UN Expert Chris Sidoti on Potential Decision to Designate Myanmar Crisis ‘Genocide’

The UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar released a report last month pointing to the human rights violations committed by government authorities on Rohingya populations in the country. The report finds that “concrete and overwhelming information points to international crimes” which warrant immediate international attention.

RWI spoke with Chris Sidoti, one of the three experts on the fact-finding mission, who also joined for a Q&A after the screening of The Venerable W at the Swedish Human Rights Film Festival. The Venerable W is a documentary about one of the most well-known Buddhist monks stirring ethnic hatred against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

The UN report focuses on developments in the Rakhine state since 2011, yet the findings of the report are symptomatic of a broader pattern of violence occurring throughout Myanmar.

“One thing that is clear to us already is that there are distinctive features of Rakhine, particularly the issue of citizenship for the Rohingya people and the intensity of what has happened since August of last year,” says Sidoti. “But in other respects, what is happening in Rakhine is similar to what is happening and what has been happening in other parts of Myanmar.”

A final report to be released this September will address whether or not the actions committed in Myanmar amount to genocide once the legal analysis has been conducted using the findings of the recent report, Sidoti explains.

“We face the challenge of producing a final report that convinces the readers as much as we are convinced as the writers,” says Sidoti. “So far as we are concerned, what has happened in Rakhine state in particular is now beyond deniable, but our final report has to be utterly convincing in going through all the evidence that has convinced us of that fact and arguing the legal case whatever it may be.”

To be labelled ‘genocide,’ the UN report has to find the existence of specific intent, the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such,” as defined by the UN Genocide Convention.

Sidoti explains that the international community must take strong action regardless of whether the Myanmar crisis is designated as genocide in the September report. Determining and ensuring accountability despite weak international enforcement mechanisms is one of these crucial steps.

“Whatever we find on the issue of crimes under international law – there is no doubt that we will be making findings about crimes perpetrated in Myanmar – the perpetrators need to be held responsible,” says Sidoti. “This is where the international system today has been very weak. We are very good at identifying criminal events but we are not very good at holding perpetrators accountable.”

Individual countries also have obligations before the UN issues its final report, Sidoti argues, in terms of displaced Rohingya populations. Bangladesh, where 900 to 1000 Rohingya refugees are arriving weekly, needs support from the international community as it does not have the capacity to continue to adequately provide for refugees.

“Other countries are entitled to support, and Bangladesh as a nation is entitled to support from the international community,” says Sidoti. “There is a genuine humanitarian crisis at hand that needs to be addressed immediately. The international community needs to make it clear to the Myanmar government that further human rights violations will not be tolerated.”

Sidoti stressed the importance of preventing future violence and human right violations against the Rohingya community and finding ways of protecting the human rights of ethnic minorities throughout the country.

“The international community needs to take steps towards preventing these types of things in the future – ending violence in Myanmar as a whole and enabling the people of Myanmar no matter what religious or ethnic community they come from to be able to have futures in which human rights can be fully enjoyed,” says Sidoti.

RWI has had engagement in Myanmar since 2011 working with the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission as well as with universities on human rights education since 2014.

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