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Myanmar Military Should be Held Accountable For Their Genocide Against the Rohingya, But Probably Wo

Yesterday a court in Myanmar sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison for violating a state secrets act while investigating atrocities committed by Myanmar's military in September 2017 against the Rohingya minority. The trial was meant to warn other journalists against such reporting as authorities attempt to cover up the extent of their genocide against the Rohingya.

The global reaction was swift:

The BBC: "We are extremely disappointed by this verdict," Britain's ambassador to Myanmar, Dan Chugg, said according to Reuters.

"US ambassador Scot Marciel echoed the same criticism, saying the court's decision was "deeply troubling for everybody who has struggled so hard here for media freedom".

"The UN's resident and humanitarian co-ordinator in Myanmar, Knut Ostby, said the UN had "consistently called for the release" of the journalists and that "a free press is essential for peace, justice and human rights for all. We are disappointed by today's court decision".

The sentencing came just days after the United Nations released a report detailing atrocities in Myanmar and calling for military leaders to face genocide charges.

New York Times: Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the commander in chief of Myanmar’s army, is one of six generals named as priority subjects for investigation and prosecution by a United Nations Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar in a report detailing military campaigns involving atrocities that “undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law.”

"The three-member panel leveled the most serious charge, genocide, over the ferocious campaign unleashed by the Buddhist-majority security forces against Rohingya Muslims a year ago. That campaign, in the state of Rakhine, sent more than 700,000 fleeing across the border to Bangladesh."

"The panel said the United Nations Security Council should refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or set up an international tribunal like those that investigated genocide and atrocities in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. It also urged the Council to impose an arms embargo on Myanmar and penalize those most responsible for crimes with travel bans and a freeze on assets."

The problem, however, is that the UN Security Council is unlikely to act against Myanmar. It only takes one permanent member of the Security Council to veto such action and there are several who may not support a referral to the International Criminal Court.

CNN quoting Aaron Connelly, a research fellow in the East Asia Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney: "Myanmar's main ally in the Security Council is China, and China has long defended the once isolated regime while the rest of the world has tried to sanction Myanmar's generals over the years for their political persecution of democracy activists, including in the past, [Myanmar's leader] Aung San Suu Kyi herself."

"Russia has often sided with China against the other members of the Council."

"Yet the administration of US President Trump, in particular his national security adviser John Bolton, is also unwilling to refer cases to the International Criminal Court because of the precedent it would set."

"The US mission to the UN has made it known that they're not going to make any ICC referrals at least as long as the prosecutors seek to investigate US war crimes in Afghanistan," noted Connelly. "John Bolton is also Enemy No.1 of the ICC, and has let it be known that there won't be any referrals as long as he's the national security adviser."

The probable outcome, then, is that the international community will continue to condemn Myanmar, without taking concrete steps to bring anyone to justice.

Photo credit: Anna Dubuis/DFID

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