GENEVA (AN) — A U.N. expert panel returned from Bangladesh where they and other human rights investigators have been gathering evidence of what they describe as a military-planned campaign of genocide against Myanmar's Rohingya people.
As part of a year-long investigation, the panel of three independent experts spent five days in Bangladesh meeting newly arrived Rohingya refugees from Myanmar's northern Rakhine State.
Christopher Sidoti, a former Australian Human Rights Commissioner, said the panel found widespread and "profound" suffering among 700,000 Rohingya Muslims that fled to Bangladesh last year after suffering a campaign of mass killings, rape and destruction in villages of the Rakhine State.
“Unfortunately, the patterns of violence seen since last year are not unique to Rakhine State," he said. "They correspond to patterns of violations against ethnic and religious minorities in general in Myanmar."
OHCHR said it is focused on allegations that Myanmar's military and security forces committed serious human rights abuses since 2011, including killings, torture, sexual and gender based violence, forced labor, arbitrarily taking away people's freedom and the use of hate speech.
The findings of the investigation, which is supported by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR, will be given to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva next September.
Ahead of the fact-finding mission's report, Fortify Rights, an international organization based in Switzerland and the United States that focuses on Southeast Asia, reported evidence of a military-led campaign of genocide against the Rohingya.
Fortify Rights named 22 military and police officers that it said were responsible for a genocidal campaign and recommended that the 15-nation U.N. Security Council refer the officers for prosecution before the International Criminal Court, or ICC, at The Hague, Netherlands.
"Myanmar authorities made extensive and systematic preparations for the commission of mass atrocity crimes against indigenous Rohingya civilians during the weeks and months before Rohingya-militant attacks on August 25, 2017," according to the 162-page report.
The report was based on testimony from more than 250 survivors, workers and officials collected over 21 months of investigation. It begins with a reminder of what the U.N. Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, or OSAPG, has emphasized: Genocide and crimes against humanity are “processes that take time to plan, coordinate and implement."
In May, Human Rights Watch said the Security Council should immediately refer Myanmar's "widespread and systematic abuses against ethnic Rohingya," to the ICC, which was created to be the world’s first permanent tribunal for prosecuting war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney general who chairs the U.N. panel investigating Myanmar, said many of the victims they spoke with in the Bangladeshi coastal town of Cox's Bazar were suffering and worried about their future.
The panel spoke with Rohingya refugees in Kutupalong, the world's biggest refugee camp. More than 1 million people live there, facing challenges that multiply during Bangladesh's monsoon season.
Another panel member, Radhika Coomaraswamy of Sri Lanka, who formerly was a special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, said she spoke with young men who complained of being detained and tortured and showed signs of "deep trauma."