Burma looks set to escape an international investigation into alleged atrocities against its Rohingya minority, after the European Union decided not to seek one at the UN Human Rights Council, a draft resolution seen by Reuters showed on Wednesday.
The United Nations said in a report last month that the army and police had committed mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya Muslims in northern Arakan State and burned villages in a campaign that may amount to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
Setting up a full international commission of inquiry into the findings — similar to those for Syria and North Korea — has been seen as a test of international resolve at the main annual session of the council that ends on March 24.
The draft resolution from the EU suggests it may fail that test. The European Union, which has historically taken the lead on issues relating to Burma on the council, takes note of “the very serious nature of the allegations” and “current investigations conducted at the domestic level.”
But it stops short of the probe sought by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein.
Zeid, in a renewed appeal on Wednesday, told the council that the severe violations follow “longstanding persecution” of the stateless Rohingya minority in majority-Buddhist Burma and warranted a review by the International Criminal Court.
“I therefore urge the council, at minimum, to establish a Commission of Inquiry into the violence against the Rohingya, particularly during security operations since 9 October 2016,” he said.
Some 70,000 people have fled Arakan State to Bangladesh since Burma’s military began a security operation last October in response to what it says was an attack by Rohingya insurgents on border posts in which nine police officers were killed.
The EU draft calls for the UN special rapporteur on Burma, Yanghee Lee, backed by Zeid’s office, to investigate “allegations of gross human rights violations by military and security forces” and try to “ensure full accountability for perpetrators.”
EU diplomats told a meeting on Tuesday that they preferred using an existing mechanism that had received good cooperation and access from Burma’s government, rather than a new approach, and to give more time to the domestic process.
But human rights monitors have voiced serious doubts that several investigative commissions set up by the Aung San Suu Kyi government and its security forces had the tools and independence needed for an impartial probe.
Activists said that security forces continued to carry out serious crimes demanding an international probe.
“Our research indicates that it [the abuse] is systematic, and the idea that the government could or would be able to participate in a proper investigation of what is going on simply isn’t realistic,” said Louis Charbonneau of Human Rights Watch.
“An investigation needs to be independent, credible and international.”