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‘Increasingly brazen’ war crimes evident in Myanmar, reports Independent Mechanism

These include indiscriminate attacks on civilians from aerial bombing, mass executions of civilians and detained combatants, and large-scale and intentional burning of civilian homes and buildings, resulting in the destruction of entire villages in some cases, the Mechanism said in a news release.

“Every loss of life in Myanmar is tragic, but the devastation caused to whole communities through aerial bombardments and village burnings is particularly shocking,” said Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the Mechanism.

He was referring to the military airstrike in Sagaing in April 2023 that reportedly killed more than 155 people.

“Our evidence points to a dramatic increase in war crimes and crimes against humanity in the country, with widespread and systematic attacks against civilians, and we are building case files that can be used by courts to hold individual perpetrators responsible,” Mr. Koumjian added.

Responsibility of military commanders

The Mechanism underscored that preventing and penalizing war crimes perpetrated by subordinates is an obligation of military commanders; and failure to fulfill this responsibility could render the commanders criminally liable under international law.  

“Repeatedly ignoring such crimes may indicate that the higher authorities intended the commission of these crimes,” it noted.

In its investigations into the most serious international crimes committed in Myanmar, the Mechanism collected information from over 700 sources, including more than 200 eyewitness accounts, as well as additional evidence such as photographs, videos, audio material, documents, maps, geospatial imagery, social media posts and forensic evidence.

Investigating violence against the Rohingya

The Mechanism continues to actively investigate the violence that led to the large-scale displacement of the Rohingya from Myanmar in 2016 and 2017. In particular, the report stressed the prevalence of sexual and gender-based crimes committed against the Rohingya at the time.

“Sexual and gender-based crimes are amongst the most heinous crimes that we are investigating,” said Mr. Koumjian.

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“These were so pervasive during the Rohingya clearance operations that most witnesses we have interviewed have relevant evidence about this.”

The Mechanism is sharing evidence, information, and analytical reports with those working on ongoing cases concerning the Rohingya at the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and in Argentina.

The Independent Mechanism

The Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar was created by the UN Human Rights Council in 2018 and became operational in August 2019.

It is mandated to collect evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law and prepare files for criminal prosecution, making use of the information handed over to it by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

The Mechanism is composed of impartial and experienced professional and administrative personnel. It does not have its own police force nor its own prosecutors or judges.

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