established by Human Rights Council resolution 34/22
36th session of the Human Rights Council
Agenda Item 4
19 September 2017
Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates, Observers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to address this Council for the first time in my capacity as the Chairperson of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, established by Human Rights Council resolution 34/22. In that resolution, the Council expressed deep concern at the “serious […] further deterioration of the security, human rights and humanitarian situation in Rakhine state”. Events in Myanmar since then indicate the continuing need for independent fact finding to establish what has happened and who is responsible. We are mindful of the complexity of the situation, disturbed by the gravity of the allegations, and humbled by the importance of the task entrusted to us.
Our mandate, as set out in OP11 of Council resolution 34/22, is to “establish the facts and circumstances of alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces and abuses in Myanmar, in particular in Rakhine State”. We understand our mandate to cover the whole of the country, in particular but not exclusively in Rakhine State, and we are seized of the situation in other parts of the country, particularly where there have been armed clashes. In this regard, serious allegations of human rights violations and abuses continue to emerge from Kachin and northern Shan, which will be examined by the Fact-Finding Mission.
The term “recent” being the main indication of the period to cover, we decided to focus on events since 2011, which is a critical moment in Myanmar’s recent history in regard to ethnic relations. We trace to 2011 the breakdown of a ceasefire in northern Myanmar and the heightening of tensions that led to large-scale violence in northern Rakhine in 2012. That said, the FFM will endeavour to place its findings in a broader historical, social and political context.
In addition, the resolution set out a list of alleged violations that should be included in our fact-finding. Significantly, allegations of the same types of violations have arisen in the context of recent attacks on security posts in the Rakhine state and the ensuing security operation of the Myanmar authorities – mass killings, excessive use of force, torture and ill-treatment, sexual and gender-based violence, and the burning and destruction of entire villages. There are reports of landmines being planted on the border with Bangladesh that are maiming and killing those trying to escape the violence, including children. There are also reports of dehumanizing propaganda that akin the Rohingya to pests. This Council will recognize the danger signs, having seen the world over how hate speech often precedes and accompanies major atrocities.
We are alarmed by these reports and we will examine them very carefully. Putting aside our eventual findings on the human rights allegations, which I would not wish to pre-empt, it is clear to us that there is a grave humanitarian crisis underway that requires urgent attention. Over 400,000 people have sought refuge in Bangladesh in less than one month.
here are reports that nearly 200 Rohingya villages in the affected area have been emptied.
It is important for us to see with our own eyes the sites of these alleged violations and abuses and to speak directly with the affected people and with the authorities. For that reason, we communicated with the Government of Myanmar, requesting cooperation with us and full and unfettered access to the country. We are hopeful that our request will be met positively, since we know of the Government’s expressed concern for truth. We firmly believe that it is in the Government’s interest and in the interests of the people of Myanmar to communicate their views and evidence directly to the Fact-Finding Mission. I take this occasion to reiterate our request to the Government of Myanmar for cooperation, most importantly by granting us access to the country.
We will proceed to fulfil our mandate following relevant international standards and best practices on human rights fact-finding methodology, as developed by the many missions that preceded us. This includes following the principles of “do no harm”, independence, impartiality and objectivity. We will make full use of modern technology, such as satellite imagery of the reportedly damaged areas, remote communication with those wishing but unable to meet with the Fact-Finding Mission, and the verification of information received, including videos and images, through open sources and other channels.
I wish to stress that the Fact-Finding Mission is approaching the human rights situation in Myanmar without any preconceived ideas and will base its findings on a solid, objective assessment of the information verified. We will go where the evidence leads us. The Fact-Finding Mission is open to all sources of information, which we have received in large volumes already. I would like to take the occasion to invite any others who wish to submit information to us to do so. This naturally includes the Government of Myanmar.
On 8 August 2017, the Government-appointed “Investigation Commission for Maungdaw in Rakhine State” published a summary of its final report, in which it acknowledged being unable to verify a number of allegations, indicated that they required further investigation, while mostly rejecting the allegations of serious human rights violations. We urge the Government to release the report without delay, without which the depth and relevance of that work will be impossible to assess and any impact of the Commission on our own work will necessarily be limited.
Another critical report was released on 24 August 2017 – the final report of the Government-initiated “Advisory Commission on Rakhine State”, chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In it, the Advisory Commission made clear that it was not mandated to investigate specific cases of alleged human rights violations, but rather sought to “address institutional and structural issues which undermine the prospects for peace, justice and development in Rakhine, and to propose concrete steps that may contribute to improving the well-being of all communities in the state”. The Fact-Finding Mission welcomes the Advisory Commission’s report and calls for the early implementation of its recommendations. The urgency of doing so is borne out by the escalation of the already complex, precarious and sensitive situation since 25 August.
Redressing past violations and preventing further recurrence must start with establishing the facts and addressing the root causes of the violence. We are fully conscious of the importance of the Fact-Finding Mission’s mandate for ensuring accountability.
Regarding northern Rakhine, we are monitoring the unfolding situation very closely. We have urgently dispatched a team to Bangladesh, which is collecting information and verifying allegations as we speak. We join the calls for all actors involved in the violence in northern Rakhine to end the violence and to strictly comply with international norms and standards. In addition, we join the calls for full and free access for humanitarian relief in particular, in view of the very grave situation of hundreds of thousands of people who have fled, as well as the affected communities that remain in Rakhine.
While resolution 34/22 was adopted in March, it was not until my appointment as Chairperson on 27 July that the fully constituted Fact-Finding Mission could begin its work remotely and convene in person for the first time, which it did in Geneva over the week of 21 August. During that week, we agreed on our terms of reference, our methodology and our overall work plan. We carefully reviewed the wording of the resolution, which allows for broad interpretation of the temporal, geographic and substantive parameters of our mandate, against the practical considerations of the available time and resources.
It became clear to us that, after our late start, the time remaining was utterly insufficient to do justice to the mandate. Resolution 34/22 requests us to present a final report to the Human Rights Council at its 37th session, which will take place in March 2018. Now facing an escalating situation in northern Rakhine that is increasing our workload exponentially, we are deeply concerned about our ability to verify the facts necessary to produce a report of the depth and quality that is expected of us by March.
We therefore respectfully appeal to the Human Rights Council to consider extending our mandate by six months to September 2018, with the resources that would allow us to carry on our work at full speed. If the Council so decides, we could present an oral interim report in March and a final report in September. Mr. President, we have communicated with you about this matter, and we appreciate your advice that an extension could be pursued in March, rather than now.
However, from our point of view, we would manage our work over the months to come quite differently if we were preparing our final, as opposed to an interim, report. The report itself would also be very different. We thus believe that the decision must be taken at this session. The extension we seek is a technical measure, but one of critical importance if we are to make any difference in Myanmar. The hundreds of thousands of refugees, internally displaced people, affected communities, and all victims of alleged human rights violations and abuses, deserve a truthful account of what happened and who is responsible.
I thank you for your attention.