Symposium on Myanmar and International Indifference: Rethinking Accountability

Symposium on Myanmar and International Indifference: Rethinking Accountability

There are a few anniversaries of note in 2022, which should prompt us to deeper conversations and more concerted action. It is the 10th anniversary of the forced Rohingya exodus from Myanmar, with 25 August marking the 5th Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court. This year, the intention of this symposium hosted by the Asia Justice Coalition and Opinio Juris is to bring renewed international attention to the growing and unchallenged impunity of the Myanmar military, to the legal efforts to seek redress, and to call for immediate action in addressing the crisis in Myanmar. This is a matter of increasing urgency, while the attention of the world gets distracted from crisis to crisis, resulting in forgotten conflicts and people in despair.

The coup orchestrated and executed by the military in Myanmar on 1 February 2021 has resulted in gross violations of international law and the commission of mass atrocities. The UN High Commissioner, in her update to the Human Rights Council in June, estimated that over 1,900 people have been killed, 10,500 arbitrarily detained, over 1,144 sentenced to imprisonment, and 74 individuals have been sentenced to death by military courts. The recent executions of political prisoners in Myanmar has marked a new nadir. The actions of the Myanmar military, shocking as they are, should come as no surprise – given their previous actions against minorities in Myanmar, and in particular, against the Rohingya. The scorched earth tactics used by the junta in Rakhine state against the Rohingya are being used in other parts of the country, such as Chin, Sagaing and other regions. In addition to the atrocities being committed against the people of Myanmar, there has also been a restriction and weaponization of aid meant to assist the population. The plight of children in Myanmar is of particular concern, as highlighted in a recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar. Thailand, Bangladesh, Malaysia, India, and Indonesia are some of the countries that an increasingly desperate population is seeking refuge in. However, even in these countries, the reception is not always warm, and increasingly borders are being closed on these refugees.

In particular, the situation of the Rohingya must be highlighted – of the 600,000 estimated Rohingya in Rakhine state, they remain at immense risk, and are subject to detention and arrest, restrictions on movement, as well as other violations. Those who have fled to Bangladesh and are in refugee camps are increasingly desperate due to the lack of access to employment, education and movement. Many have taken to the seas to reach other countries, hoping for better conditions and third-country relocation. The ongoing legal proceedings – at the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and an Argentinian Court – have been spearheaded by the Rohingya, and there is a long road ahead for all these efforts. The most recent development was the 22 July 2022 judgment of the ICJ on preliminary objections raised to its jurisdiction – the Court has dismissed these objections, and the case is now moving forward to the merits phase – an important milestone.    

With the coup and the ongoing atrocities, the sense of absolute impunity for the military is difficult to shake. There seems to be very little in terms of compliance with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ‘Five-Point Consensus’. The UN Security Council has not taken concrete action against Myanmar, and seems content to ignore the crimes being committed which should have resulted in a wider referral to the International Criminal Court.

This symposium is now in its third year. In 2021, the focus was “The Current Crisis in Myanmar: Legal Implications” – to highlight the multiple crises in Myanmar: the 2021 military coup and the commission of mass atrocities by the security forces, a devastating Covid-19 pandemic, armed conflicts in various parts of Myanmar, the continued marginalization of many minorities, and proceedings at international courts related to the Rohingya. In 2020, it was titled “The Impact and Implications of International Law: Myanmar and the Rohingya” during which various aspects of the legal developments related to the Rohingya were canvassed. In this year, given the context – an escalating crisis, being forgotten by the international community – we seek to refocus attention on Myanmar and some of the aspects that we should be reflecting on, and acting upon.

A list of contributions is listed below, with links:

Savita Pawnday, No Time to Wait: Taking Steps to Address Impunity Five Years since the Rohingya Genocide,

Antonia Mulvey, Rohingya Women are Leading the Fight for Accountability for International Crimes,

Zaw Win, Why the NUG and Bangladesh Must Now Take a Stand for the Rights of the Rohingya,

Laetitia van den Assum, Five Years on: Reflections on the Myanmar Military’s Murderous Campaign to Drive 750,000 Rohingya Into Bangladesh,

Matthew Smith, The Rohingya Genocide – Warning Signs, International Inaction, and Missteps,

Melanie O’Brien, The Slow Turning Wheels of Justice – Even for Genocide,

Jennifer Keene-McCann and Aakash Chandran, Rethinking Accountability – Centering Accountability in Asia: Universal Jurisdiction, Grave Breaches, and Cautious Optimism,

Raquel Saavedra and Kingsley Abbott, Support for Lawyers in Myanmar Remains Paramount Since the Coup,

Caroline Stover and Michael Altman-Lupu, A Deeper Dive Into International Criminal Liability for Internet Shutdowns – The Case of Myanmar, Part 1 and Part 2.

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