by Thaslima Begum* – The Guardian, OtherNews
Security Force Monitor finds 64% of senior army officers led units allegedly committing killings, rapes, torture and disappearances. New research into alleged war crimes in Myanmar has concluded that the majority of senior commanders in the Myanmar military, many of whom hold powerful political positions in the Country, were responsible for crimes including rape, torture, killings and forced disappearances carried out by units under their command between 2011 and 2023.
The research, by the Security Force Monitor (SFM), a project run by Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute, states that 64% – 51 of 79 – of all Myanmar’s senior military commanders are responsible for war crimes. It claims that the most serious perpetrator of human rights violations is Gen Mya Tun Oo, Myanmar’s deputy Prime Minister, former Defence Minister and a member of the ruling Military Council.
SFM says its research is an attempt to investigate and hold perpetrators to account for human rights violations carried out by government forces in Myanmar against protesters and civilians. Tony Wilson, lead researcher and SFM director, said: “This is one of the pieces of the jigsaw that has up until now been missing in terms of accountability – demonstrating how the system works and that these alleged abuses are not just the result of rogue units or individual soldiers. “Ultimately, this research aims to support efforts to deliver international accountability for alleged war crimes committed by Myanmar’s military by shining a light on one of the most secretive and opaque militaries in the world,” he said.
It has been six years since a murderous crackdown in Rakhine State forced more than 750,000 Rohingya Muslims – half of them children – across the border into refugee camps in Bangladesh. The violence carried out by the Myanmar military, which has been described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by the UN, saw entire villages razed, tens of thousands killed and women and children gang-raped.
Among the survivors was Fatima Khatun, 24, who has been living in the squalid Kutupalong camp in the Bangladeshi port of Cox’s Bazar ever since. She still has nightmares about what happened to her in the summer of 2017. Khatun had been hiding in the forest after her house was burned down by the Myanmar military when two soldiers found her. One pinned her down while the other brutally raped her. “They held a rifle against my face,” she recalls. “I lay there on the ground, my face turned to the side.”
Widespread sexual violence perpetrated by Myanmar’s soldiers has been a hallmark of the culture of abuse and impunity in the Country’s decades-long civil wars with its ethnic minorities. A Human Rights Watch report in 2017 found that security forces raped and sexually assaulted countless women and girls before and during major attacks on villages and that, in every case described to them, the perpetrators were uniformed members of Myanmar’s armed forces. But, despite being widely documented, there has never been a realistic path to hold the perpetrators to account for women such as Khatun.
In 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) approved a full investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed by Myanmar but progress has been slow. “It has been six years but we haven’t seen any justice,” says Khatun. “The world may have moved on, but it has been difficult for us to forget.” SFM has supported a range of global investigations, including exposing US support for the Saudi-led coalition airstrike campaign in Yemen, a submission to the ICC on alleged crimes against humanity committed by Mexican forces, and reporting on the killing of protesters by the Nigerian army. The Myanmar authorities did not respond to a request for comment. The junta has previously denied atrocities against civilians, saying that its actions are in the interest of stability and tackling terrorism.
To learn more, read our Myanmar factsheet
On the cover photo, A village bombed by the military junta (Chin State, Myanmar, May 11, 2023) © ADP
* Thaslima Begun is an award-winning journalist with a focus on women, conflict and human rights