Myanmar inquiry into treatment of Rohingya criticised after finding no evidence of rape

Rebecca Ratcliffe, south-east Asia correspondent
Photograph: Wong Maye-E/AP

A Myanmar government-backed inquiry that dismissed allegations of genocide against the Rohingya has been condemned as a deeply flawed cover-up, after it failed to interview a single victim of rape.

The full report of the panel inquiry, which has been criticised by the UN, was not made publicly available. It is not clear how many Rohingya were interviewed by the panel.

An executive summary of the findings were released just days before the International Court of Justice, which is hearing a genocide case against Myanmar, is due to announce whether or not it will request for emergency measures to prevent further harm against Rohingya.

In 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya people fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh following a military-led crackdown in Rakhine state in which villages were burned, women raped and thousands killed. A UN fact-finding mission later declared that the violence had “genocidal intent”.

Related: Nine months after Myanmar assaults, Rohingya camps ready for spate of births

The long-overdue report by the Myanmar-appointed inquiry stated that it did not travel to meet any of the more than one million Rohingya refugees living in refugee camps in Bangladesh, blaming the neighbouring country’s government for failing to facilitate visits.

The panel concluded that “war crimes and serious human rights violations, and violations of domestic law took place”, and that there are “reasonable grounds” to conclude members of the security forces among “multiple actors” responsible.

These acts included the “killing of innocent villagers and destruction of their homes”, it said.

But it added that attacks by Rohingya militants provoked this response, and that such violence was “triggered by individual fear, enmity, and historical grievances rather than by a plan, design or order.”

“There is insufficient evidence to argue, much less conclude, that the crimes committed were undertaken with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, or with any other requisite mental state for the international crime of genocide,” it said.

Among its findings, the panel inquiry stated that it had heard “no credible statements on allegations of gang rape committed by Myanmar’s security forces”, and that no individuals interviewed by the panel alleged that they had been raped.

Some female witnesses told the inquiry they had been searched by male Myanmar defence personnel as part of operations, the panel said, adding: “This behaviour may amount to constitute sexual violence.”

Related: ‘Tied to trees and raped’: UN report details Rohingya horrors

Yasmin Ullah, president of the Rohingya Human Rights Group, described the conclusions as a cover-up. “The fact that they have this very, very small section about rape, and sexual violence, whereas the history about ARSA [a Rohingya military group] and how it was formed are explained in pages of detail – as a woman, it is very painful,” said Ullah.

The findings on sexual violence - which are detailed in just four sentences - are in stark contrast to the conclusions of a recent UN fact-finding mission. Last August, the UN concluded that “soldiers routinely and systematically employed rape, gang rape and other violent and forced sexual acts against women, girls, boys, men and transgender people”. The UN described such violence as a blatant violation of international human rights law.

The panel report, said Akila Radhakrishnan, a human rights lawyer and the President of the Global Justice Centre, was fundamentally flawed. “It’s methodology has been criticised since it was announced, the last fact [UN] finding mission report laid out a series of concerns that they had - from the lack of a clear mandate to to its dependency on the Myanmar government and questionable operating procedures.

“The [panel] commissioners themselves said they’re not going to be able to point the finger, that they are not looking to establish accountability.”

Radhakrishnan added that by admitting some abuses took place, the report appeared to be attempting to reassure the international community, and that the timing of the report was significant. “This is their way of saying we have this impartial independent process - you need to leave domestic accountability to us,” she said.

Ullah said the more than 700,000 people who fled to Bangladesh in August 2017 were proof that the Myanmar government and military has had too much impunity and is not capable of investigating itself. “This is the hard proof.”