By Margaret Besheer

UNITED NATIONS — The head of a UN fact-finding mission in Myanmar warned Wednesday that if atrocities committed against minority Muslim Rohingya in that country went unpunished, such crimes would be repeated in other countries on new victims.

"Impunity must not be excused and continue to embolden the Tatmadaw in its promotion of Bamar-Buddhist supremacy," the head of the UN Fact-Finding Mission in Myanmar, Marzuki Darusman, told a meeting of the Security Council. The Myanmar military is known as the Tatmadaw.

"National sovereignty is not a license to commit crimes against humanity or genocide," he added.

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Darusman said for others considering stoking conflict and extremism, the events in Myanmar could serve "as a step-by-step manual."

Powerful, Emotional Presentation

In a presentation that was at times powerful and emotional, Darusman laid out the Tatmadaw's strategy in "clearance operations" of northern Rakhine state, home to the minority Rohingya population.

"Dehumanize a population, call them all terrorists, deprive them of all rights, segregate and attack them, rape and kill them, crowd them in IDP camps or drive them out, and protect the killers from justice," Darusman said. "The international community must be gravely concerned."

The fact-finding mission published a 444-page report on its findings in August. Over the course of a year, it interviewed survivors and witnesses to the scorched-earth campaign unleashed by the Myanmar military in response to August 2017 attacks by Rohingya militants that killed a dozen police officers.

Darusman condemned the militants' attacks, saying they contributed to the escalation, but that the military response was "brutal and utterly disproportionate" and conducted "in total disregard for human life."

Flight to Bangladesh

Rohingya refugee girls cross a makeshift bamboo bridge at Kutupalong refugee camp, where they have been living amid uncertainty over their future after they fled Myanmar to escape violence a year ago, in Bangladesh, Aug. 28, 2018.
Image: Altaf Qadri/AP

More than 700,000 Rohingya rapidly fled to neighboring Bangladesh, where they gave accounts of massacres, rape, murder and villages burned to the ground. The UN has called the atrocities "a textbook case" of ethnic cleansing.

"Estimates of 10,000 Rohingya deaths are conservative," Darusman said.

Read More: Rohingya Refugee Women at High Risk of Health Issues, Violence: Oxfam

He said the mission found similar patterns of abuses against other ethnic groups by the military in Myanmar's Kachin and Shan states.

He called for "decisive action" to stop the "destructive dynamics" and to prevent further problems.

"The Security Council holds the power to break this cycle," he said. "The key is a strong focus on accountability."

Divided Security Council

But the 15-member council is divided on the Rohingya issue. China, Russia, Equatorial Guinea and Bolivia sought to block Darusman's briefing, but failed to garner enough support in a procedural vote. They would also be highly unlikely to support a council referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court.

China's ambassador said the fact-finding mission's report was based on lopsided and incomplete information" because it was denied entry into Myanmar. "Its conclusions are neither objective nor impartial, therefore, their conclusions are not credible," Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu told the council.

"We will never accept any calls for a referral of Myanmar to the ICC," Hau Do Suan, Myanmar's envoy, said. "Putting accountability above all else without regard to other positive developments will only result in untoward consequences."

He warned that any unilateral or external pressure would be "detrimental" to the existing goodwill and cooperation of his government with the international community.


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UN Official Urges Justice for Myanmar’s Rohingya