‘Drastic situation’ for minorities in Myanmar

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, established in 1979, was set up to investigate violations of the rights of peoples. The tribunal convened at Queen Mary University in London in early March to hear evidence and testimony related to the persecution of Rohingya and Kachin minorities in Myanmar. The following are the closing remarks of the panel of judges, Daniel Feierstein, Denis Halliday and Helen Jarvis.

Confronted with the lack of response to the critical violation of the people’s rights in Myanmar and the request made on 24 November 2016 by 19 Rohingya organisations, we gathered here in London in an Opening Session of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, expanded to include the subsequent request by the Kachin National Organisation.

Of particular significance is the participation of these two groups in a single process, expressing mutual solidarity, and we invite other groups who may wish to bring similar experiences to the attention of the tribunal.

Over two days, the panel of judges heard the allegations submitted by both groups and received oral testimony from witnesses and experts, as well as video and written documentation, dealing with:

Identity framing by exclusion – the process of creating Myanmar as a single Burman Buddhist entity, transforming it from a fluid pluralistic society that historically embraced different ethnicities, nationalities, religions and ideologies;

Allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Kachin group, with particular reference to the escalation since the end of the ceasefire in 2011, recently involving artillery and aerial bombardment, during which time over 10 percent of the population has been internally displaced;

Allegations of crimes against humanity and genocide against the Rohingya group with particular reference to three different periods: the Dragon King Operation in 1978; renewed violence escalating since 2012 (as testified in detail in a series of depositions by refugees in Malaysia); and the extreme collective punishment of the entire group since 9 October 2016 (as testified by victims and witnesses in northern Rakhine State and among the estimated 70,000 new refugees in Bangladesh). As a result of these policies and practices, the Rohingya population in Myanmar has been halved in less than 40 years.

From all the accounts provided to us it is clear that the military is continuing and even escalating its repressive role despite the change to a supposedly democratic and civilian government of which so many people, including Kachin and Rohingya, had high expectations.

This opening session was convened as a matter of urgency due to the drastic situation developing over recent months. The tribunal was exposed in considerable detail to the systematic violation of human rights: killing (including slaughtering of babies and children), enforced disappearances, rape, forced labour, destruction of homes and denial of basic rights to food, livelihood, health services, education and citizenship.

The panel of judges was convinced by the evidence presented that the charges of serious crimes demand adjudication by the Permanent People’s Tribunal. Accordingly, a full session will be convened within the next six months with a view to producing a reasoned judgment.

The government of Myanmar was informed of this opening session and invited to participate, but regrettably did not appear. Nevertheless, this statement will be forwarded to them together with the preliminary indictment, and we reaffirm that they have the possibility to present their case at the coming full session.

We wish to express our deepest appreciation to the many Rohingya and Kachin victims for having the courage to come forward to tell of their suffering and to the lawyers, researchers and activists who have collected this documentation to present as evidence to the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal.

We urge the United Nations, ASEAN and other international bodies to move beyond descriptive reports of the situation; we call on the mass and social media to keep shining the spotlight on this humanitarian crisis, and expose the truth of what is happening; and we trust the continuing commitment of the social movements all over the world to stand in solidarity and provide concrete assistance and action.