health and life under international human rights law, particularly under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Conventions on the Rights of the Child, both to which Myanmar is a party.
D. Abuses by the Arakan Army
423. The Mission documented patterns of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by the AA, predominately against non-ethnic Rakhine communities, most notably Chin minorities, including patterns of forced labour and arbitrary deprivation of liberty, intimidation and theft. As a party to a non-international armed conflict with the Tatmadaw, the AA must respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law. Members of the AA are also criminally liable for acts prohibited under international criminal law, in particular war crimes.
424. The Mission’s investigation into AA-related human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law was hampered by the cumulative effect of the Myanmar Government’s refusal to respond to requests for information about the AA, its refusal to grant the Mission access to the country, its imposed internet shutdown from 21 June and was partially lifted on 31 August 2019, and the reluctance of ethnic Rakhine to provide information to the Mission that might reflect negatively on the AA. AA fighters have also engaged in intimidating practices, threatening Chin villagers with violence if they share any information on AA movements with the Tatmadaw.
1. Forced Labour
425. The Mission received credible reports that the AA took Chin civilians for forced labour without warning or giving notice to their family for days and then returned once the labour was carried out. During the labour, those abducted were not paid and they were unable to leave at will. Villagers have also been required to pay money to the AA in return for Chin villagers who the AA abducted. As one Chin villager stated: “The AA has arrested some people from the villages and said: if you want people back, you have to give this amount of money and if not the person will not live”.
426. Sometimes, Chin villagers were forced to guide the way for AA fighters through jungle areas. One man from Paletwa Township noted how he was forced to be a guide for three consecutive days and was not paid for his work. Sometimes when accompanying the AA, Chin villagers were forced to porter for the AA fighters, including carrying their belongings, foodstuffs and other large sacks, some of which they believed could contain weapons.
427. In other instances, AA fighters have demanded that Chin villagers transport them using their boats through the waterways. The Mission also learned of cases where Chin villagers were taken to AA bases and forced to work there. At times, the forced labour was accompanied by violent threats by the AA fighters when villagers failed to comply with their orders.
428. Chin villagers told the Mission of their extreme fear of being the subject of Tatmadaw reprisals for assisting or supporting the AA in any way. As one man noted: “I am always scared when the AA is in my boat, because the Tatmadaw might find out. Because of both sides, we are so scared.”
2. Abductions and deprivation of liberty
429. The Mission also received allegations of the AA abducting Chin villagers who were never seen again. This included Chin village administrators, some of whom never returned. The Mission was told that family members of these village administrators assume that their relatives have been targeted and killed by the AA for their role as village administrator, which meant they had close dealings with the Tatmadaw. As one Chin villager said: “Soldiers kicked open the door and took him. They said arrest that man, arrest that man.”
430. The Mission also received credible reports that early in April 2019 the AA abducted a group of construction workers, including people from ethnic Rakhine and Chin minorities. The AA claimed the workers were military spies, an allegation that the Tatmadaw denies. Reports indicate that the construction workers were released in August 2019.
431. The Mission also takes note of a group of 54 Chin-Kumi civilians from Kin Ta Lin village in Paletwa Township who were taken by the AA on 2 February 2019. The AA told the group they were being evacuated for their safety due to nearby fighting. Half of the village had already left the village days previously. The AA first took the villagers to a temporary camp close to the Bangladesh border and then to an AA base. The Mission received credible reports that the group were subjected to forced labour. During their time under AA custody, villagers were unable to contact their families. The AA confirmed that the villagers were in its custody but it stated that they were not arbitrarily detained but kept at the base for their own protection. Reports indicate that on 1 August 2019 all the villagers were handed over to the Chin Village Administrator.
432. The Mission is also aware of reports that in April 2019 the AA detained seven family members of Myanmar police officers, including three children. The AA detained them during an attack on a police base that resulted in three people being killed, including the wife of one police officer. The media reported that Twan Mrat Naing, the head of the AA, admitted detaining the family members of the police officers and noted that they were being properly treated, kept in safety and would be released soon. The seven were reportedly released on 12 April 2019. The Mission was unable to verify the content of these reports.
3. Seizure of property and extortion
433. AA fighters have regularly seized goods from Chin villagers, predominantly in Paletwa Township, Chin State. For the most part, this involved the AA taking foodstuffs, including rice, but also livestock, such as chickens and pigs, and other rations. In some cases, AA fighters have demanded money from Chin villagers. At times, AA fighters entered Chin villages in groups and convened meetings where they made their demands. At other times, individual or small groups of AA fighters came into or near villages at night, during which “collections” were coordinated through a village leader, with local families being forced to contribute what they could. These demands were sometimes accompanied by threats of violence if villagers did not comply.
434. These demands on Chin villagers, who were also often subject to similar demands for food supplies from the Tatmadaw, have put them at heightened risk of food insecurity, as they are forced to provide rice and other goods from their own subsistence supplies to both parties. As one Chin woman stated: “The Tatmadaw and the AA – both parties come to the village frequently. We are facing problems as both sides take food from us.”
4. Conclusions and legal findings
435. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the AA has subjected ethnic Chin to forced labour in violation of international humanitarian law. The AA has also abducted and deprived Chin civilians and others of their liberty. Some abductions appear to have been connected to the AA’s use of forced labour which, by its nature, constitutes a violation of the prohibition against arbitrary deprivation of liberty. Further investigation into the AA’s conduct and its compliance with international humanitarian law is warranted.
E. Gendered Impacts
436. To date, the Mission has not found evidence of the Tatmadaw engaging in widespread mass sexual violence against ethnic Rakhine women as a part of its military strategy to combat the AA. This is in striking contrast to the widespread and systematic sexual violence perpetrated against Rohingya during the 2017 “clearance operations”. The highest levels of command appear to be able to control when their troops do or do not use sexual violence during attacks on civilians and civilian populations.
437. Nevertheless, there is a complex gender dimension to the conflict with the AA. Men and boys of all ethnicities are particularly subject to being taken for forced labour by the Tatmadaw, and they are often subjected to torture or ill-treatment. Ethnic Rakhine men are at particular risk of being rounded up, beaten and arrested on charges of supporting AA. As a result of this risk, many Rakhine men, as well as Chin men, are fleeing Rakhine and Chin States, leaving behind women and children and the elderly, with many female-headed households. These women in many senses are bearing the brunt of the humanitarian crisis.
438. Ethnic Rakhine women who have been left to care for their families have reported difficulties in sustaining themselves and their children. Similarly, ethnic Chin women are also impacted by the conflict between the Tatmadaw and the AA. With an increased number of Chin men fleeing abroad due to fear of being forced to porter for the Tatmadaw or conscripted into the AA, women and the elderly are left behind to fend for themselves.
439. The Mission has learnt of a number of deaths and injuries of civilians due to landmines, including both Chin and ethnic Rakhine. The Mission was unable to verify which party was responsible for laying the mines. The number of mine-related deaths and injuries as a result of the armed conflict between the Tatmadaw and the AA is also difficult to estimate. Whatever the number may be, the fear of landmines is significant. Internally displaced persons and refugees have stated that landmines were one of the factors preventing them from returning to their villages.
440. Many of the cases the Mission investigated related to people killed or injured by mines when cultivating and farming. One Chin woman described how her aunt’s daughter was killed in 2018 as a result of a mine explosion: “She was just on her way back from the farm. She was carrying the paddy and stepped on a mine and died. She was approximately 30 years old.”
441. The presence of landmines causes severe fear and has a significantly adverse impact on villagers’ livelihoods. Chin farmers, in particular, many of whom rely on rotational crop farming for their subsistence needs, told the Mission how the risk of landmines has impacted their farming activities. As one woman stated: “Now is the season for rice planting. But as there are mines planted nearby the forest area, people are afraid to go over there and so we cannot do our farming.”
442. Credible information indicates that both the Tatmadaw and the AA use landmines. The Tatmadaw and the AA are therefore subject to the rules of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that regulate the use, recording and removal of mines. These rules are aimed at ensuring the protection of civilians and the civilian population which, in Myanmar, have suffered extensively in terms of physical injury, displacement, and lack of access to farmlands and economic activities. International law prohibits the Tatmadaw and the AA from using landmines to direct attacks against civilians, using them in ways that amount to indiscriminate attacks and using them where their incidental harm to civilians may not be proportionate. Particular care must be taken to minimize the indiscriminate effects of landmines. Parties that use landmines should also record their placement, as far as possible, and, at the end of active hostilities, they must remove or otherwise render them harmless to civilians or facilitate their removal. Myanmar is not a party to international treaties that impose stronger obligations but numerous EAOs have committed themselves to a total ban on anti-personnel mines; to cooperate in and undertake stockpile destruction, mine clearance, victim assistance, mine awareness and other forms of mine action; and to allow the monitoring of their compliance with those commitments by independent international and national organizations.
443. The impact of landmines on civilians and the civilian population requires further investigation. Investigations are also required into which parties to armed conflicts are using which types of these weapons, how and where. The potential long-term economic consequences of the contamination in their areas of use also require further research. The Tatmadaw and the AA should minimize their use of landmines to limit their short, medium and long-term effects on the civilian population. They must mark and inform civilians of the location of landmines that no longer serve a lawful military purpose. The Mission makes additional recommendations at the end of this report.
G. Threats to freedom of expression, association and the press
444. The Myanmar Government placed significant restrictions on freedom of expression, information and assembly in response to the conflict between the AA and the Tatmadaw. This included a crackdown on local media and an internet shutdown. These restrictions not only affected fundamental freedoms but also blocked the media from reporting on the AA and Tatmadaw conflict and reporting on the situation of the Rohingya in Rakhine. They also prevented civil society, victims and witnesses of human rights violations and abuses communicating their concerns to the outside world. They hampered the ability of humanitarian agencies to evaluate the humanitarian conditions and needs of people affected by the conflict and others in the region. The shutdown also made it difficult for the government and other actors to disseminate information to communities in conflict areas, including information about clashes, which could be vital for the safety and protection of the civilian population.
445. The Mission is also concerned about reports of restrictions on freedom of assembly in Rakhine State. In response to protests connected to deaths in custody and allegations of torture against Rakhine detained on charges of belonging to AA, ethnic Rakhine protesters have been sought after by police, with charges reportedly being laid against them.
1. Freedom of expression, and crack-down on local media
446. The media in Myanmar have traditionally faced heavy restrictions and censorship. These restrictions lessened during the period from 2012 to 2015. However, there was a marked increase in restrictions on the media in Rakhine State after the “clearance operations” of October 2016 against the Rohingya. Following the 2017 “clearance operations”, media access, in particular to the northern Rakhine Townships, remained restricted to visits organised well in advance, orchestrated by the Government and under Government control.
447. These restrictions have not abated. To the contrary, following the escalation of hostilities between the AA and the Tatmadaw in early 2019, the Government has barred journalists from reporting from conflict affected areas in Rakhine. Journalists are only able to access those areas in visits organized by the Ministry of Information.
448. Hostility and intolerance towards local media reporting on the conflict have increased in 2019. In April and May 2019, editors and publishers of three Myanmar publications that published articles on the Tatmadaw’s conflict with the AA were charged with criminal offenses.
449. One case involved editors of “The Irrawaddy” who were charged with “online defamation” under section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law. If found guilty, the accused face up to two years in prison.
450. A second case involved charges against the editors of Radio Free Asia (RFA) that were similarly filed under section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law in April 2019. The charges have reportedly been dropped. A third case involved charges against Aung Marm Oo, the editor of the Development Media Group. In early May 2019, Aung Marm Oo learned that he was being investigated under section 17/2 of the Unlawful Associations Act, a charge that carries a penalty of up to five years of incarceration.
451. The Tatmadaw stated that the cases were opened because the media organizations’ coverage of the Rakhine conflict was unfair. The military said it preferred to use criminal offences rather than the media law, because the penalties for breaches of the media law were not harsh enough. Collectively, these measures resulted in a chilling effect on the on the media.
452. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the use of the Telecommunications Law and Unlawful Associations Act against these three editors contravenes the right to freedom of expression. The Mission’s 2018 report provided an analysis of section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law and the Unlawful Associations Act. The Mission reiterates its recommendation that they should be repealed or, at a minimum, amended to conform with international human rights standards.
2. Internet Shutdown in Rakhine and Chin States
453. On 20 June 2019, Myanmar’s Ministry of Transport and Communications instructed all mobile operators in Myanmar to suspend internet services in Ponnangyun, Kyauktaw, Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung, Mrauk-U, Minbya and Myebon townships in Rakhine State and Paletwa Township in Chin State. The shutdown was authorised under section 77 of the 2013 Telecommunications Law, which allows for services to be suspended in an “emergency situation” when doing so is “in the public interest”. The shutdown went into effect at 10 pm on 21 June 2019, Myanmar time. The shutdown did not include voice and SMS services. It affected more than one million residents, many of whom may have lost access to the internet given its widespread use in Myanmar. This is the first instance of the application of Article 77 of the 2013 Myanmar Telecommunication Law. The Ministry of Transport and Communications is under the control of the civilian side of the Myanmar Government.
454. The ten township-wide shutdown lasted for over two months. On 31 August 2019, midnight local time, the Ministry partially lifted the shutdown in Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Rathedaung and Myebon Townships in Rakhine State and in Paletwa Township in Chin State. At the time of writing, the shutdown remained in place in the four remaining townships. It has been one of the longest internet shutdowns in history and has had severe and varied effects on the civilian population.
455. According to a media interview given by a representative of the Ministry of Transport and Communications at the time the directive was announced, the shutdown was intended “to maintain the stability and law and order in these areas”. Directly following the shutdown on 21 June 2019, Telenor Group, one of the mobile operators, published a statement that the Ministry of Transport and Communications had directed all telecommunications companies to “temporarily” suspend internet services, citing “disturbances of peace and use of internet activities to coordinate illegal activities”. In a later statement, the Government stated that the shutdown was imposed to “reduce racial hatred”, purportedly to stem Bamar-Rakhine hate speech brewing on social media.
456. At the outset of the shutdown, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Transport and Communications, U Soe Thein, stated that the directive did not specify when access to the internet would be restored in the ten townships. On 9 July 2019, the President’s Office indicated that there would be no timeframe for the end of the shutdown. Rakhine State parliament passed a resolution to restore the internet in Rakhine State on 24 June 2019 and Rakhine law-maker Daw Khin Saw Way submitted a proposal to the lower house parliament in Naypyitaw to the same effect on 17 July 2019. The proposal was rejected on 18 July 2019 by the Speaker of the Parliament. Then on 31 August 2019 access was restored in five of the nine affected townships. There has been no indication when it will be restored in the remaining four townships.
(a) Impact of the shutdown on documenting and reporting on human rights abuses
457. The Government’s internet shutdown has created an information vacuum in a region where, as documented by the Mission, the Tatmadaw has committed gross violations of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law. The internet is essential for documenting and sharing information on Tatmadaw violations and violations by the AA. Without internet access, people revert to telephone calls and text messages, which operate at heightened risk of surveillance and arrest. The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression has noted the pattern of repression and State-sanctioned violence in the wake of network disruptions.
458. Human rights monitors have observed the impact of the shutdown on their work. As one monitor observed: “This shutdown leaves us behind in the darkness. Our monitors on the ground are delayed and hindered in their work. It is paralyzing our work.” A researcher documenting human rights abuses in Rakhine State further elaborated:
Journalists and both local and international media outlets have found it really difficult to get and send information including photos and video footages from the affected conflict areas that has contributed to significant delays in reporting of the news. Furthermore, we have seen more human rights abuses in the areas affected after the mobile data usage has been banned since 21 June 2019.
(b) Impact of the shutdown on delivery of humanitarian assistance
459. The Mission has been told that the shutdown is also having an impact on humanitarian assistance across the region. Humanitarian workers have said that they are unable to receive information and carry out monitoring as effectively, with reduced access to information about new sites of displacement, the needs of IDPs and other factors that they need to know to deliver humanitarian relief effectively and efficiently. They have said that telephone services have not provided an adequate alternative means of communication.
460. Some humanitarian actors have been affected more than others. The ICRC has publically stated that the shutdown has not affected its work. However, UNICEF reported that the internet shutdown “threatens to further limit access and reporting capabilities in coming months and is impacting an estimated one million people.”
461. The Mission’s investigation also found that smaller relief organizations have been more severely affected by the shutdown. Due to pre-existing access restrictions for many humanitarian actors, smaller community based actors have been playing a pivotal role filling the void in the humanitarian space. They have done this through ad hoc collections of donations from community members and locally coordinated distribution to those in need. This work has been particularly important for a large number of IDPs who are not located in formal sites for displaced persons and who often rely solely on community based donations. For example, one man who runs a locally-based charity organization in Chin State explained to the Mission that his group usually receives video clips or photographs of people who are ill or injured and is thus able to assess the emergency needs and respond by bringing in appropriate supplies. Without the internet, the organization is unable to carry out this type of work as efficiently as before.
462. Lack of internet has also affected local assistance, often provided by family members to affected individuals and communities, including through sending money to relatives, as well as the receipt of remittances from relatives abroad, all of which are largely sent by web-based apps.
463. Telenor Myanmar, one of the nation’s largest cellular providers and subject to the internet shutdown, noted in a statement issued directly after the shutdown was announced, that “freedom of expression through access to telecoms services should be maintained for humanitarian purposes, especially during times of conflict”.
3. Conclusions and legal findings
464. The internet is a powerful technological medium to users of which international human rights law affords protections under the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas regardless of frontiers. The right to freedom of opinion and expression is enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), whose adoption Myanmar (then called Burma) supported in the General Assembly. The UDHR is considered a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations” and it sets out the fundamental human rights that are to be universally protected. Although the UDHR was not intended at the time to be a legally binding document, it is generally considered as an authoritative interpretation of the human rights provisions in the legally binding United Nations Charter and reflective of international customary law. This means that Myanmar is bound by the norms declared in its provisions, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression, regardless of Myanmar’s refusal to ratify other treaties, such as the ICCPR, that codify a similar right to freedom of expression.
465. The scope of the right to freedom of opinion and expression under customary international law is not clear. The Mission is guided by the consistent and rich case law on this issue under Article 19 of the ICCPR. It takes the view that Myanmar must, at a minimum, not actively deprive people of their right to freedom of opinion and expression, or restruict the right, in a widespread and systematic manner unless any restriction is provided by law, necessary for the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals, and proportionate to the need to be served. Under the ICCPR, States may also derogate from their Article 19 obligations in exceptional circumstances when a situation amounts to a public emergency which threatens the life of the nation, in which case the State must have officially proclaimed a state of emergency. Restrictive measures must also be limited to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has explained that this requirement relates to the “duration, geographical coverage and material scope of the state of emergency and any measures of derogation resorted to because of the emergency”. Additionally, derogations must be proportionate and limited to what is strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.
466. Given its global importance and ability to allow people to seek, receive and impact information, permissible restrictions may include restrictions on incitement to violence and to discrimination and on hateful speech. The Mission documented these kinds of impermissible content against Rohingya in its 2018 report. That report documented the extensive roles that Facebook and other social media platforms played in distributing such speech, including through language, cartoons, memes or graphic content that fueled social attitudes, intolerance and violence against Rohingya. This report repeats its calls the Mission made in its 2018 report to the Government of Myanmar, including the civilian authorities and the Tatmadaw as relevant, to take immediate credible action to combat hate speech, in particular where it amounts to advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. This report also repeats the calls made to Facebook and other social media to enhance their capacity to combat the use of their platforms for the spread and promotion of threats and of hate speech and for the incitement to violence, hostility and discrimination.
467. The Mission has applied the same international human rights legal standards to the Government’s internet shutdown in 2019 as it applied to hate speech in its 2018 report. These legal standards ensure that restrictions on the internet that safeguard the right to freedom of expression also protect the right of people to be free from hatred and violence by requiring that domestic laws that restrict the internet are formulated with sufficient precision, are accessible to the public, do not confer unfettered discretion on the authorities vested with the power to restriction the internet and provide sufficient guidance to authorities to ascertain what sorts of expression can be properly restricted and what sorts cannot. Laws that restrict internet access and the implementation of those laws must also conform to the tests of necessity and proportionality. For a restriction to be proportionate it must not be overly broad. This means that it must be appropriate to achieve its necessary function; it must be the least intrusive restriction among those which might achieve that necessary function; and it must be proportionate to the interest being protected. The internet must never be restricted to silence advocacy of human rights and of the full promotion and protection of human rights. Additionally, any restriction should be subject to review by an independent court or other adjudicatory body to determine its consistency with international human rights obligations.
468. Based on these principles, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the internet shutdown has been based on a law that is incompatible with international human rights law and that the shutdown has been administered in a disproportionate manner.
469. The Mission acknowledges that the internet shutdown is provided for by Myanmar law. Article 77 of the Telecommunications Law grants the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology of the Union Government (Telecommunications Ministry) the power “not to operate any specific form of communication … and to temporarily control the Telecommunications Service and Telecommunications Equipments” in the name of “public interest” when an “emergency situation” arises. However, the law does not define “emergency situation”, provides no guidance as to who has the authority to declare an emergency situation and grants the Ministry vague and broad discretionary powers to shut down the internet with no limitations or, oversight. It is also unclear whether the law’s chapter on dispute resolutions provides an effective remedy for appealing the shutdown. For all these reasons, Article 77 of the Telecommunications Law fails to meet the human rights requirements that must be part of any law that grants Myanmar authorities the power to place restrictions on the internet.
470. The Mission also assessed the lawfulness of the internet shutdown by considering how the Government implemented the law and the impact it has had across Myanmar. The Mission acknowledges that the Government justified its internet shutdown on the grounds that it was intended “to maintain the stability and law and order” and to “reduce racial hatred”, purportedly to stem Bamar-Rakhine hate speech on social media. The Mission accepts that these are legitimate purposes. The Mission also acknowledges that the internet shutdown was geographically restricted to Ponnangyun, Kyauktaw, Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung, Mrauk-U, Minbya, and Myebon townships in Rakhine State and Paletwa Township in Chin State. On 31 August 2019 the shutdown was limited to four of these nine townships. The Mission nonetheless concludes on reasonable grounds that the manner in which the internet shutdown was applied exceeded what was necessary and proportionate to achieve the legitimate purpose given by the Government.
471. First, the Government’s justification that it shut down the internet to “reduce racial hatred” is questionable in the context of its failure to address hate speech against the Rohingya. The Mission continued to monitor anti-Rohingya hate speech on the internet and found no apparent action from the Government to remove and prevent it. If the Government was now sincerely concerned with this issue, the Mission would have observed the Government taking steps to address this issue on the internet across the country and not only in relation to Bamar-Rakhine relations. Second, the Government did not impose tailored restrictions that corresponded to legitimate concerns it may have had about specific individuals, accounts or social media platforms promoting insecurity or disseminating hate speech. Rather than imposing restrictions on parts of the internet and on some users of the internet and taking the least restrictive means to achieve the stated purpose of the shutdown, the Government imposed a blanket shutdown on everyone in a wide geographic area with a population of approximately one million people. It did this knowing the negative consequences it would have on freedom of expression and information, especially in relation to human rights violations, and on humanitarian coordination and the provision of humanitarian relief and family assistance. Confining the shutdown to four townships did not bring the shutdown into compliance with international human rights law, as it remains an indiscriminate, insufficiently precise, untailored and disproportionate restriction on freedom of opinion and expression. The Mission’s position finds additional support from the Human Rights Council, the Human Rights Committee, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression, and the May 2015 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Responses to Conflict Situations, all of which have articulated strong concerns and condemnation of internet shutdowns under international human rights law.
VI. The situation in northern Myanmar
472. Since June 2011, the protracted conflicts in Kachin and Shan States have escalated and have been characterized both by intensifying fighting between the Tatmadaw and the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and by EAOs fighting each other. The complexities of the conflicts in northern Myanmar have been further heightened by the proliferation of militias, including ones sponsored by the Tatmadaw. Attempts to sign an inclusive peace agreement with all EAOs operating in Kachin and Shan States have so far failed. Despite a unilateral ceasefire declared by the Tatmadaw in December 2018 and now extended until 21 September 2019, the Mission found that hostilities continue with adverse effects on the civilian populations.
473. As noted by the Mission in its 2018 report, several EAOs operating in northern Myanmar have clear leadership and command structures; headquarters; regular recruitment efforts and training; uniforms; a demonstrated ability to procure arms; an ability to plan, coordinate and carry out military operations (jointly or separately); and an ability to exercise some level of territorial control in their respective operational areas. These EAOs include, but are not necessarily limited to, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Shan State Army – South (SSA-S), the Shan State Army – North (SSA-N), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). The limited information available to the Mission indicates that the United Wa State Army (UWSA) also shares many of these characteristics. The Tatmadaw’s unilateral ceasefire covers five regional commands in the east and north of the country and effectively includes areas of conflict that involve the KIA, the MNDAA and the TNLA, none of which have signed the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) of 2015.
474. In its 2018 report, the Mission focused on the situation in Kachin and Shan States and provided information on other areas, such as Kayah and Kayin States. This section provides an update on the situation in northern Myanmar.
475. During the reporting period, the Mission continued to document human rights violations and abuses, as well as violations of international humanitarian law, in Kachin and Shan States. Although the unilateral ceasefire initially resulted in a marked reduction in hostilities in Kachin State, the consequences of the conflict, such as long-lasting displacement and landmine contamination, continued to affect the lives of civilians. Fighting between the Tatmadaw and EAOs, as well as among EAOs, has continued in northern Shan State throughout the unilateral ceasefire, severely affecting civilians in government and non-government controlled areas. Northern Myanmar remains heavily militarized, contributing to a climate of insecurity for the population. In Shan State, fighting has continued between the SSA-S and the TNLA. However, there has been a marked decrease in hostilities between the SSA-S and the SSA-N since May 2019, when both sides agreed to cease hostilities after talks aimed at promoting unity among Shan.
476. Throughout the unilateral ceasefire the Tatmadaw has appeared to devote much of its attention to Rakhine and Chin States in its conflict with the AA. However, hostilities between the Tatmadaw and EAOs significantly escalated in northern Shan State in the second half of August 2019.
477. On 15 August 2019, the “Brotherhood Alliance”, comprising the AA, the MNDAA and the TNLA, conducted simultaneous attacks on government facilities, including the national defence academy, in five locations in Mandalay Region and Shan State. In the following weeks, fighting between the Tatmadaw and the three EAOs significantly escalated in several townships of northern Shan State, resulting in displacement, civilian casualties, damage to civilian property and infrastructure, and restrictions on freedom of movement.
478. At the time of writing, hostilitirs continued. On 31 August 2019, heavy weapons were fired on Maw Heik village, Kuktai Township, in Shan State, killing five Kachin civilians: two women, one infant, and two other children, injuring an additional three, including one girl. The information received by the Mission indicates that seven of the eight victims were inside a civilian house at the time of the incident. The Mission was unable to determine which party to the conflict was responsible for the casualties.
479. The Mission has received unconfirmed reports that between 13 and 17 civilians have been killed, an additional 18 to 27 have been injured, and at least 5,500 have been displaced since 15 August 2019.
480. A number of civilian casualties resulting from landmines in northern Myanmar were also reported. Several civil society organizations, humanitarian actors and human rights groups expressed concerns regarding the impact of the continuing conflict on civilians, the entrapment of civilians in conflict areas and the continued denial of access to humanitarian relief.
B. Violations committed by the Tatmadaw and Tatmadaw-sponsored militia
1. Tatmadaw attacks and other military operations causing death and injury of civilians
481. The Mission corroborated two incidents of Tatmadaw attacks in northern Myanmar during the reporting period that resulted in injury and the loss of civilian life.
482. In February 2019, in Kuktai Township of northern Shan State, Tatmadaw soldiers opened fire on two Ta’ang civilians, wounding an 18 year old man who later died from his injuries. Information received by the Mission indicates that the Tatmadaw had entered the village earlier that evening, during a local festival, and shot at the two men who were fleeing out of fear upon seeing the soldiers. The Tatmadaw later paid compensation of 200,000 Kyat (135 USD) to the victim’s family.
483. In June 2018, Tatmadaw soldiers belonging to 88th LID fired into civilian populated areas in Kuktai Township of northern Shan State. The attack took place early in the morning, at a time when most villagers were still asleep. It resulted in the killing of an 8 year old Ta’ang boy, the injuring of an additional seven Ta’ang civilians, including a 7 year old boy, and damage to civilian property. The Tatmadaw assisted the injured and paid compensation to the affected families after the incident. The Mission received reports that, while a large group of TNLA fighters had been present in the village on the previous day, only two fighters remained in the village at the time of the attack.
484. The Mission identified other Tatmadaw attacks in Shan State, that require further investigation, as itwas unable to verify the information received in the time available to it. They include the following.
485. The Mission received information that in August 2019, the Tatmadaw shelled and conducted airstrikes on civilian populated areas in the northeast of Lashio, resulting in the killing of at least one civilian, damage to civilian property and displacement of civilians.
486. The Mission received information about other instances in which the Tatmadaw used aerial attacks and heavy weapons on or near civilian populated areas in northern Shan State in its hostilities with the AA, the TNLA, and the MNDAA between 15 August and 2 September 2019.
487. The Mission also received information about a Tatmadaw attack in March 2019 on SSA-N positions in Hsipaw Township of Shan State. The Tatmadaw reportedly conducted airstrikes near civilian populated areas, which resulted in the injury of a Shan woman and the displacement of at least 500 other civilians. Sources reported that no warning was given to civilians that an attack was imminent, similarly to other cases investigated by the Mission.
Other activities in the context of hostilities
488. According to the 2019 Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, the United Nations verified that seven children had been recruited and another 64 had been used by the Tatmadaw in 2018. The same report notes:
Though efforts are under way, full compliance is yet to be achieved and aggravated cases of new recruitment occurred in 2018, with no progress on accountability. However, 75 children and young people recruited as children were released from the Tatmadaw in 2018 and there has been steady progress in addressing the backlog of cases from previous years.
489. The Mission also received several consistent accounts indicating that Tatmadaw soldiers continued to use civilian houses, schools and places of worship as temporary bases. Information received by the Mission in relation to previously identified patterns of Tatmadaw presence in civilian populated areas in northern Shan suggests that in some areas the Tatmadaw intentionally located military objectives in or near civilian populated areas to reduce the likelihood of attacks by EAOs. The Mission received reports that in Kachin State a hospital was used as a military base for several days, impairing the local population’s access to it. The Mission received accounts of instances where Tatmadaw soldiers used civilian houses to conduct interrogations of suspected EAO members.
490. The Mission received many reports that the Tatmadaw continued to threaten, intimidate and harass civilians and extort civilian property during the reporting period, including in the civilians’ houses and at checkpoints on main roads used by civilians. For example, in March 2019, in Kuktai Township, Shan State, Tatmadaw soldiers affiliated with the 99th LID stopped a civilian bus and demanded some 300,000 Kyat (approx. 200 USD) from its passengers, threatening to burn the vehicle if they failed to provide them with the money. Information received by the Mission indicates that such conduct, compounded by increased militarization, resulted in civilians being frightened of moving between villages and restricted their movement in contested areas, including when needing access to essential medical assistance for conflict-related injuries. For example, a civilian woman who was shot and injured during fighting between the Tatmadaw and the KIA in Shan State in 2018 told the Mission that she reached a health care facility 11 hours after she was shot even though the hospital was only two hours away. She explained that she was too frightened to travel to the hospital before nightfall due to the presence of Tatmadaw checkpoints on the way.
Conclusions and legal findings
491. The Mission identified the Tatmadaw’s February 2019 attack in Shan State as requiring further investigation to determine whether the military failed to take precautionary measures, including failing to do everything feasible to verify that targets were military objectives, under the rules of international humanitarian law. The Mission also identified the Tatmadaw’s June 2018 attack in Shan State as requiring further investigation to determine whether it was indiscriminate or disproportionate under the rules of international humanitarian law. The investigations are warranted based on the Tatmadaw’s use of force in civilian populated areas, the harm it caused to civilians and the nature of the two attacks. With respect to the August 2019 attack northeast of Lashio, the August/September 2019 attacks in northern Shan State and the March 2019 attack in the Hsipaw Township of Shan State, the Mission also suggests further verification of the facts and investigations into these incidents.
492. The Mission expresses the same concerns it articulated with respect to the military use of schools in this report’s section on the armed conflict between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army. It shares the United Nations Security Council’s concerns regarding the military use of schools “in contravention of applicable international law, recognizing that such use may render schools legitimate targets of attack, thus endangering children’s and teachers’ safety as well as children’s education”.
493. The Mission has similar concerns with the Tatmadaw’s use of places of worship and a hospital as a military base in Kachin State, that latter of which requires an investigation into the harm caused to civilians who lost access to medical care and services. Reports that the Tatmadaw intentionally uses civilian buildings to deter attacks from EAOs raised serious concerns that the Tatmadaw may be using civilians as human shields in violation of international humanitarian law. Human shields have been defined as “utilizing the presence of a civilian or other protected person to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations”.
494. Finally, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the Tatmadaw has harassed and instilled such fear in the civilian population that civilians are deterred from accessing essential goods and services, including medical care, and that the Tatmadaw has done this with no discernible military purpose. The Mission also concludes on reasonable grounds that this harassment and fear violate the Tatmadaw’s obligation to take constant care to spare the civilian population.
2. Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
495. Throughout its unilateral ceasefire, the Tatmadaw has continued its practice of inflicting severe pain or suffering on men and boys detained on suspicion of supporting or being members of EAOs. In the great majority of cases investigated by the Mission, Tatmadaw soldiers hit victims on their heads with the ends of firearms, knives or sticks. Other mistreatment included kicking, punching and other forms of beatings, tying up hands with ropes, tying victims to trees, jabbing of the victims’ skin with knives and forced nudity. Tatmadaw soldiers also used sexual violence against women.
496. In some of the cases, victims suffered long-lasting health issues, including mental health conditions, teeth loss and hearing impairments. In several cases investigated by the Mission, sources reported that those responsible for these or other injuries failed to provide medical treatment to the victims while the victims were in their custody.
497. Victims were predominantly men and boys perceived as being of fighting age and belonging to the same ethnic group as an EAO that the Tatmadaw was fighting. Information gathered by the Mission indicates that victims were often detained for the purpose of obtaining confessions or information on the movements of fighters, or on suspicion of being supporters or members of EAOs or relatives of fighters in EAOs.
498. A survivor told the Mission that while he was being punched and kicked by the Tatmadaw, a soldier told him “You Ta’ang people are very small and there are not many of you, you cannot win”. Tatmadaw soldiers had arrested him on suspicion of affiliation to the TNLA. After being asked if he was Ta’ang at the time of arrest, he was punched in the face and asked if he wanted to fight, whether he was in contact with the TNLA and how many fighters the TNLA had. The victim lost teeth as a result of the Tatmadaw beating him in the face.
499. In some cases these acts were committed in the presence or with the active participation of Tatmadaw officers who held positions of authority within the military units responsible for the abuse. A Shan man explained how a Tatmadaw commander, present while he was repeatedly hit by soldiers during an interrogation, said to him, “Don’t make the soldiers angry, or you will be beaten”. The victim told the Mission that he had been arrested by the Tatmadaw for having provided water to SSA-S fighters who had stopped at his village. The Tatmadaw hit the man on his face and chest with the end of their guns and punched and kicked him while asking him why he had talked to the Shan fighters.
500. In most cases documented by the Mission, the Tatmadaw inflicted severe pain or suffering on men and boys during interrogations conducted at the time of or shortly after, their capture. When a number of suspects were captured simultaneously, often without being told why, they were separated and violently interrogated individually, in different but close-by locations.
501. The Mission received information that, in July 2018, in Kachin State, Tatmadaw soldiers detained three Kachin men on suspicion of affiliation to the KIA. A source indicated that the victims were not carrying any weapons at the time of their arrest. Credible information received by the Mission indicates that the three men were tied up, interrogated separately, subjected to death threats and beaten until they confessed to being KIA fighters. Sources reported that the confessions obtained from the victims during the torture were used in court against them and that in December 2018 they were sentenced to two years imprisonment for “unlawful association”.
502. The Mission also documented various forms of severe mental pain or suffering inflicted by the Tatmadaw upon their victims, including through death threats. The Mission received credible information that, in March 2019, in northern Shan State, Tatmadaw soldiers placed a grenade in the mouth of a Kachin man and threatened to kill him if he did not confess to being a KIA fighter. In another case investigated by the Mission in northern Shan State, Tatmadaw soldiers placed a plastic bag over the head of a victim, in a mock execution by asphyxiation, to extract a confession. A survivor told the Mission: “They told me 'you have to speak the truth if you want to see your wife and children again, otherwise we will make you dig your own grave, and will kill you”. The survivor added that they pointed at a plot of land, which he understood as being the place where they were going to make him dig his own grave.
503. Several of the male victims in the cases investigated by the Mission were detained while on their way to or from livelihood-related activities such as farming, fishing, or gathering vegetables, fruit, and firewood. They were subsequently interrogated and physically or psychologically abused. This indicates the risks civilians face in undertaking livelihood activities in the current climate of insecurity. Women and girls, especially heads of households, are particularly vulnerable to attack when engaged in livelihood-related activities, including sexual and gender-based violence.
504. While some victims were released after a few hours and allowed to return to their homes, others were detained for longer periods to work as porters or guides or in other functions, often in conditions amounting to forced labour, while being subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
505. In March 2019, in a village in Kuktai Township, northern Shan State, Tatmadaw soldiers belonging to the 99th LID detained two Kachin men on suspicion of having affiliations with the KIA. The two men were on their way back from gathering food in the area at the time of capture. They were interrogated, kicked, punched and threatened with death and injury with knives. They were released later on the same day.
506. In another case investigated in Kachin State, sources told the Mission that Tatmadaw soldiers initially tied up, punched and kicked three Kachin men on suspicion of affiliation to the KIA. They subsequently forced the men to work as porters and guides for almost a month before handing them over to the police. The Mission received information that, by the time the victims were transferred to the police, the physical signs of the torture, such as bruising, had healed, rendering it more difficult for the victims to prove the acts occurred.
507. In another case investigated by the Mission in northern Shan State, a Kachin man was initially hit on his head, kicked in other parts of his body and subjected to a mock execution by asphyxiation with a plastic bag. After being interrogated about his suspected affiliation to the KIA, he was further detained by Tatmadaw soldiers for almost three months and forced to work in construction. A 14 year old year old Kachin boy who was with him was blindfolded, hit on the head with guns and threatened with knives by Tatmadaw soldiers who were seeking information from him on another Kachin man suspected of being a member of the KIA. The Tatmadaw discontinued the questioning after discovering his age.
508. A Shan man who was beaten by Tatmadaw soldiers in Shan State in August 2018 told the Mission:
I asked the soldiers to stop, I begged them, I asked them to have mercy on me, and I even joined my hands together as if I was worshiping and that’s when they stopped beating me. I told them I was a weak person and just a civilian, and that we could only survive if they had mercy for us … They searched the house and made a mess, and they took anything they wanted.
509. After the beating, the Tatmadaw forced him and three other men from the same village to act as porters, guides and cooks until they reached their camp.
510. Similarly, a Kachin man who was beaten by Tatmadaw soldiers in Shan State in March 2019 told the Mission:
I don’t know how to express my feelings, but when I was arrested, I felt as if my eyes couldn’t open, and I felt very confused because they tried to blame us even if we are not KIA … we couldn’t say anything, even if we knew we were in the right. I couldn’t respond, we just had to do what they said.
511. A Kachin man whose son was tortured by Tatmadaw soldiers in 2018 said: “It is difficult to talk about this, but I want justice and want to share what is happening to us Kachin people. I also don’t want other families to go through this”.
512. The Mission established that, in at least one case during the reporting period, the Tatmadaw used rape as a tactic of war that constituted torture.
513. The Mission also received credible accounts of men detained by the Tatmadaw whose whereabouts remain unknown at the time of writing. For example, a Kachin man, who was last known to have been arrested by Tatmadaw soldiers in Puta-O Township, Kachin State, in March 2018, is reported to remain missing at the time of writing. His disappearance has had a severe impact on the lives and mental health of his relatives.
514. A woman told the Mission she felt unsafe after her husband disappeared in Mogaung Township, Kachin State in May 2018:
I feel less safe now since my husband disappeared. My husband did not allow me to sell vegetables and go in the forest by myself to fetch leaves. Now I have to do it to survive and it exposes me to risks.
515. A Kachin village administrator told the Mission:
We want them [the Tatmadaw] to tell us openly if they arrest people from the village. They can discuss with me openly, but they do not. These disappearances are not good, and this affects us. If they have the responsibility to control an area, they should exercise such control properly…. There is a law called 17/1, but we don’t know what is in this law, and we need someone to explain it to us. This makes me confused, because if we have good relations with KIA, we risk being arrested under the 17/1. We want to have some clarity about what this is.
516. In its 2018 report, the Mission documented the involvement of Tatmadaw-sponsored militias, also known as Pyi Thu Sit (“People’s Army”), working in support of the Tatmadaw operations. They are a means of dividing ethnic minorities by setting one minority, or one part of a minority, against another. Some of these patterns continued during the reporting period.
517. In April 2019, in Namhkan Township of Shan State, elements affiliated with Tatmadaw-supported militia stopped a 16 year old Ta’ang boy who was on his way to farm and took him to an isolated area. The boy was questioned by a person believed to be in a position of authority within the group, who accused him of being a TNLA fighter and asked him how many TNLA fighters were present in his village. The boy’s hands were tied and he was kicked, beaten with sticks, threatened with death, knives and firearms, before being released. The man who interrogated the boy told him: “If I were not so tired you could have died”. There had been fighting between the Tatmadaw and the TNLA in the area surrounding the village of the victim in the days preceding the incident.
518. The Mission received credible reports that, between February and April 2019, the same group beat another three civilian Ta’ang men living in the same area. All victims belonged to the same ethnic group as the opposing EAO the militia was fighting.
Conclusions and legal findings
519. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that Tatmadaw soldiers inflicted severe pain or suffering on men and boys in northern Shan State that constituted a pattern of torture in violation of international human rights law. The Mission draws this conclusion because of the consistency of cases where the Tatmadaw inflicted severe pain or suffering to obtain information. The Mission also concludes on reasonable grounds that the torture constituted violations of international humanitarian law, and amounted to war crimes, because the acts were committed in connection with armed conflicts between the Tatmadaw and EAOs operating in the region. The Mission’s information further indicates that in some cases Tatmadaw commanding officers participated in, were present for, had knowledge of, or acquiesced or consented to acts of torture. International law requires that alleged perpetrators of these acts and those with command responsibility are criminally investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted. The Mission also concludes on reasonable grounds that in at least one case militia inflicted severe pain or suffering on a boy that would amount to the war crime of torture . Under both international human rights law and international humanitarian law, the Government of Myanmar has an obligation to conduct effective investigations into these violations, including criminal investigations especially when the violations amount to war crimes.
3. Forced or compulsory labour
520. In its 2018 report the Mission found a pattern of systematic use of men, women and children for forced labour across Kachin and Shan States, throughout the reporting period. During this reporting period, the Mission documented a continued pattern of forced labour by the Tatmadaw against men and boys of several ethnic groups. The types of forced labour documented included portering, construction work, serving as messengers, scouts, cooks and guides, and performing other tasks for the Tatmadaw, including in areas of active conflict. The Mission received credible information from northern Shan State that, regardless of official policies, Tatmadaw soldiers understood that commanders supported the use of unpaid 'local guides' when on the move between locations in conflict areas.
521. A Shan man told the Mission: “I am civilian, so when armed people come and tell us to do something, we have no choice, we have to do what they ask. Even if we want to refuse, we cannot.”
522. The Mission received accounts of individuals being kicked, punched or otherwise beaten, subjected to derogatory language, or threatened with death, while portering or while being forced to act as guides for the Tatmadaw. Survivors told the Mission that soldiers provided them with insufficient food and water, made them sleep on the ground, forced them to carry heavy loads for long periods and had them prepare their food. For example, at the end of April 2018, in Kachin State, Tatmadaw soldiers stopped three Kachin boys, aged between 15 and 17 years old, who were coming back from farming and, after asking them about their ethnic background and village of origin, forced them to carry their supplies. For the three following days, soldiers forced the boys to carry heavy loads that exceeded their physical capacity, threatened them with death many times and repeatedly hit them.
523. One of the boys told the Mission: “I cannot count how many times [the Tatmadaw] kicked us or punched us”. Another boy described how the soldiers would check on him at night by kicking him in his sleep. After falling on the ground while carrying a load that was too heavy for him, the Tatmadaw soldier told him: “You Jinghpaw [Kachin] can’t even carry this load, we will kill you”.
524. The Mission also received information that the Tatmadaw exposed forced labourers to the dangers of the conflict, including attacks and landmines, similarly to what the Mission documented in Rakhine State.
525. Consistent with its previous findings that some victims of forced labour were made to walk at the front of Tatmadaw soldiers to act as “human mine sweepers”, the Mission corroborated a similar case during the reporting period. In this incident, Tatmadaw soldiers forced five men in their custody to walk in front of the first soldier while moving between locations in a forest area likely to have been contaminated with landmines. The Mission also received credible information that in another case a Shan civilian man was killed and another was injured by the detonation of a landmine while being forced to act as a messengers for the Tatmadaw in an area that the soldiers knew to be contaminated.
526. The Mission also received information that in another case Tatmadaw soldiers forced a Kachin civilian man to go to a nearby village to verify the potential presence of EAO fighters under the threat that one of his relatives would be killed if he did not return.
Conclusions and legal findings
527. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that these cases of forced labour and physical abuse add to a widely documented Tatmadaw practice that contravenes international human rights law and international humanitarian law. In addition to violating the prohibition against forced labour, the practice violated the prohibitions against arbitrary detention and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In cases involving children, it also violated the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment also rise to the level of the war crimes of cruel treatment or outrages upon personal dignity, given their connection to the armed conflict. While international law permits some exemptions to the general prohibition of forced labour, the cases that the Mission investigated do not fall within those exemptions. The manner in which the Tatmadaw exposed forced labourers to the dangers of the armed conflict, including exposing them to landmines, contravened the right to life under international human rights law and was a violation of international humanitarian law under the prohibition of exposing civilians under its control to the effects of attack. Under both international human rights law and international humanitarian law, the Government of Myanmar has an obligation to conduct effective investigations into these violations, including criminal investigations especially when they amount to war crimes of cruel treatment or outrages upon personal dignity.
4. Sexual and gender-based violence
528. In its 2018 report and more recently in its 2019 thematic report on sexual and gender-based violence, the Mission found credible and consistent accounts of a pattern of sexual violence against men, women and girls in Kachin and Shan States perpetrated by security forces. Despite the ceasefire, heavy militarization and the continuing hostilities have exposed women and girls to conflict-related sexual violence in both Kachin and Shan States. The Mission found that Tatmadaw soldiers subjected women and, in one case, a girl to sexual violence, including rape, gang rape and attempted rape, as well as forced nudity, leading to ostracism by their communities and government authorities. In cases reported to the Mission, complaints were lodged before authorities against the perpetrators but they did not result in investigation or sanctions against them. The following cases are drawn from the 2019 thematic report as examples of sexual violence experienced in northern Myanmar during the reporting period.
529. The Mission received credible reports of a Kachin woman killed in Kuktai Township, Shan State, on 3 July 2019. Photos assessed by the Mission indicate that the woman may have been raped before being killed. She was murdered at her shop. Sources available to the Mission and the area of operations of specific Tatmadaw military units, as well as media reports, suggest that the murder and possible rape were perpetrated by soldiers belonging to a military unit with the number 261, which has been stationed in the village since 2016.
530. The Mission also verified the rape and torture of an ethnic Ta’ang woman by two Tatmadaw soldiers on 10 May 2019 in Namhsan Township, Shan State. Sources available to the Mission and media reports suggest that Tatmadaw soldiers from LIBs 258, 252 and 522, commanded by LID 101, were stationed in or around the village at the time of the rape. The incident took place in an area bordering TNLA-controlled territory where the Tatmadaw has been fighting since 2011 and where clashes took place after the December 2018 unilateral ceasefire. The soldiers abducted the woman while she was farming alone on a tea plantation. They dragged her down the valley while asking her in the Myanmar language, which she barely understood, how many TNLA fighters were in the area. The two men ripped off some of her clothes and took turns raping her. According to another source, the Tatmadaw said it would “take responsibility” if the gang rape resulted in a pregnancy. The woman lodged an official complaint with the Namhsan police shortly after the incident, after which the police collected the survivor’s clothing as evidence. The police provided no additional follow-up information to the survivor more than a month after the complaint was lodged. The woman left her village out of fear of reprisals from the Tatmadaw and due to the stigma attached to being a known rape survivor.
531. A Kachin woman told the Mission that in April 2018, during ground operations and house searches conducted by the Tatmadaw in Tanai Township, Tatmadaw soldiers forced her to undress in front of her family. The victim understood the forced nudity as being a rape threat perpetrated to obtain information from her family on KIA movements. She also reported that, after a battle with the KIA and house searches, the Tatmadaw conducted patrols around the perimeter of the village and raped at least four women and girls who were trying to flee the area.
532. During the reporting period, the Mission verified the rape of a 70 year old Shan woman in Monghpyak village, Tachilek Township, Shan State, on 2 April 2018. Hundreds of Tatmadaw soldiers were deployed in the area of a proposed mineral exploration project operated by a Singapore company with Australian management, Access Asia Mining. This raised concerns for civil society that human rights violations may take place in that area. The area has a population of about 6,000 civilians. Such a large military-civilian ratio produces constant fear among local residents, particularly women. Sources available to the Mission and the area of operations of specific Tatmadaw military units, as well as media reports, suggest that the responsible soldier was serving in LIB 329 or LIB 330, commanded by Military Operations Command 18 (MOC-18). The soldier abducted the woman while she was collecting vegetables in the forest close to her home. He stabbed her ear lobes with a knife while stealing her earrings, squeezed her neck, beat her on the face and raped her vaginally, causing her to lose consciousness. The military paid for her hospital fees and medicine but the survivor was not given an opportunity to provide a statement. Reports suggest that police have only filed a case of slashing and robbery, not rape, and that the perpetrator would be brought before a court martial.
533. Girls face heightened risks of sexual violence in heavily militarized areas in Kachin and Shan States. A 17 year old year old Kachin girl was raped in Bhamo Township, Kachin State, on 9 December 2018. She was coming home from a shop when she was apprehended from behind by at least two men and knocked unconscious. When she woke up on the road, she was partly naked and felt acute pain in her genital area. The survivor could not identify the rapists as she immediately lost consciousness. The Mission has reasonable grounds to conclude they were Tatmadaw soldiers. At the time there was a heightened presence of soldiers in the village, which lies in the frontline area near the KIA headquarters in Laiza. In addition, the road where the girl was raped was regularly used by soldiers. The survivor lodged a complaint with the police in her district, but nothing has happened since the incident due to what the police told the survivor was a lack of evidence.
Conclusions and legal findings
534. The Mission reaffirms its conclusion that rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence committed in Kachin and Shan State, as documented in its 2018 report and more recently in its 2019 thematic report on sexual and gender-based violence, continue to be perpetrated by the Tatmadaw. The Mission reaffirms on reasonable grounds that these acts constitute gross violations of international human rights law. All of these acts also amount to violations of international humanitarian law due to the fact that they took place in connection with a non-international armed conflict. Additionally, many of the acts amounted to war crimes of rape, sexual violence, torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity and sexual slavery. They must therefore be criminally investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted.
C. Patterns of abuses by EAOs
535. The Mission received credible but limited information that some EAOs were responsible for violence against civilians, arbitrary deprivation of liberty, restrictions on freedom of movement and failure to protect the civilian population under their control from the effects of attacks. The Mission received information on the persecution of members of the Christian minority by the UWSA, as well as reports of forced recruitment of men, women, and children by some EAOs operating in northern Myanmar.
1. EAO attacks
536. Hostilities during the reporting period, including between EAOs, resulted in civilian casualties and large-scale displacement of civilians.
537. On 15 August 2019, the TNLA, the AA and the MNDAA (jointly known as the “Brotherhood Alliance”) launched a series of coordinated attacks in five locations in Nawnghkio Township, Shan State, and Pyinoolwin, Mandalay Region. In a joint statement issued on 12 August, the three EAOs had threatened that there would be consequences if the Tatmadaw did not cease hostilities in Rakhine and northern Shan State. These EAOs are large professional armed groups with chains of command and their fighters are well trained and well-armed. Their threats, therefore, constituted serious threats of significant violence.
538. Among the targets of the 15 August attacks were the Myanmar Military Defence Services Technological Academy, a tollgate and a narcotic inspection gate. The attack on the academy was especially significant as it is located in Mandalay Region, well away from the EAOs’ usual areas of operation, and is a very prestigious, well-guarded military establishment. On the same day, the EAOs also intentionally damaged a bridge affecting the road transportation of civilians and goods on the Mandalay-Lashio-Muse axis for several days. The location of the bridge in relation to the EAOs’ other attacks that day suggests it may have been targeted to give them a military advantage. The Mission was unable to verify reports that at least two civilians were killed and an additional 10 were injured as a result of this initial attack.
539. Fighting between the Tatmadaw and the Brotherhood Alliance continued in the weeks following the 15 August attacks in several townships in northern Shan State, including Lashio and Kuktai, and was continuing at the time of writing. In addition to civilian casualties from the fighting, an increasing number of civilian casualties resulting from landmines in the context of these hostilities have also been reported.
540. The Mission received information that, following the initial attacks of 15 August, the EAOs intentionally damaged two additional bridges between Theinni and Kun Lone Townships of Shan State and that one additional civilian was injured in crossfire in Kuktai Township. Information indicates that, between 15 August and 2 September 2019, a total of four bridges were damaged in northern Shan State and that interruption of transportation in some areas resulted in an increase in prices of food and other life sustaining items.
541. The Mission received reports indicating that the EAOs used heavy weapons during the attacks and that, in Lashio Township, their targeting of Tatmadaw positions located near civilian populated areas resulted in injury to at least two civilians, including an infant, and damage to civilian property.
542. Additional unverified reports received by the Mission indicate that Brotherhood Alliance fighters restricted the movement of civilians in the areas affected by the conflict and set fire to several civilian vehicles on 29 and 30 August 2019. The Mission received information of civilians trapped in conflict areas and unable to flee.
543. The Secretary-General’s latest report on Children and Armed Conflict reported on eight attacks in 2018, five against schools and three against hospitals. Six of the attacks were in Kachin State and two were in Shan State. The report attributed two of the attacks to the KIA and one to the SSA-S.
2. Putting civilians in harm’s way
544. The Mission received reports that the KIA, the SSA-S, the SSA-N and the TNLA placed military objects and fighters in and around civilian populated areas. Information received by the Mission indicates that at least one of the SSA-S’s headquarters is located near an educational facility. The Mission also received several accounts of EAO fighters using civilian houses as places to rest and eat while on the move . Information also indicates that EAO fighters with or without uniforms and weapons regularly visited villages or IDP camps in areas under their control to procure supplies, participate in local celebrations or attend religious services. A source told the Mission that EAO fighters use schools in remote villages as places to sleep.
545. According to accounts received by the Mission, the KIA has a policy by which fighters are not allowed to wear uniforms or carry weapons when in civilian populated areas, including IDP camps. Some witnesses told the Mission that KIA fighters would only enter civilian populated areas in civilian clothes.
546. The Mission documented cases in which the proximity of EAO fighters, wearing uniforms and carrying weapons, to civilians, coupled with the opposing force’s known disregard for the principles of precaution and distinction, was likely responsible for severe harm to civilians. For example, in October 2018, in Kuktai Township, Shan State, a woman was injured as a result of shooting by Tatmadaw soldiers belonging to the 99th LID in a civilian populated area. The Mission received information that, at the time of the incident, KIA soldiers wearing uniforms and carrying weapons were present in the village and in civilian houses and were the target of the Tatmadaw attack that resulted in the civilian casualty.
3. Treatment of Christian minorities
547. The Mission received credible reports that, in the second half of 2018, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) engaged in a widespread campaign of persecution against members of Christian minorities in areas of Shan State under its control. Specifically, the Mission received information that religious leaders, missionaries, Bible school teachers and their students, and faith-based groups were targeted in mass “arrests”. Although uncorroborated due to the high risk of reprisals in UWSA-controlled territory, the Mission received reports hat the UWSA detained around 150 to 200 Christians. Captives were held in overcrowded small quarters in unhygienic conditions. They were reportedly chained during the night and subjected to forced labour during the day, during which they were not allowed to talk to each other. During captivity, religious leaders were prohibited from praying and were told to refrain from preaching once released. Reportedly, victims were told that they would be released if they signed a declaration renouncing their faith.
548. In addition, approximately 50 Christian places of worship and Bible schools were forcibly closed and at least three other religious structures damaged or destroyed.. According to information received by the Mission, the stated purpose of the campaign was to eradicate “religious extremism” and counter acts perceived as detrimental to the Wa culture and traditions.
549. The Mission received information that, while the vast majority of the captives were released by the end of 2018 and some places of worship were allowed to reopen, a few religious leaders remained in captivity or were under “house arrest” at the time of writing.
4. Forced recruitment
550. The Mission received information consistent with previously identified patterns of forced recruitment of men and women by the TNLA, the UWSA, the SSA-S, the KIA and the MNDAA, indicating that these patterns persisted during the reporting period. An interviewee told the Mission:
“SSA-S fighters arrived to my village and at first they asked for money, around 20,000 Kyat per household. My family and I couldn’t afford to pay, so we had to give them a person instead, but I didn’t want to join”.
551. When asked whether villagers were in a position to refuse to join the KIA, another witness told the Mission:
“People can refuse to join, but if they don't want to go they have to provide [the KIA with] another person”.
552. The Mission received credible information that the TNLA continued its policy of mandatory recruitment, by which a person is conscripted from each two-parent household with at least two sons.
553. The Mission also received credible information that the TNLA purportedly discontinued its practice of “detention for family offenses” by which the TNLA would abduct relatives of those who refused to join its ranks. However, information received by the Mission suggests that the implementation of this decision remains deficient, with the discontinuation of the practice not implemented consistently by recruiters. The Mission also received limited but credible information that the TNLA, the KIA and the SSA-S forcibly recruited people affected by drug dependence and in some cases subjected them to cruel treatment as part of the forced rehabilitation process prior to military training.
5. Child recruitment
554. In 2018 the Mission had collected information on child recruitment, mainly of boys, by the TNLA, KIA, SSA-S and UWSA. In his 2019 report on children and armed conflict, the Secretary-General listed the UWSA, the KIA and the SSA among the parties responsible for recruitment and use of children in Myanmar. According to the same report, in 2018 the United Nations verified nine incidents of recruitment and use of children attributed to the KIA and one to the TNLA. Two additional incidents were documented involving the UWSA. The United Nations engaged with all listed armed groups, except for UWSA, and commitments were being sought from RCSS/SSA, among others, to end child recruitment.
555. The Mission received limited but credible information indicating an increase in the number of children recruited or used by the KIA during the reporting period. The information gathered suggests that the KIA’s practices regarding age verification expose children to a heightened risk of being recruited or used. The Mission received varying accounts regarding the KIA’s child recruitment policies. A source told the Mission that, although the KIA verifies the age of potential new recruits, the minimum age for recruitment is 16. Another witness told the Mission that the KIA has a policy of prohibiting the recruitment of children younger than 15. The Mission was also told that the KIA uses recruits under 18 in support functions and not in direct participation in hostilities. Other sources told the Mission that no age verification process was conducted by the KIA recruiters and that potential recruits were identified based on their physical appearance.
556. A 16 year old boy, who fled his home to avoid KIA recruitment in 2018, told the Mission:
The KIA put pressure on me… They came to see me two or three times … It would not have been good for me to tell them that I did not want to join, because we need to volunteer for the cause of our identity and our rights. For this reason, it was not good for me to refuse, but I did not want to carry weapons. I cannot say that I could not have told them that I did not want to join, but I couldn’t talk back to them, I just kept silent and decided to leave.
557. The KIA had previously attempted to recruit the boy’s adult brother, who told the Mission that, after he refused to join the KIA, the fighters told him “If you do not join us, we will make your brother join us”. He added that there is a KIA policy by which, in households with two or more sons, at least one son should join the KIA. He also stated that his childhood friends who had joined the KIA had to discontinue their education and missed their civilian life.
6. Abductions, deprivation of liberty and cruel treatment
558. Abductions by EAOs continued to affect the protection of civilians. During the reporting period, in Shan State, SSA-S fighters were responsible for the abduction and arbitrary deprivation of liberty of at least 12 Ta’ang civilian men. The Mission received credible reports that some of the victims were tied up and beaten but the Mission was unable to corroborate the purpose and severity of the treatment. The Mission received information that, while some of the captives were released after varying periods of time, at least four people remained unaccounted for at the time of writing. Unverified information received by the Mission suggests that SSA-S fighters suspected some of the victims of having affiliations with the TNLA, based on their ethnic backgrounds, and that at least one of the abductees was forcibly recruited into the SSA-S forces.
559. The Mission also received reports, but was unable to verify, that in March 2019 KIA fighters abducted four Lisu civilians, including a boy, in Hpakant Township, Kachin State. Reportedly, the KIA stopped the victims while they were on their way back from gathering food in the forest. Unverified information the Mission received indicates that, while one of the victims escaped, the other three died while under the control of the KIA.
560. The Mission received additional reports of alleged abductions by the TNLA and the KIA and physical or psychological abuses and killings by the SSA-S and the TNLA.
7. Sexual and gender-based violence
561. The Mission received limited information regarding sexual and gender-based violence by EAOs during the reporting period. An explanation lies in the misconception and misunderstanding of sexual and gender-based violence in northern Myanmar. Sexual and gender-based violence is widely understood as relating solely to rape committed by Tatmadaw soldiers.
562. Nonetheless, the Mission received credible information that members of EAOs have committed acts of sexual and gender-based violence. These reports included incidents of women and girls being sexually harassed, intimidated and assaulted, sometimes on a daily basis, by members of EAOs. While some EAOs have publically committed themselves to refrain from acts of sexual violence through “deeds of commitments”, EAOs operating in northern Myanmar have not. The normalization of gender discrimination and gender inequality in northern Myanmar contributes to the commission of sexual and gender-based violence in non-government controlled areas.
563. The Mission was informed that some EAO court systems that address allegations of sexual and gender-based violence contain written procedures, but do not have written laws. Those court systems have applied Myanmar’s laws or, on an exceptional basis, international law. There are no laws or guidelines regarding sentencing in KIO courts. When survivors decide to present their grievances before traditional community leaders, who are generally men, cases are commonly resolved by imposing “bunglat hka”, or “blood money”, to compensate the female victim for the harm committed and to restore peace in the community. In these cases the male perpetrator does not appear to receive any punishment.
8. Conclusions and legal findings
564. The Government’s refusal to grant the Mission access to the country and to respond to the Mission’s requests for information limited the Mission’s ability to gather first-hand information on human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by EAOs. Abuses and violations perpetrated by EAOs remain generally under-reported by civil society organizations operating in northern Myanmar belonging to the same ethnic group as the EAOs. Nonetheless, the Mission received credible allegations of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by EAOs, and draws the following conclusions.
565. The Mission notes that all EAOs engaged in armed conflict in Myanmar are bound by international humanitarian law under Common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions and customary international law. Directing attacks against civilians, indiscriminate attacks and attacks that are not proportionate are violations of international humanitarian law. EAOs must also comply with the obligations under international humanitarian law to take precautionary measures to spare civilians and civilian objects. Further investigation is warranted to come to a determination as to whether the August 2019 attacks by the TNLA, the AA and the MNDAA constituted such violations, given that civilians were killed, civilian property was damaged and the destruction of the bridge may have had deleterious effects on the civilian population.
566. The Mission also has concerns with the EAOs’ location of military objects and fighters in and around civilian areas in a manner that increases civilian exposure to the dangers of conflict, although it was unable to draw specific findings at the end of its investigation. The Mission strongly encourages EAOs to review their practices. It also emphasizes that civilians do not lose their civilian status or protections, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities. in situations where an EAO breaches its international humanitarian law obligations, including its obligations to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects under its control against the effects of an adversary’s attacks and, to the extent feasible, to avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas.
567. International humanitarian law also prohibits acts of rape, sexual violence, torture, cruel treatment and outrages upon a person’s human dignity. Many of these acts constitute war crimes and must be criminally investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that SSA-S fighters in Shan State inflicted severe pain or suffering on a group of Ta’ang men that constituted cruel treatment or outrages upon their human dignity. The Mission was unable to determine if the treatment constituted torture. The Mission also finds additional investigation warranted into the alleged deaths of three Lisu civilians after the KIA took them into its custody in March 2019 and into uncorroborated allegations of physical or psychological abuses torture and killings by the SSA-S and the TNLA.
568. International law does not entitle EAOs to recruit adults on a compulsory or forced basis or to recruit children on any basis. EAOs must also not allow children to take part in hostilities. Although there is not yet a uniform practice regarding the minimum age for recruitment or participation in hostilities under international law, the minimum age must not be less than 15 years. The most protective international human rights treaty prohibits recruit and participation in hostilities of persons under 18 years. The prohibition on recruitment implicitly protects children from engaging in armed group training and support functions that do not constitute participation in hostilities. The Mission notes that several armed groups in Myanmar have signed commitments not to recruit or use children under the age of 18 years. The Mission encourages other EAOs operating in northern Myanmar to do the same. It strongly encourages EAOs to refrain from recruiting children under the age of 18 years or using them in hostilities. When there is doubt as to whether a person is a child, EAOs should treat the person as such.
569. The Mission received reliable but unconfirmed information regarding sexual and gender-based violence by EAOs in Kachin and Shan States. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that sexual and gender-based violence by EAO fighters has been less than that perpetrated by government security forces. Nor have EAO fighters committed sexual and gender-based violence with the same intent of targeting the civilian population. However, further investigation is required. The Mission is concerned, on the basis of cases it has investigated, that EAO justice systems are inadequate in addressing allegations of sexual and gender-based violence.
570. The Mission finds that further investigation is warranted to determine whether the UWSA’s mass detention and abuse of Christian minorities constitutes persecution as a crime against humanity. Based on preliminary information available to the Mission, the large number of arrests and detentions, as well as the destruction of property targeting Christian people and Christian sites, appear indicative of a widespread attack on a civilian population on the basis of religion. Denial of physical liberty and ability to practice one’s religion amount to intentional and severe deprivations of fundamental rights. Furthermore, based on the information collected by the Mission, the intent and purpose of the detentions were to prevent people from practicing Christianity, and therefore, discriminatory in nature.
D. Landmines, improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war
571. Northern Myanmar is heavily contaminated with landmines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and explosive remnants of war (ERWs), including unexploded ordnances and abandoned explosive ordnances. All of them have the potential to inflict death and serious injury on civilians. They affect the safety and security of the population, their freedom of movement and access to basic economic, social and cultural rights, including their right to health, food and education. Landmines, IEDs and ERWs are also hindering the safe return of IDPs.
572. According to UNICEF, between January and June 2019, there were “121 casualties (33 people killed) from 77 incidents of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) countrywide. Shan State accounts for 40% of the total casualties from 22 incidents and followed by 24% in Kachin (…). Shan has the highest rate of children casualties, representing 42% of casualties from the State.” There were 21 landmine incidents in northern Shan State in the first six months of 2019, killing 12 people, of whom six were children, and injuring 31 people, of whom 13 were children. During the same period, Kachin State also accounted for 24 per cent of all landmine-associated deaths and injuries and 24 per cent of incidents countrywide.
573. The risks that landmines, IEDs and ERWs pose disproportionately affect children. They are estimated to be the leading cause of conflict-related child casualties in 2018, in a country-wide sample of cases verified by a reliable source. UNICEF estimates that every one in four casualties of landmine incidents in Myanmar is a child. The Mission received reports of several individual incidents in which landmines or other explosive devices killed or injured many children during the reporting period.
574. The Mission received information that, by August 2018, following hostilities in Tanai Township, the Tatmadaw left behind abandoned explosive ordnances, including heavy weapons rounds and grenades. The unexploded ordnances were found in the immediate proximity of a place of worship that had been used by the Tatmadaw during the hostilities, located in an area populated by civilians before the offensive.
575. The Mission received information that the parties to the conflict, including the Tatmadaw, the KIA, the SSA-S and the SSA-N, continue to lay landmines and use IEDs. In particular, the Mission’s information indicates that the parties to the conflict used landmines or IEDs primarily for defensive purposes in the areas leading to, or surrounding, their camps or bases. The Mission received accounts of civilians killed or injured by landmines and IEDs located in the immediate proximity of civilian populated areas, next to roads or in areas where civilians move for livelihood-related purposes.
576. The Mission was informed of instances in which cattle, on which civilians depended for their survival, were killed by landmines. Several interviewees told the Mission that the current contamination increasingly frightened villagers and farmers in their communities from going to gather water, fruit, vegetables and firewood in the forest or from taking care of animals and crops in areas located outside their villages.
577. One man’s foot was amputated after he stepped on a landmine located next to the road while on his way to attend to his cow in Mogaung Township, Kachin State, in 2018. He told the Mission: “Even though [the villagers] became afraid of landmines after what happened to me, people had to go back and farm, otherwise they would have had nothing to eat”.
578. Although sources reported that in some areas EAOs had warned civilians about the presence of landmines or IEDs, the Mission received evidence from victims that contaminated areas were not effectively marked. For example, a child, who was severely injured by the detonation of an explosive device while looking for firewood in March 2019, told the Mission:
“The object was round and white …. The other children took it, and I just followed them … I did not notice anything saying that that area was dangerous”.
579. Landmines continue to deter IDPs displaced by the conflict from returning to their villages and lands. The Mission was told that the presence of landmines near villages generates fear among IDPs, leading to their reluctance to return. A displaced woman told the Mission: “I want to go back to my village, but I cannot. It is not safe to go back … and I am worried that there may be landmines around the village, and that is why I am afraid to go back”. The Mission received information that in some instances the Tatmadaw conducted some landmine clearance operations. However, sources expressed concerns regarding the lack of thoroughness and the quality of clearances, as well as the limited extent of the areas covered.
1. Conclusions and legal findings
580. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the Tatmadaw and EAOs use landmines, and IEDs and have left them and other ERWs behind after hostilities. The Tatmadaw and EAOs are therefore subject to the rules of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that regulate the use, recording and removal of these objects. These rules are aimed at ensuring the protection of civilians and the civilian population which, in Myanmar, have suffered extensively from physical injury, displacement and lack of access to farm lands and economic activities. International law prohibits the Tatmadaw and EAOs from using landmines and IEDs to direct attacks against civilians, using them in ways that amount to indiscriminate attacks and using them where their incidental harm to civilians may not be proportionate. Particular care must be taken to minimize the indiscriminate effects of landmines. Parties using landmines should also record their placement, as far as possible, and at the end of active hostilities they must remove or otherwise render them harmless to civilians or facilitate their removal. The removal of ERWs is the most reliable way of eliminating the risks they pose to civilians.
581. Myanmar is not a party to international treaties that impose the strongest obligations in relation to landmines and IEDs. Several EAOs have committed themselves to a total ban on anti-personnel mines; to cooperate in and undertake stockpile destruction, mine clearance, victim assistance, mine awareness and other forms of mine action; and to allow the monitoring of their compliance with those commitments by independent international and national organizations. The Tatmadaw has not made these or similar commitments.
582. The impact that landmines, IEDs and ERWs have on civilians and the civilian population requires further investigation, as do issues of which parties to armed conflict are using which types of these weapons, how and where. The potential long-term economic consequences of the contamination in northern Myanmar also require further research. Nonetheless, Tatmadaw should have cleared the explosive ordnance that remained after its August 2018 attack in Tanai Township if it had control over the area, especially because the ordnance was in an area that civilians populated before the offensive. The Mission is concerned about reports that some demining operations conducted by the Tatmadaw may have failed to meet relevant quality standards and did not include agricultural land surrounding residential areas. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the use of landmines by all parties in areas where civilian could be present raises serious concerns about their indiscriminate effects, given that the landmines are unable to distinguish between civilians and military objects. The Mission also concludes on reasonable grounds that all parties should minimize their use of landmines and IEDs to limit their short, medium and long-term effects on the civilian population and must mark and inform civilians of the location of landmines that no longer serve a lawful military purpose.
E. Displacement, livelihoods and land
583. By the end of May 2019 there were over 106,500 IDPs living in 169 locations in 20 townships in Kachin and Shan States. Of those, 36 per cent were located in 19 sites in areas beyond government control where international agencies have had no access since June 2016. Women and children together made up 76 per cent and 78 per cent of the displaced populations in camps in Kachin and Shan States, respectively. The Mission received reports that renewed fighting in northern Shan State that began in the second half of August 2019 has resulted in significant displacement of civilians. In a statement issued on 21 August 2019, 11 civil society organisations and activists from northern Shan State called for the urgent prioritization of humanitarian relief for the populations affected by the recent hostilities, in particular, the elderly, young women, children and people living with disabilities in conflict-affected areas and IDP camps.
584. Although there has been an improvement in humanitarian access to some government-controlled areas of Kachin State and parts of Shan State in July 2019, restrictions on humanitarian access in northern Myanmar persisted during the reporting period. The Government has not permitted United Nations agencies, funds and programs to deliver assistance in contested areas since June 2016, while access to others even in government-controlled areas continues to decline. Effective humanitarian access has not been granted to 55 per cent of IDPs as the Government either failed to approve travel authorizations for contested areas or approved them with significant restrictions and only with respect to the main towns in government-controlled areas. Reports received by the Mission indicate that the procedures for humanitarian agencies to request government travel authorizations are increasingly cumbersome. While national humanitarian actors do not require travel authorizations, reports indicate that bureaucratic procedures have reduced and challenged their access too.
585. The existing government restrictions on humanitarian access increasingly affect the displaced population’s access to food, education and health care.
586. The Mission received information that, in several areas across Kachin State, the financial situation of displaced families significantly deteriorated as a result of their displacement and the shrinking access to humanitarian assistance. IDPs face significant challenges in meeting the financial burden associated with their children’s education, such as tuition fees, which increases the likelihood of school dropout. A Kachin man told the Mission:
“There are over 50,000 youth … The younger generations living in camps are uneducated, and there are a lot of drug problems…. It has already been eight years, and this is heart breaking for us.”
587. Reduced access to assistance, compounded by existing poverty, limited livelihood opportunities and the lack of documentation, has heightened the vulnerability of internally displaced people to a wide range of risks arising from landmines, ERWs, checkpoints and from sexual and gender-based violence. The risks are especially great when they are looking for food, farming or conducting other life sustaining activities outside their villages or camps.
588. For example, in March 2019, an internally displaced Kachin woman living in an IDP camp in Kachin State was injured and subsequently lost a leg as a result of the detonation of an explosive or unexploded ordnance. She was injured while looking for plants in the forest to make baskets for sale to generate income for her family. She told the Mission:
“I have two children, a boy and a girl, and after my injury I cannot support my family as I used to, which is why now we rely on the support we receive from others …. After my incident, no-one from the IDP camp dared to go back to the forest again.”
589. The deteriorating living conditions of displaced populations, compounded by the limited availability of livelihood opportunities, also increases risks of undocumented migration to neighboring countries and further deprivation of human rights. Prevailing insecurity and poverty have exposed women and girls to trafficking, notably into Thailand and Malaysia for labour or for the sex industry and into China for forced marriage and childbearing. Women are vulnerable to trafficking by means of fraud or deception, particularly from people claiming to arrange a traditional marriage with female Kachin on the Chinese side of the border or to arrange for their employment. While the Mission’s investigation did not cover these issues, the Mission recognizes their importance as a consequence of the humanitarian situation on the ground and recommends that further investigation is warranted to address the root causes of this reported phenomenon.
590. Decades of protracted armed conflict in Kachin and Shan States, resulting in prolonged displacement, new displacement and repeated displacement, renewed outbreaks of violence and increasingly restricted humanitarian access, have compounded marginalization and vulnerabilities across ethnic communities, especially for women and girls. Women in many instances have become heads of households, caring for children and farming land to survive.
591. Women bear the brunt of the conflict and the resulting humanitarian crisis. They care for the land and children left behind and have become the protectors of their ethnic and religious communities. They have also been exposed to insecurity and attacks, and targeted for sexual and gender-based violence by all parties to the conflict.
592. The consequences of the conflict for women and girls are particularly severe, especially for those displaced and for those who lost a spouse or father in the violence. Many face dire economic situations, having lost the main breadwinners in their families, and are once again vulnerable to violations, including sexual and gender-based violence.
1. Return of IDPs
593. The Mission received reports that, despite the unilateral ceasefire and the Government’s commitment to close IDP camps, including through the draft National Strategy on Camp Closure, few camps have closed and few IDPs have returned to their land. Information received by the Mission indicates that fear of a resumption of hostilities, landmine contamination and the lack of infrastructure and services are among the key impediments to safe and voluntary return. In Shan State, fighting between the Tatmadaw and EAOs intensified in the second half of August 2019, resulting in renewed displacement of civilians, dimming further prospects of return for those who have been displaced long-term.
594. An interviewee expressed concern about IDPs returning to areas that, although under government control, are close to territory controlled by EAOs, and where civilians may be directly exposed to the effects of hostilities.
595. In 2019, a survey of IDPs in Kachin State conducted by humanitarian actors found that most IDPs had a strong preference to return to their places of origin, with 65 per cent of respondents expressing their intent to return home. However, 94 per cent of respondents stated that they were currently unable to return to their places of origin. They identified lack of predictable and sustainable physical security and a lack of freedom of movement as the key barriers. According to the survey, the strong desire to return, coupled with the lack of ability to do so, indicates that large-scale solutions will remain out of reach for the vast majority of IDPs in the absence of a substantial reduction in fighting and progress towards durable peace.
596. According to the same survey, the scale of local integration or resettlement solutions, for which IDPs expressed significantly lower levels of interest, is likely to remain limited as a result of several challenges, including the identification of suitable land in safe locations. The survey further identified the right to restitution for housing, land and property as one of the cross-cutting issues that must be addressed to ensure that solutions for return are sustainable.
597. According to a UNICEF Humanitarian Situation Report covering January to June 2019, in Kachin State“the total number of returnees remains small and movements are generally uncoordinated and often to places that are still considered unsafe due to landmine contamination or proximity to military establishments. Humanitarian agencies struggle to respond to such cases because they have not been involved in the returnee process and are unable to verify the principles guiding the returns.”
2. The Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Act
598. The enactment of the Law Amending the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law (VFV Law) in September 2018 has exacerbated pre-existing tensions related to land tenure in ethnic areas in northern Myanmar. The amended law required those occupying or using VFV lands without permits to register the land within six months or potentially face eviction, imprisonment and/or fines. The six month period expired on 11 March 2019.
599. The Mission received information about farmers who have been sued for not having registered their lands under the VFV Law before the expiry of the six month period. For example, the Mission received information that at the end of March 2019, in Shan State, four villagers were sued for using lands not registered under the VFV Law.
600. Under the Constitution of Myanmar, the Union is the “ultimate owner of all lands and all natural resources above and below the ground, above and beneath the water and in the atmosphere” (section 37). The 1894 Land Acquisition Act provides the framework for land acquisition for public purposes. The VFV Law regulates a range of lands including unused plots and abandoned lands.
601. IDPs, civil society organizations and networks, political parties and other stakeholders opposed the implementation of the 2018 Amendment Law and called for it to be repealed or boycotted. Many expressed concerns that the amendments would enable land-grabbing and affect the livelihoods of ethnic communities, fuel conflict, weaken customary land tenure and negatively impact the peace process.
602. The Government has estimated that approximately 50 million acres qualify as VFV land, 82 per cent of which is in ethnically-populated States. Access to land and livelihoods has long been considered one of the main drivers of Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts. Some commentators have pointed out that the amendment to the VFV Law legalizes land grabbing in ethnic areas by failing to recognise the customary title of farmers and de facto criminalizes the actions of thousands of farmers across the country who continue to use their traditional but now unregistered land.
603. Other interlocutors interviewed by the Mission noted that limited consultations were carried out before the adoption of the amendment. They expressed concern that the short six month window for registration was insufficient. They also feared that the law would have disproportionate effects on women and on those who could not read, speak or write Burmese, as they would effectively be prevented from registering. In many of the ethnic communities in northern Myanmar, women face barriers inheriting or owning land under customary practices, with the 2018 amendment potentially having the effect of excluding women further and compounding economic disenfranchisement.
604. In February 2019, a month before the end of the registration period, a prominent legal network conducted a survey to explore whether and to what extent farmers knew about the 2012 VFV Law and its 2018 amendment. The survey involved 290 participants from one Region and three States, including three townships in Shan State. The key findings of the survey indicate that smallholder farmers and subsistence livestock breeders in ethnic rural areas had limited awareness of the Law and its 2018 amendment. Those who were aware of them had little understanding of their substance, deadlines, registration procedures and exemptions. The survey’s findings are consistent with accounts received by the Mission.
605. Section 30 (a) of the 2018 amendment exempts particular types of land from the provisions of the VFV Law, including “customary lands designated under traditional culture of the local ethnic people” and “the lands currently used for religious, social, education, health, and transportation purposes of the public and ethnic people”.
606. This may be positive for protecting land from being designated as VFV land. However, in mid-February, according to the survey, only one per cent of the 290 farmers surveyed were aware that customary land is excluded from the definition of VFV land. Moreover, the amended law fails to provide a clear definition of what constitutes customary lands and how lands could be formally recognized as such. Further reports received by the Mission indicate that, in some areas, local level orders on the registration process failed to mention the exemption clauses and that those who were aware of the exemptions did not know whether they needed to register the land they used or whether the land was covered by the exemption.
607. The Mission received information that the 2012 Law and its 2018 amendment have been used recently by the Tatmadaw to affirm and legitimize their control over lands they had previously seized.
608. With the boundaries of the VFV lands being undetermined, and in the absence of a clear legal framework on what constitutes customary lands, administrative entities appear to have the discretion to determine which lands would be covered by the exemption clause. Some feared this may result in inconsistent, arbitrary or corrupt decisions.
609. Reports received by the Mission indicate that the Law and its amendments were perceived by many in northern Myanmar as illegitimate, as they entailed classifying their land as VFV and longstanding owners relinquishing customary rights in exchange for potential 30-year land use concessions within a government-controlled land management system. Several ethnic organizations and stakeholders reported that there is no vacant land in their communities. According to the survey:
Farmers find the implication that their land is seen as VFV and they only qualify for a concession insulting - 27% of respondents responded that they will not apply for VFV registration because they do not consider their land as VFV. Interviewers also repeatedly heard from farmers that it is insulting to have to request a 30-year concession on their own land which they feel is theirs.
610. The land use concessions, in addition to being temporary, cannot be sold or transferred to others, including family members, without Government permission, resulting in children potentially having no rights to the land that their parents worked.
3. Effects on IDPs
611. The amended law disproportionately affects IDPs in northern Myanmar due to the concentration of ethnic communities dependent on communal land use and IDPs’ inability to assert their claim to their lands due to their displacement. IDPs are both at risk of losing their land in their places of origin and facing fines or imprisonment for using land in the places to which they have been displaced. Displaced women are acutely affected, due to the high prevalence of female-headed households, coupled with the discriminatory social customs denying their right to access, inherit or own land in many of these ethnic communities.
612. Reports received by the Mission indicate that the lack of physical proximity to their properties, compounded by the absence of freedom of movement, lack of property documentation, limited access to administrative services and the centralization of the process determining the status of the land, negatively affected the ability of IDPs to register their land. Civilians, including residents in the IDP camps, reported they feared being arrested if they left to register their lands with the authorities.
613. In March 2019, days before the 11 March deadline for registering land under the amended VFV Law, 17 national and international NGOs supporting conflict-affected communities in Kachin and northern Shan State stated:
“Not having been able to return to their lands, the vast majority of IDPs have not had the opportunity to protect their own land rights, particularly within the short 6-month time period.”
Through consultations, IDPs have stated that the VFV land law amendment is a factor pushing them to return to their places of origin before they believe those areas are safe. However, with limited access to land administration services or legal guidance, such returns are extremely unlikely to result in successful regularisation of their land use. Further, premature returns carry significant risks: humanitarian organisations have received reports of IDPs being injured by landmines when visiting their villages of origin to explore the possibility of return.
614. According to reports the Mission received, many view the implementation of the amended law as a tool to make land available for investment projects, enabling the central Government to make land concessions to investors and making “political and business elites who have been able to lease so-called government land” the primary beneficiaries of the amendment.
615. Reports received by the Mission raised concerns regarding the granting of concessions to investors to use land classified as “vacant” or “fallow” that may be owned by IDPs or under customary tenure or left fallow deliberately based on traditional agricultural practices.
616. Access to land and livelihoods remains a crucial element in the sustainability of potential returns of IDPs. In a statement issued in November 2018, representatives of IDPs from Kachin and northern Shan States said that the amendment to the law threatens land security of IDPs. They expressed concerns about the fact that companies were coming and working the land they had left behind for banana and other plantations.. They called on the Government to protect their lands and property so that they can return to their places of origin.
617. A joint statement issued in November 2018 by two civil society networks and later endorsed by some 346 civil society organizations across Myanmar labelled the law “unjust” because it “prioritizes the creation of a land market for investors to come in the name of development”. The letter assessed the law as making “millions of people into landless criminals; and it eliminates their livelihoods, culture, identity, and social status”.
618. Some civil society networks called for a moratorium on the allocation of VFV land to private sectors entities. Article 16 of the VFV Law stipulates that those who acquired the right to cultivate or use vacant, fallow or virgin land under the law should develop it within four years. Although some exceptions are included in Article 16 (b), such as natural disasters and insecurity, displacement is not explicitly mentioned in the law as being one of these exceptions.
619. A report issued in May 2018 by a consortium of organizations regarding conflict-affected communities and their land of origin in Kachin State indicated
“legal or administrative procedures are being used in a way that undermines the rights of those displaced by conflict and ignores the exceptional circumstances of displacement.… Even when conditions are eventually met for those displaced to safely and voluntarily return to their land of origin, their inability to reclaim their land from third parties is likely to undermine peace, reconciliation and development efforts.”
4. Conclusions and legal findings
620. Myanmar has obligations under the ICESCR and the CRC to recognize and ensure the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food and housing, and the highest attainable standard of health. The Special Rapporteur on the right to food has explained that access to land is essential to ensure the enjoyment of the right to food and housing, notably in rural areas or for indigenous people. While these rights are to be progressively realised, Myanmar must take immediate action, irrespective of its resources, to eliminate discrimination and refrain from retrogressive measures that would decrease the enjoyment of the treaties’ rights unless there are strong justifications for doing so. These obligations do not cease in situations of armed conflict or humanitarian crisis. Violations of the right to food can occur, for example, through the prevention of access to humanitarian food aid. Additionally, under international humanitarian law, parties must allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief, including medicine, food and other survival items, which is impartial in character and conducted without any adverse distinction, subject to their right of control. Arbitrary restriction of humanitarian relief and assistance is impermissible.
621. The Mission also looked to the Principles on housing and property restitution for refugees and displaced persons (Pinheiro Principles), which apply to the issue of land, home, and property restitution for people displaced due to arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of their homes, lands, properties or places of habitual residence.
622. The Mission is concerned about the cumulative toll and disproportionate impact on ethnic communities in northern Myanmar of the Government’s deprivation of land through the VFV Law. The Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the VFV Law and its amendment violates the ICESCR and CRC because of the potential it has to deprive ethnic communities of their lands in a manner that constitutes an unjustified retrogressive measure against people’s economic, social and cultural rights and because it does so in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner. The Mission’s finding is consistent with the seven Special Procedures mandate-holders of the UN Human Rights Council who in 2019 expressed serious concerns that the law could result in the dispossession of land without adequate notice, loss of livelihoods and adequate food and that it could drive people into poverty.
623. The retrogressive nature of the VFV Law and its amendment is marked by its devastating potential to allow the Government to appropriate large swaths of land from ethnic communities. The law has the purpose of allowing the Government to unilaterally confiscate and manage land that it made vacant, often through its own unlawful actions, and then made it impossible or challenging for people to register or return to that land. For these reasons the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the VFV Law and its amendment is not based on the “strong justifications” that international human rights law requires for the retrogressive measures of land confiscation. Instead, it is a de facto land grabbing land dispossession scheme that violates the rights that people of northern Myanmar have to adequate food and housing.
624. The Mission also concludes on reasonable grounds that, despite the VFV Law being part of Myanmar’s domestic law, it is an arbitrary law that lacks the precision required under international human rights to give the people of northern Myanmar a clear understanding of how it is interpreted and applied. The VFV Law as amended fails to meet the requirements of international human rights law in other ways. The VFV Law is susceptible to being applied arbitrarily in corrupt and discriminatory ways, in particular to the disadvantage of ethnic communities. Additionally, any protections the law might afford are either unclear, to the point of being meaningless, or inaccessible, due to the insecurity and fear people have to leave their homes to register their lands or to their inability to do so because of their displacement. The VFV Law is also contrary to the Pinheiro Principles due to its discriminatory effect, its arbitrary interference with a person’s home and land, and the manner in which it discourages or makes it impossible for people to register their lands for purposes of restitution.
625. The Mission also assessed the human rights conditions of return of IDPs affected by Myanmar’s security forces and EAOs. The Rohingya section of this report sets out the international rules and standards for the prevention, protection and safe return of IDPs. What is essential is that the Government has a responsibility to establish conditions and provide the means that allow IDPs to return voluntarily and in safety and with dignity, or to resettle voluntarily in another part of the country. Authorities must also endeavour to facilitate the reintegration of IDPs and should ensure their full participation in the planning and management of their return or resettlement and reintegration. Land restitution should be implemented in line with the Pinheiro Principles.
626. When assessing the situation of IDPs in northern Myanmar, the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that the necessary conditions are not met for IDPs who do not wish to return. IDPs have repeatedly reaffirmed this point when expressing their desire to return home while listing myriad reasons return is not suitable. The concerns arise from a combination of a lack of security, including due to landmine contamination that poses serious risk of death and maiming, and the stripping of lands through the VFV Law that makes it impossible to return to their homes and lands to sustain their livelihoods and carrying out their lifestyle of communal land use. The Mission’s collection of facts about the human rights situation in northern Myanmar demonstrate that their concerns are fully justified. The Mission is also deeply concerned by Myanmar’s restrictions on humanitarian relief in northern Myanmar, which is contributing to deteriorating living conditions for the civilian population. The Mission reminds the Government of its obligations under the ICESCR and CRC to recognize and ensure the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food and housing, and the highest attainable standard of health.
F. Situation in northern Myanmar requiring further monitoring: the Kokang Self-Administered Zone
627. As a situation the requires attention, the Mission conducted preliminary research into the main human rights issues in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone (the Kokang region), home to a majority of ethnic Kokang in northern Shan State. The Kokang Self-Administered Zone is located in northern Shan State along the Chinese border. It is largely inaccessible to international humanitarian organisations, the media and human rights organisations. There is no active civil society in the Kokang region, due to insecurity resulting from the conflict. Nonetheless, the Mission obtained six first-hand accounts, supplemented with credible information from secondary sources, including open source materials. The Mission found it important to draw attention to this situation, most notably due to the participation of the Kokang-based MNDAA in the “Brotherhood Alliance” in attacks in August 2019.
628. The Kokang region has a history of struggle for power, autonomy and conflict. In 2008 the Tatmadaw proposed to incorporate the MNDAA into its Border Guard Force (BGF). The MNDAA split into two factions, with one being integrated into the BGF and the other, led by Peng Jiasheng, the leader of the MNDAA, refusing to integrate. This second group was subsequently referred to as an “insurgent group” by the Government. In 2009 the Tatmadaw took over the Kokang region by force.
629. After six years in exile in China, Peng Jiasheng returned to the region in 2015 with a new force, again called the MNDAA. Hostilities erupted between 9 February and 10 June 2015, leading more than 100,000 people to seek refuge in China and approximately 13,000 others to flee within Myanmar to Lashio. On 9 February 2015, the MNDAA issued a statement in which it “vowed to continue its fight against the Government until its demands for ethnic equality, regional development and self-determination are fulfilled”. During that period, until 17 November 2015, the Government proclaimed a state of emergency and imposed martial law in the Kokang region.
630. The Mission received reports that, during the 2015 Kokang offensive, the Tatmadaw targeted people for their suspected affiliations or support to the MNDAA based on their ethnicity, by attacks on villages, arrest and detention, torture, enforced disappearances, unlawful killings and sexual violence. The Tatmadaw also denied humanitarian relief to the Kokang and attacked humanitarian convoys.
631. The MNDAA’s conduct in Kokang during and after the 2015 offensive requires further investigation. For example, on 19 February 2015, members of the MNDAA reportedly attacked the Tatmadaw dressed in non-combat clothing in a manner that appears to have put villagers in the area at risk. The media reported that in response, because MNDAA fighters were not wearing their uniform, the Tatmadaw unintentionally shot and harmed villagers. The MNDAA also reportedly abducted people in the course of their military operations. For example, in March 2016, a media source reported that the MNDAA abducted 260 hotel workers. The Mission also received reports of arbitrary forced recruitment and forced labour by the MNDAA that require further investigation.
632. Heavier fighting commenced again in early 2017, forcing 30,000 ethnic Kokang to flee to China and internally displacing another 2,000. The Mission received credible reports that, in early March 2017, at least 30 people were killed when the MNDAA launched an attack against police and military posts in the Kokang region. A separate group of fighters later attacked locations in Laukkai. Official Government statements, accompanied by graphic pictures of the dead and wounded, stated that at least ten people, including five local police officers, were killed in the fighting. The Government also said that a further 20 “burned bodies” had been found alongside weapons reportedly of MNDAA fighters.
633. The recent escalation of hostilities in Shan State has the potential to trigger renewed violence in the Kokang region, further weakening the fragile ceasefire in northern Myanmar. The Mission was unable to make findings or draw legal conclusions on the basis of its limited research on the human rights situation in the Kokang region. However, it strongly recommends that further investigations be conducted into the situation. In the meantime, it calls on all parties to the conflicts to respect and ensure respect for international human rights and international humanitarian law and to collaborate with the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies to allow humanitarian relief to reach the most vulnerable.
VII. Renewed human rights violations against the ethnic Karen
“My whole life I have been running living in fear.”
634. As a result of a notable escalation of hostilities since 2018 resulting in displacement of Karen civilians, the Mission carried out a prelminary investigation into the situation of the Karen ethnic minority. Due to time and resource constraints, a complete investigation into the many complex issues facing the Karen could not be undertaken. However, the Mission decided to focus its investigation on recent human rights violations arising from the road-building project in Karen National Union (KNU) controlled territories which began in late 2017. This limited investigation is not fully reflective of the serious human rights violations reported to have taken place, including violations that reportedly took place outside the Mission’s mandate to investigate “recent violations”.
635. The Karen are one of the recognised ethnic minorities of Myanmar, and is the broader name of a number of sub-ethnicities residing in the south-east of Myanmar.
636. Hostilities between the Government of Myanmar and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the KNU, have been ongoing since 1949. During much of this time the Tatmadaw has been reported as having been responsible for a long legacy of severe and regular violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including sexual and gender-based violence against Karen women and girls. The conflict led to the mass displacement of Karen civilians, tens of thousands of whom remain confined in refugee camps situated along the Thai-Myanmar border.
637. Whilst many Karen reside in Kayin State (formerly known as Karen State), there are also significant populations of Karen communities located in other states and divisions in south-east Myanmar, equally affected by these issues. Thus this chapter is relevant for all Karen communities affected by these developments.
638. In areas under the KNU’s control, it carries out various government-like functions, including maintaining a governance system that collects formally registered taxes; providing a basic justice system with a police force; registering, regulating and providing ownership titles for agricultural land; regulating and managing forestry and other forms of land use; and providing basic social services, including education and healthcare.
639. In 2012, the KNU signed the 2012 ceasefire with the Myanmar federal and state governments. On 15 October 2015, the KNU signed the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). This was a significant development that was envisioned as the beginning of a new era of peace for the Karen peoples. Indeed, since the signing of the NCA, the levels of violence have greatly decreased in Karen communities, but has not stopped. Nevertheless, by October 2018, the KNU announced its temporary suspension from the peace process due to its dissatisfaction over the negotiations. Nonetheless, the KNU publically stated that it will continue to engage in informal meetings with government officials in an attempt to stay engaged in the process.
640. The KNU has said that the key reason for its suspension in the peace negotiations is the continued encroachment of Tatmadaw soldiers into KNU-controlled territory. According to the KNU, this has been occurring through a Tatmadaw-led road construction project and the consolidation of Tatmadaw bases. The KNU regards these activities to be a direct breach of the NCA, which prohibits the expansion of military infrastructure and troop reinforcements in ceasefire areas. The Tatmadaw reportedly claims that these activities are not a breach of the NCA because there is no clear demarcation of KNU territory. The KNU, in return, regards the lack of such demarcations to be a road block to a meaningful peace process.
641. Despite the 2012 ceasefire, these reported incursions by the Tatmadaw on KNU-controlled territory have led to renewed military confrontations between the Tatmadaw and the KNLA. This has included Tatmadaw offensive operations in and near to Karen villages that have resulted in civilian injuries and other human rights concerns. Moreover, according to civil society groups covering the region, the construction of Tatmadaw bases and military consolidation activities themselves, through the fortification of bases, and the import of additional troops and supplies including weaponry, are causing other significant human rights concerns against Karen civilians by the Tatmadaw.
B. Recent Tatmadaw operations
642. In November 2017, Tatmadaw began the construction of a military road located within KNU-controlled territory in northern Karen State. Some Tatmadaw soldiers acted as security guards for other Tatmadaw personnel tasked with the physical construction of the road. . Although the Tatmadaw claimed that the road would contribute to community development, the construction commenced without any consultation with the affected communities. The KNU rejected the project in multiple negotiations with the Tatmadaw, noting that the purpose of the road was entirely for the Tatmadaw’s own advantage, which included connecting two strategic military bases. Villagers affected by the project wrote letters, signed petitions and carried out protests rejecting the claim that the road was to their benefit. As one villager stated: “The road might be beneficial for the military, but for the Karen people, the road will only do harm by destroying our land. The villagers were never consulted about if they wanted the road.”
643. In May 2018 negotiations at the Union level led to an agreement by the Tatmadaw to temporarily stop the road construction and withdraw its troops after a series of clashes occurred in March 2018 between the Tatmadaw and the KNLA over the project. In February 2019 the potential for hostilities once again increased when Tatmadaw soldiers recommenced the road-building project.
644. Since 2018, the Tatmadaw’s consolidation of its bases in the region has included the building of new outposts, construction of helicopter landing pads and the introduction of additional soldiers and supplies including weaponry. One person described how this consolidation has caused fear in the villagers. “We are seeing the Tatmadaw soldiers bring in military trucks full of really big weaponry, including mortar shells. These are weapons that people have not really seen before, so the villagers are so scared the fighting is going to break out soon,” he stated.
645. These activities have led to direct human rights violations of villagers living alongside or near to the road constructions or military bases.
C. Human rights impact of the road construction project
646. In the context of the clashes between the KNLA and the Tatmadaw as a result of the roadbuilding and other military activities, the Mission verified instances of shelling by the Tatmadaw of Karen villages, resulting in civilian injuries, the destruction of property and displacement of civilians.
647. Villagers described to the Mission how shells landed on their farmlands, destroying harvests, damaging houses and killing livestock.
648. As a result of the rising tensions, including active clashes between the KNLA and the Tatmadaw, it is estimated that from January 2018 until August 2019, over 3,000 villagers have been displaced. This includes people who were actively displaced from their villages as a result of shells falling in their villages, which was located close to the road construction.
649. A young Karen woman described how she was returning to her parents’ village from her boarding school to find that houses in her village had been damaged by shells and discovered that her family was forced to flee and seek shelter in the jungle. She described to the Mission that when she tracked down her family in the jungle her five younger siblings, parents and other relatives did not have enough food.
650. Many IDPs displaced by the current military tensions were forced to seek shelter in temporary makeshift shacks in the jungle where they lived in difficult conditions without adequate access to healthcare. Villagers described how conditions in the jungle led to various illnesses, including in particular for children, and how persons with long-term medical needs were unable to access their medication. IDP children are unable to attend school. Most Karen villagers rely on farming for their subsistence needs and their displacement restricted their access to farm lands, which in turn limited their income generating activities, leading to food security issues.
651. Karen villagers who reside in affected areas also faced severe problems because of the Tatmadaw’s road construction and its increased militarized presence in the area. Of particular note, is the direct impact on lands and livelihoods as a result of the road-building and other military activities.
652. Road construction and increased military activities has caused direct damage to villagers’ farmlands. One villager stated: “The road has destroyed the farmlands, including the stream and the waterway so villagers cannot get enough water anymore.” Another villager who was displaced as a result of clashes between the KNLA and the Tatmadaw in March 2018 over the road building, returned to his village some months later. He described to the Mission how upon his return the road construction had destroyed his land’s natural irrigation systems, which led to the flooding of a significant percentage of his farmlands, making them completely unusable. Others villagers reported how their lands were confiscated and used as a shooting range for Tatmadaw troops, destroying the fields.
653. In other locations, the Tatmadaw appropriated the lands of Karen villagers that are situated along road’s path without compensation. One villager noted how Tatmadaw actively shot towards the village located along the road in order to displace the villagers, and once the villagers fled confiscated the farmland using bulldozers to raze it.
654. The increase in military presence resulting from the road building and consolidation of bases also contributed to an increased fear amongst Karen villagers. This fear is attributable to the fighting it has triggered between the Tatmadaw and the KNLA, as well as the increased presence of Tatmadaw soldiers in the region, and is heightened by the Tatmdaw’s legacy of committing violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law against the Karen. Many Karen villagers are now too fearful to tend to their farmlands, which is affecting their harvest for this year and the upcoming season. As one villager commented: “Some of our farmlands are close to where the Tatmadaw are located, we dare not go to those areas now.”
D. Killings by the Tatmadaw
655. The Mission documented two incidents of killings by the Tatmadaw, both of which required further investigation. On 5 April 2018 Tatmadaw soldiers shot and killed 42 year-old Saw O Moo in the Ler Mu Plaw area of northwest Luthaw. Saw O Moo was a respected Karen leader and human rights defender. At the time of his death he was travelling home from a community meeting to support humanitarian relief for Karen communities displaced by the recent fighting as a result of the road building activities. The media widely reported that immediately prior to the Tatmadaw’s shooting of Saw O Moo, he was driving a motorcycle with a passenger know to be a KNLA commander. The Tatmadaw has reportedly denied wrongdoing in the killing, claiming that Saw O Moo was a rebel fighter dressed in civilian clothes. Saw O Moo, a known human rights defender, was a known figure in the community, and it does not seem probably that he could have been mistaken as a rebel fighter. The Mission was unable to determine however the exact circumstances that led to the killings or whether the Tatmadaw knew at the time of the killing either man’s identity or affiliations. Despite repeated requests to the Tatmadaw from family members and the KNU to return the body, at the time of writing family members have not received the deceased’s remains which prevented them from practicing funeral rites in accordance with Karen traditions. Authorities have not undertaken an effective investigation into this killing.
656. The Mission also documented the killing of seven members of a Muslim family and the wounding of one other in Seikkyi Township in Karen State on 5 April 2019. Three children were amongst the family members who the Tatmadaw soldiers killed. Tatmadaw officials publically announced that charges would brought against those responsible. It has been reported that the two soldiers responsible were sentenced to 20 years with hard labour and were considered deserters.
E. Return of Karen refugees
657. The Mission takes note of the increasing pressure on Karen refugees who have been residing for decades in Thailand in refugee camps along the border to return to Myanmar. The pressure is the result of assumptions made at the policy level by the international community that conditions are now safe for Karen refugees to return. These assumptions are based on the overall reductions in hostilities in Karen areas, the ongoing but fragile peace negotiations and expectations of democratic transition from military rule. As a result, there has been a significant reduction of funding for services for Karen refugees in the camps. This has included reductions in basic necessities such as food. Compounded by the lack of options for third-country resettlement, pressures on refugees to return to Myanmar continue to mount as life in the camps become increasingly untenable.
658. The Mission’s assessment of the human rights situation in many of the locations that Karen refugees call home, and in particular those refugees who come from the areas where the road construction is taking place, or scheduled to take place, is that the conditions may not be appropriate for safe, dignified or sustainable return. For Karen refugees to make informed decisions about their return to Myanmar requires that they have transparent access to information and that external pressures must not interfere with their right to make voluntary decisions about return.
F. Conclusions and legal findings
659. The Mission found that the fighting between the Tatmadaw and KNLA has resulted in large-scale displacement and a climate of insecurity for Karen civilians. Like other ethnic groups in northern Myanmar, the Mission found that Karen IDPs and refugees are concerned about returning to their home out of fear that they will be targeted rather than protected by Government security forces.
660. The Mission also found that the Karen, similar to other ethnic groups, have a legitimate fear of being subjected to the Tatmadaw’s pattern of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Uncorroborated but credible information that the Tatmadaw fired at villages to force them to flee road construction sites indicates, if confirmed, that the attack was directed against civilians and was done to forcibly displace the civilian population. Further investigation is required to determine if the attack violated international human rights law, international humanitarian law or amounted to war crimes. The Mission also collected information that indicates that the Tatmadaw’s road and other construction projects have had a severe impact on the lands and livelihoods of Karen villagers. These issues of land insecurity are compounded by a more general pattern of land-grabbing that is facing Karen villagers and other ethnic minorities across the country.
661. Their situation is further compounded by a sense that their very identity is being eroded by the State. For example, and as one Karen interviewee explained: “Before the ceasefire, the KNU were running more than 1,000 schools. But presently, at the moment there are only 300 schools left that are directly managed by the Karen.” The ability of the Karen to instruct in their ethnic language and in accordance with their own culture is important for them to preserve their culture. .”
662. While the Mission is unable to make any legal findings on its limited investigations, it recommends that the human rights situation of the Karen be further monitored and investigated due to the potential for the situation to escalate. The Mission reiterates its view that accountability for past human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law of the Karen must be addressed with a view to breaking the cycle of impunity.
VIII. Conclusions and recommendations
663. Myanmar’s history since its independence in 1948 has been marred by decades of armed conflicts between the military, now called the Tatmadaw, and armed organisations based in Myanmar’s ethnic minority regions. Each conflict has invariably entailed widespread killings and injury to civilians, torture and ill-treatment, gender-based violence, forced labour, displacement and restrictions on the use of land and livelihoods, access to education, health services and other basic services, and other severe consequences for the people of Myanmar. The victims are predominantly people from ethnic minorities: the Rohingya, Kachin, Shan, Ta’ang, ethnic Rakhine, Chin, Karen or Kokang and many more not mentioned in this report.
664. Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts have consolidated the notion of a tiered-society, where the ethnic Bamar majority has been able to occupy a privileged position and minority ethnic communities have been subjugated. The Mission found that the Tatmadaw has both written and driven this narrative. The Tatmadaw has fought civil wars inside Myanmar over the span of seventy years. Decades of military rule have empowered it to act with total impunity. Regrettably, the fledgling democratic transition since 2010 has failed to reverse these deeply entrenched patterns. The Mission can only reiterate once again the necessity of a full transformation of the Tatmadaw, with its complete removal from the political and economic life of Myanmar, and the urgent need for civilian oversight of the military, as essential first steps without which these long-standing patterns of abuse will not change.
665. The ethnic communities in Myanmar have common experiences of victimisation and brutality at the hands of the Tatmadaw and of discrimination and marginalisation. Nonetheless, the Mission recognises that their experiences are by no means identical.
A. The situation of the Rohingya
666. The situation of the Rohingya stands out in this regard. The arbitrary exclusion of the Rohingya from the list of 135 recognised “national races” has enabled the denial of their human rights and fundamental freedoms under Myanmar’s Constitution and laws. This formal exclusion of the Rohingya has resulted in severe inhumane suffering and persecution, thereby rising to the level of crimes against humanity. The hateful rhetoric, well-documented in the Mission’s 2018 report, which came to the fore at the height of the 2012, 2016 and 2017 violence, demonstrates the hateful, widespread and mainstream perception by Myanmar’s Bamar majority of the “sub-human” status of the Rohingya. Their continued segregation from the rest of Myanmar society through the continued imposition of movement restrictions cements this perception. It is a visible sign of their continued persecution.
667. The Mission found that the underlying structural human rights violations against this ethnic group, culminating in the 2017 “clearance operations”, have continued and that their situation remains largely unchanged from last year. On this basis, the Mission has reasonable grounds to conclude that there is a strong inference of continuing genocidal intent on the part of the State, that there is a serious risk of genocidal actions recurring, and that Myanmar is failing in its obligation to prevent genocide, to investigate genocide and to enact effective legislation criminalizing and punishing genocide.
668. The Government’s rhetoric in relation to “welcoming” back close to one million refugees can only be seen as an insincere attempt to appease the Government of Bangladesh and the international community. This is apparent, not least, by the inadequacy of the current resettlement plans, as well as the Government’s unwillingness to address the structural problems imposed on the remaining Rohingya in Rakhine State. The Mission’s findings should highlight the impossibility of the return of the Rohingya refugees under the current conditions.
669. In light of the Mission’s findings on the continued persecution of the Rohingya population in Rakhine State and the impossibility of the return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh under the current circumstances, the Mission deems it likely that any business or development actor operational in Rakhine is highly likely to support, directly, indirectly or inadvertently, or even consolidate the Tatmadaw’s persecutory and genocidal objectives with respect to the Rohingya population. The Mission reiterates its view that businesses and development assistance programmes in Rakhine State should take the necessary steps to ensure that their actions, first, do not enrich the Tatmadaw and, second, are of benefit to all the ethnic communities of Rakhine State on the basis of equality.
670. As a starting point, the Government should respect the fundamental freedoms of the Rohingya population, including their freedom of movement. It should close the camps and provide adequate and appropriate land and homes to the refugees and IDPs, free from segregation from the rest of Myanmar’s communities. An essential measure by which the international community can judge the Government’s stated sincerity with regard to welcoming back the Rohingya refugees is for it to implement effective guarantees to acknowledge or recognize the citizenship of Rohingya through a direct citizenship application process, with due process rights guaranteed. Such a process cannot be through the NVC procedures and requires repealing or amending the 1982 Citizenship Law.
671. The Mission concludes that a moratorium on domestic and international investment and development assistance in Rakhine State is necessary at this stage to ensure that investment and development assistance do not directly, indirectly or inadvertently consolidate the Tatmadaw’s persecutory and genocidal objectives. The moratorium should continue until the Rohingya population is able to enjoy its rights free from discrimination and on the basis of equality. The Mission concludes that a moratorium should be imposed on domestic and international investment and development assistance in Rakhine State at this time. Such moratorium could be ended once the restrictions on the remaining Rohingya population in Rakhine are lifted and they can enjoy rights free from discrimination on the basis of equality with the non-Rohingya population. This, in turn, would allow the Rohingya to benefit from investment and development assistance on an equal footing with the rest of the population in Rakhine State. In implementing a moratorium, due consideration should be given to ensure it does not have adverse socio-economic impacts on Rohingya and other communities in Rakhine State that would result in further harm. The moratorium must not prevent life-saving programmes and services from being provided.
B. The situation of the ethnic Rakhine
672. In its 2018 report, the Mission found that some ethnic Rakhine, while victims of serious human rights violations by the Tatmadaw in their own right, had also played a direct role in the 2017 “clearance operations” against the Rohingya. In the recent conflict between the Tatmadaw and the AA, ethnic Rakhine have themselves again been subjected to one of the hallmarks of the Tatmadaw’s military operations, indiscriminate attacks that kill and injure civilians. The Mission found that violations of international human rights and humanitarian law have been committed in a series of Tatmadaw attacks in the past months. These have been compounded by a pattern of arrests, detention, torture and ill-treatment of ethnic Rakhine men and boys, some of which resulted in death.
673. In striking contrast to the “clearance operations” against the Rohingya, the Mission found that sexual and gender-based violence has not been used as a tactic of war by the Tatmadaw in its conflict this year with the AA. This is a marked shift in pattern and supports the Mission’s previous conclusions that in 2017 the Tatmadaw used sexual and gender-based violence as a means of persecution that was also indicative of genocidal intent against the Rohingya population. It indicates that Tatmadaw commanders are able to control the perpetration of sexual and gender-based violence and that there is command responsibility for the perpetration of sexual and gender-based violence. The Mission reiterates its recommendation that instructions at the highest level of command should be given to ensure military personnel refrain from committing rape, gang rape and other forms of sexual violence. Accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims are required for past practices of sexual and gender-based violence.
674. As with all other ethnic conflicts in Myanmar examined by the Mission, the civilian populations affected by the conflict, including ethnic Rakhine, Chin and Rohingya, have suffered severe humanitarian consequences as a result of the implementation of policies consistent with the Tatmadaw’s “four cuts” strategy. In this most recent conflict, the Tatmadaw has included a novel fifth cut, the “cutting of information”. Through its clampdown on freedom of expression, association and information, by way of a series of legal actions against individual journalists, access restrictions for the media to conflict areas and an internet shutdown, the Myanmar Government has effectively deprived the population of the ability to communicate with the outside world and prevented the outside world from communicating about the military operations in Rakhine. This isolates the ethnic Rakhine population further. It also carries the risk of further abuse being perpetrated by the Tatmadaw without proper oversight. While the Mission welcomes initiatives to curb hate speech and incitement to violence, well-documented in its 2018 report, the strategy of cutting off information must be monitored closely for their potential to affect adversely and disproportionately not only the fundamental freedoms of the population in Rakhine, but also the protection of civilians.
C. The situation in northern Myanmar
675. Ethnic communities in northern Myanmar have endured decades of conflict-related human rights violations and abuses. These have continued despite the various ceasefires past and present. The Mission found that the human rigths situation in northern Myanmar continues to raise concerns since its last report. While active hostilities may have declined in Kachin State, the underlying violations, such as torture and ill-treatment, sexual and gender-based violence and a wide range of violations of economic, social and cultural rights, remain part of the daily lives of ethnic communities in the north. This continuing pattern testifies to the lack of sincerity on the part of the Government, including the Tatmadaw, in talking about peace, even during a relative lull in the conflict. EAOs in northern Myanmar also bear responsibility in this respect and reports of violations of international humanitarian law warrant further investigation.. The Mission concluded that the situation in northern Myanmar will likely deteriorate further if there is no genuine effort to address the continuing cycles of serious violations of human rights and violations under international humanitarian law, including war crimes.
676. The Mission identified a need for investigations in relation to the ethnic Karen and Kokang populations. Its own limited investigations confirm many of the established patterns documented in relation to other ethnic groups. The decades of conflict have produced a commonality of suffering and harship, including widespread displacement.
677. In March 2017, the Human Rights Council gave this Mission the mandate of “establishing the facts and circumstances of the alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces, and abuses, in Myanmar in particular Rakhine State”. In extending the Mission’s mandate in September 2018, the Human Rights Council sought to avoid an investigative gap between the end of the Mission’s mandate and the new Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar becoming operational. The Mission is grateful to the Human Rights Council for recognising the need for continued monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in Myanmar. This has been essential to the hundreds of thousands of victims whose stories deserve to be told. The Mission has sought to discharge its mandate independently, impartially and diligently, throughout the last two and half years. It deeply regrets the lack of dialogue with the Government of Myanmar, as it remains of the view that Myanmar must acknowledge and act as part of any sustainable and long-term accountability initiative.
678. In this final report, the Mission reiterates all its previous recommendations contained in its various reports, which have been compiled in A/CRP/42/CRP.6 in particular those releated to accountability and ending hostilities. It makes the following additional and final recommendations regarding the way forward.
1. To the Government of Myanmar:
679. Review the Mission’s findings contained in its reports and take necessary measures to implement its recommendations. The Government should regularly report on progress in implementing the Mission’s recommendations, including through, but not limited to, the United Nations human rights mechanisms;
680. Seek the support of the United Nations, its funds and programmes, to implement these recommendations, as necessary.
681. Take measures to protect civilian populations from the effects of the ethnic conflicts, including through strict adherence to international humanitarian law and international human rights law;
682. Grant unfettered humanitarian access, for UN and other inter-governmental agencies and national and international non-government agencies, to all parts of Myanmar, in particular Rakhine, Chin, Kachin and Shan States;
683. Ensure the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of refugees and internally displaced people to their original lands or places of their choice, in full consultation with the affected communities and by ensuring informed consent;
684. Minimize the use and effects of landmines, IEDs and ERW, and ensure that civilians are informed of their presence, including by marking contaminated areas and otherwise informing the populations in affected areas, and undertake mine clearance operations as soon as hostilities abate.
685. Take all necessary steps to ensure and expedite the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of the Rohingya to their homes and lands, in accordance with international standards;
686. Restore their citizenship rights and suspend the NVC process, while identifying alternative ways to ensure that Rohingya can apply directly for and receive full citizenship, including from abroad, through an effective and prompt process;
687. Remove all movement restrictions in Rakhine that are specifically applicable to Rohingya and that are applied in a discriminatory manner to them;
688. Ensure to all persons in Rakhine State, including Rohingya, full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on the basis of equality.
689. Cooperate with all accountability mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice and the newly-established Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, with a view to expediting accountability for serious crimes under international law and reparations for victims of those crimes;
690. Introduce complementary and credible national accountability measures to investigate and prosecute crimes under international law, including crimes of genocide, and do so in accordance with international fair trial standards;
691. Ensure that any accountability process provides full and effective remedies for victims of human rights violations in the appropriate form of restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.
Obligations under the Genocide Convention
692. Conduct effective investigations into the underlying acts of genocide documented in the Mission’s 2018 report and, where appropriate, prosecute and punish those guilty;
693. Enact the domestic legislation necessary to punish the crimes of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempt to commit genocide and complicity in genocide and to provide effective penalties for persons guilty of those crimes;
694. Repeal or amend laws, including Constitutional provisions, that permit those guilty of crimes of genocide to evade punishment;
695. Take all necessary measures, including legislative and other measures, to deter those harbouring genocidal intent and the serious risk of genocide to the Rohingya people.
2. To the United Nations and the international community:
Monitoring and reporting
696. Remain seized of the human rights situation in Myanmar, through continued close monitoring and public reporting, discussion in international human rights fora and dialogue and cooperation with the Government of Myanmar;
697. Provide the necessary mandate and allocate adequate resources to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and to the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, for regular human rights reports, including to the Human Rights Council, on human rights in Myanmar and on follow-up to the Mission’s recommendations, in particular an annual report on progress in implementation of all recommendations;
698. Mandate through the Human Rights Council and/or General Assembly further human rights investigations on the human rights situation in Myanmar to contribute towards the prevention of human rights violations and respond promptly to human rights emergencies, with appropriate resources allocated;
699. Mandate through the Human Rights Council and/or General Assembly further investigations into the human rights situation of other ethnic conflicts in Myanmar, including the situations of the ethnic Karen and Kokang, with appropriate resources allocated;
700. Ensure that future Commissions of Inquiry and fact-findings missions contain, as part of their terms of reference, a requirement to “report back” to affected communities whose human rights situations they investigated, with a view to ensuring accountability towards victims;
701. Should the Security Council be unwilling to refer the situation of Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or to establish an ad hoc international criminal tribunal in respect of crimes under international law in Myanmar, the General Assembly should consider using its powers within the scope of the Charter of the United Nations to advance such a tribunal;
702. Encourage and support States parties to the Genocide Convention to bring a case to the International Court of Justice against Myanmar for breaches of its obligations under the Genocide Convention;
703. The UN country team in Myanmar should continue to assess its engagement with all government partners, to ensure the engagement is not directly or indirectly contributing to the confiscation or misappropriation of, or profiteering from Rohingya lands, indirectly or directly keeping Rohingya off their lands or from returning to their lands, or consolidating the effects of the Government’s “clearance operations” of 2016 and 2017;
704. Adopt a moratorium on domestic and international business, investment and development assistance in Rakhine State, unless and until the remaining Rohingya population is able to enjoy all human rights fully, free from discrimination and on the basis of equality. Ensure it does not have adverse socio-economic impacts on Rohingya and other communities in Rakhine State that would result in further harm. The moratorium must not prevent life-saving programmes and services from being provided.
3. To non-State armed groups in Myanmar:
705. Take measures to protect civilian populations from the effects of the ethnic conflicts, including through strict adherence to international humanitarian law;
706. Minimize the use and effects of landmines, IEDs and ERW, and ensure that civilians are informed of their presence, including by marking contaminated areas and otherwise informing the populations in affected areas, and undertake mine clearance operations as soon as hostilites abate;
707. Cooperate with international accountability mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice and the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar.
1. Letter sent to the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar on 12 February 2019
2. Letter and questions sent to the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar on 27 March 2019
3. Letter sent to the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar on 31 July 2019
4. Letter sent to the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar on 11 September 2019