Rohingya refugees arrive to the Bangladeshi side of the Naf River after crossing the border from Myanmar, in Palang Khali, Bangladesh, October 16, 2017 Image Credit: Reuters

Geneva: United Nations investigators on Monday called for an international probe and prosecution of Myanmar's army chief and five other top military commanders for genocide against the country's Rohingya minority.

Some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled northern Rakhine state to Bangladesh after Myanmar launched a brutal crackdown in August last year on insurgents amid accounts of arson, murder and rape at the hands of soldiers and vigilante mobs in the mainly Buddhist country.

A Rohingya child stands on a bamboo fence overlooking an expanse of makeshift bamboo and tarp shelters at Kutupalong refugee camp , where they have been living amid uncertainty over their future after they fled Myanmar to escape violence a year ago, in Bangladesh. AP

Myanmar has vehemently denied allegations of ethnic cleansing, insisting it was responding to attacks by Rohingya rebels.


But on Monday, a UN-backed fact-finding mission into violations in Myanmar said the country's "top military generals, including Commander-in-Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, must be investigated and prosecuted for genocide in the north of Rakhine State."

"Myanmar's top military generals, including Commander-in-Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, must be investigated and prosecuted for genocide in the north of Rakhine State, as well as for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States," a UN-backed fact-finding mission said.

Facebook bans army pages and profiles

The investigators also highlighted the role Facebook had played, describing it as "a useful instrument for those seeking to spread hate". The social media company plays an outsized role in a country that has only recently come online and boasts 18 million accounts among the population of around 50 million people.

"Although improved in recent months, Facebook's response has been slow and ineffective," the report said, calling for an independent investigation of the extent to which posts and messages on the platform had "led to real-world discrimination and violence".

Facebook banned Myanmar's army chief and removed other pages tied to the country's military on Monday after a UN probe called for him to be prosecuted for genocide over a crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.

"We are banning 20 Burmese individuals and organizations from Facebook - including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the armed forces," the social media giant said in a statement on its site, adding that it wants to prevent them from using the service to "further inflame ethnic and religious tensions".

Rape used as war tactic

They also found that soldiers had carried out "large-scale gang rape", sometimes of as many as 40 girls and women at once, in at least 10 Rakhine villages.

"The scale, brutality and systematic nature of these violations indicate that rape and sexual violence are part of a deliberate strategy to intimidate, terrorise or punish a civilian population, and are used as a tactic of war," the report said.

Myanmar's Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar armed forces. AFP

Warning that "impunity is deeply entrenched in Myanmar's political and legal system," the investigators insisted the only chance of obtaining accountability was through the international justice system.

They called on the UN Security Council to refer the Myanmar situation to the International Criminal Court, or for an ad hoc international criminal tribunal to be created.

They also recommended an arms embargo and "targeted individual sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible."

Aung San Suu Kyi

Criticism was also directed at Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has been the target of global vitriol for a perceived failure to stand up for the stateless minority.

The report found that she had "not used her de facto position as head of government, nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events."

While acknowledging that she and other civilian authorities had little influence on military actions, it said that they "through their acts and omissions ... have contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes."

857 victims interviewed

Myanmar never permitted the UN investigators access to the country, but they said that in the course of their investigation they had interviewed 857 victims and eyewitnesses, and had used satellite imagery and authenticated documents, photographs and videos as a basis to reach their conclusions.

Rohingya refugees arrive to the Bangladeshi side of the Naf River after crossing the border from Myanmar, in Palang Khali, Bangladesh. Reuters

The report detailed a horrifying list of atrocities committed against the Rohingya, including murder, enforced disappearance, torture, as well as rape and other sexual violence "perpetrated on a massive scale."

Information collected by the investigators suggested that an estimate by the Doctors Without Borders charity that up to 10,000 Rohingya had been killed in the 2017 crackdown was "conservative", the report said.