A departing United Nations official has requested new investigations into claims of continuing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Myanmar, while calling on the global community to help avoid other atrocities.
Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’s top human rights envoy to the Southeast Asian country, accused Myanmar’s military Wednesday of “inflicting immense suffering" on ethnic minorities in Rakhine and Chin states.
The Myanmar government is battling the Arakan Army, a guerrilla group representing the Buddhist Rakhine minority that is vying for greater autonomy.
"While the world is occupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Myanmar military continues to escalate its assault in Rakhine state, targeting the civilian population," Lee said in a statement.
Lee accused the Myanmar military of defying “the most fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and human rights.” She said the military’s treatment of civilians “may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Lee is stepping down this month after six years in her post.
The Myanmar military launched a “clearance campaign” in August 2017 in northern Rakhine state following attacks by Rohingya insurgent forces, forcing more than 700,000 Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority, to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. Myanmar security forces were accused of committing mass killings and rapes and torching thousands of homes.
The U.N.’s highest court instructed the Myanmar government to prevent genocidal acts against the Rohingya and to provide the global body with progress reports. The International Court of Justice said last year it would rule on charges of genocide against Myanmar, which maintains it acted justifiably.
Lee said government artillery and airstrikes in recent weeks have killed and injured scores of adults and children and displaced more than 157,000 people.
She also criticized the Arakan Army for committing hostile acts “in a manner that has had negative impacts on civilians, including kidnapping local officials and parliamentarians."
But Lee noted the Arakan Army had declared a unilateral cease-fire, citing the need to contain the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Lee said the violence in Rakhine and Chin states is linked to the government’s failure to hold senior officers accountable, instead meting out nominal punishments to a handful of low-ranking security personnel.