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Last month, the United Nations (UN) released the conclusions of an investigation into the humanitarian situation in Myanmar, with special focus on the treatment of the Rohingya population of Myanmar’s Rakhine State. This UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (IIFFMM) has made its judgements in the strongest possible terms. The report identifies “systemic oppression and persecution of the Rohingya”.

The Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim group not deemed one of the ‘national races’ of Myanmar. They are described as one of the most persecuted peoples on Earth. The Rohingya have long faced denial of their rights and Myanmarese identity, having been stripped of their citizenship under a 1982 statute. Despite having every claim to citizenship, the UN describes a deliberate campaign of ‘othering’ the Rohingya, abandoning them to statelessness.

Since 2012, animosity between the Buddhist and Rohingya communities has manifested itself through increasingly frequent and violent clashes. 2016 saw a crackdown by the armed forces (officially known as the Tatmadaw) followed in August 2017 by sustained attacks on Rohingya settlements in the form of ‘clearance operations’ involving “widespread, systematic, deliberate and targeted destruction, mainly by fire, of Rohingya-populated areas”. As a result, “at least 392 villages (40% of all settlements in northern Rakhine) were partially or totally destroyed”. Although the state of Myanmar maintains that these are operations targeted at the militant Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), it is estimated that 700,000 Rohingya civilians have been forced to flee and, to prevent their return, the Tatmadaw have laid landmines along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.

Although these actions have brought international attention and outcry on numerous occasions, previously described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, the allegations made by the IIFFMM are some of the most forthright and explicit to date. Part VI of the report levels three broad and overlapping accusations against the government of Myanmar for its actions in Rakhine State. Those of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

On the allegations of genocide, the IIFFMM defines it as “the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” Although a number of non-state actors are also pointed to as culpable for serious human rights violations, it is made clear that the most widespread and disturbing are those being carried out by Myanmar’s armed forces who are attempting to evict the country’s Rohingya population.

It is noted that the organised fashion in which the military have gone about displacing the Rohingya indicates that this could only have been sanctioned by its senior leadership. The report suggests that “there is sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Tatmadaw chain of command, so that a competent court can determine their liability for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine State.”

The accusations of crimes against humanity and war crimes are based on documented accounts of “murder; imprisonment; enforced disappearance; torture; rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence; persecution; and enslavement”. Medecins Sans Frontieres estimated that the clearances of 2017 were responsible for at least 6,700 deaths.

Although aid from nations and humanitarian organisations continues to provide important assistance to those Rohingya stranded in Bangladesh, the international community remains unsure of how to proceed. This is in part because Nobel Peace Prize-winning Aung San Suu Kyi’s premiership once seemed to mark the beginning of a bright and assured future for the nation of Myanmar, replacing the military junta which had seen her living under house arrest for 15 years. Despite fierce criticism of her Buddhist nationalism and perceived tacit support for persecution of the Rohingya, there is still a belief in some quarters that only she has the political capital necessary to rein in the military and thus heavy-handed international action may only weaken her ability to do so.

In the wake of the report, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has asserted its jurisdiction on this matter, with the possibility of charges being filed against senior military figures in future. It is also proposed that a body, akin to the one documenting war crimes in Syria, be set up to collect evidence on to inform future legal proceedings. However, with its backlog of cases and accusations of corruption, the ICC’s track record casts significant doubt over these hopes.

Satellite, open-source intelligence and investigative journalism have proved hugely important in uncovering the nature and scale of the situation in western Myanmar. It is with this in mind that the recent conviction of Reuters journalists covering the story marks another troubling escalation and a deliberate attempt from the Myanmarese government to hide its tracks.

The warnings from history are stark. As was the case at Srebrenica and in Rwanda, when the international community has been hesitant, atrocities are committed with impunity. The gestating “genocidal intent” which the IIFFMM identifies in Myanmar demands renewed focus and effort. As the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s latest report argues, “failure derives principally not from the actions taken by the international community but inaction”.

Oscar Rocklin is a graduate intern at Bright Blue The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.