The people of Myanmar have faced horrific atrocities including mass killings, beheadings, air strikes, scorched earth campaigns and other attacks on a daily basis perpetrated by junta troops under coup leader Min Aung Hlaing since the February 2021 coup.
Over 3,100 people have been killed by regime forces and more than 16,400 remain detained for opposing the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. An estimated 17.6 million people need humanitarian aid and over 55,400 civilian houses have been burned down. The Irrawaddy recently talked with Myanmar National Unity Government Human Rights Minister U Aung Myo Min on the current situation of human rights in Myanmar, the justice process that the ministry is preparing, and how the junta preparators can be held accountable for their crimes. How would you describe the situation that Myanmar people are currently facing? I would say the current situation is the worst, in which all kinds of human rights are systematically violated. Not only the human rights situation. The terrorist military regime considers those who oppose it as well as all innocent civilians as its enemies, and commits various international crimes. That’s why I want to say: that they are at the level of a criminal who commits crimes intentionally and maliciously, on a wide scale throughout the country. Let me repeat again that it is at the worst level.
What kind of international crimes has the regime committed?
The world already knows that the crime committed against the Rohingya is genocide. Since the coup, the regime’s deliberately targeted attacks and mass killings of innocent civilians and children are clearly crimes against humanity. And in those areas where armed resistance has developed to defend against the attacks of the oppressive military and a state of war has been reached, the terrorist military regime has breached almost everything prohibited under the Geneva Conventions [laws that require protection of the civilian population and prohibit wounding, killing, attacking and bombardment of people or places that are not military objectives in times of war] by massacring civilians and torching villages, bombing schools, hospitals and humanitarian aid sites. Such acts are nothing other than war crimes. More than genocide, what we are facing now is democide. Because the junta targets everyone, every single house and entire areas, to leave no one that is against its rule. [Democide is a term coined by the American political scientist Rudolph Rummel to describe an authoritarian regime’s intentional killing and destruction, within a country, of opponents or groups with certain political ideologies that the regime feels need to be eradicated.]
Grave human rights violations are happening daily all over the country. Can you tell us what the ministry is doing to see that these crimes are prosecuted?
There is no rule of law at all inside the country currently. So, we have focused on bringing perpetrators into the international judicial mechanism. And for that, we need records, witnesses, solid evidence and complaints and permissions to bring to the International Criminal Court and other courts. These are the things that must be collected. And here, I want to praise the courage and consciousness of the people. Although their homes are being burned, people are collaborating with us to expose the truth. We have received around 60,000 valid records. To see that the preparators get the punishment they deserve, we are working with the United Nations and international tribunals [in Argentina, Germany, Indonesia and Turkey] that accept and prosecute individuals from other countries for serious crimes based on the principle of universal jurisdiction. There are some countries which have started accepting our complaints and started investigations. Meanwhile, we are also continuing to fix the collapsed judicial system of the country and establishing a community court system.
What kind of message do you want to convey to the people? When can they expect to see justice?
Don’t expect that justice will be done—believe it. It is something that has to be believed. Because the terrorist regime, which is so cruel and committing various crimes to terrorize the people in attempting to bring them under its control, cannot be sustained for a long time. At the same time, with our people’s resilience and strong belief in the truth, believe that justice will be found for those who have died and been abused. I would like to urge you to never give up and work together from wherever you can to achieve justice and speedy success for the revolution. And there are many things that can be done regardless of where you are, like gathering information regarding Myanmar, validating cases, and bringing information about Myanmar to the countries concerned.
In terms of the international response to the Myanmar crisis, is it adequate, given how bad the situation is in country?
I want to say the international response has not yet reached an appropriate level given the serious of what the regime has done. And there has not been as much coordinated global action as we expected. Gradually, sanctions are being imposed and there has been some progress. But there are many things left to be done. Like more sanctions on the regime’s businesses, arms deals and weapons purchases, and prosecutions. Powerful [blocs and countries like the] EU and the UK are concentrating on Ukraine, which is closer to their borders. ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations]’s Five Point Consensus has been ineffective, and some neighboring countries want to seek benefits by cooperating with the terrorist regime rather than solving the problem; these are also among our challenges… For the response, I acknowledge the statements of concern, but concern alone is not enough. Democratic forces need support. And the more the junta commits violations, the sooner we need action to be taken, and in that way, people can be saved.
What has the NUG done for the Rohingya?
We have issued our stance regarding the Rohingya. We acknowledge crimes against the Rohingya. We have also openly pledged to implement the Kofi Annan commission on Myanmar’s recommendations, those demands presented by the Rohingya themselves, and UN decisions. And the “Rohingya” [issue] is no longer something to be said indirectly, as in the past, nor something to solve under the table. That is our change of concept. And we have also acted to include their participation in discussions and incorporate their suggestions into the government’s policy. Our ministry’s adviser is a Rohingya and he is actively participating in foreign affairs and human rights cooperation. At the same time, we are now working to amend discriminatory laws like the 1982 Citizenship Law, which is one of the root causes behind the matter, and repeal the Race and Religions laws. We are also working to include a Rohingya representative in the government in the near future. And I hope to hear good news about it soon.
You have also met Rohingya representatives, including women and young people, from refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in eastern Bangladesh. What did they say?
Their statement is clear. They do not want to stay in the camps. They want to have full security as long as they are there. Their home…is Myanmar. They want to cooperate equally with other citizens for the benefit of Myanmar. Furthermore, we will work for the return of the people. Until then, when they are sheltering in the refugee camps, we are urging the responsible state to ensure the Rohingya live with human dignity and safety. During this period, the relevant ministry is supporting health and education as much as it can.
Finally, what kind of message do you want to send to the democidal military group? My message is clear. As they are criminals who commit crimes, they must be punished under the criminal law. According to the chain of command, those responsible must face justice. But now, to those who want to stand on the side of the people: Stand with us as soon as possible and cooperate in bringing justice.
(c) 2023, The Irrawaddy