Why is Myanmar investigating custodial deaths?


February 22, 2017


According to a report by Reuters, the home ministry is investigating a cover-up by the country's border force of the deaths in custody of two Rohingya Muslims. If proven true, the internal document is the first official admission of serious wrongdoing by security forces.

However Rohingya activists on the ground are understandably taking the news with a pinch of salt. During the two month orgy of violence, it is unimaginable the country’s home ministry which is overseen by the Tatmadaw, the very institution that led the atrocities did not know what was going on.

As the news agency points out in the same report, the cause for these investigations can be attributed to an international outcry which the generals did not expect.

Myanmar’s crackdown drew a wave of international condemnation especially from Muslim countries as brutalities mobilised mass support for the Rohingya cause in Muslim communities.

Myanmar's presidential office, military and police forces have each set up teams to probe allegations of atrocities.

Reuters say this set the scene for “a behind-the-scenes tussle over who will be held accountable, … and the army and police were trying to blame each other for alleged atrocities.”

Our sources on the ground say both the Tatmadaw and Hlun Htein committed widespread abuses which included throwing children into fire, and bayonetting civilians including women and children to death, as well as using heavy weapons at residential areas which did not represent a threat to the attacking forces. However, it was the army officers who led the offensives.

Under such circumstances, activists say there will be little effort to identify and punish the true penetrators of the violence as the orders came from the very people who are the real rulers of Myanmar, and as might be added, the people leading the investigation. At best, there will be a few sacrificial lambs, that may try to act as an eyewash for the international community.

According to Charles Sanitago, Malaysian parliamentarian and a member of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, “the Myanmar government’s repeated denials of rights violations demonstrate that Naypyitaw has no interest in resolving the situation or addressing underlying issues. The fact that security forces have been tasked with investigating themselves and rooting out abusers in their own ranks speaks for itself. There isn’t even a half-hearted attempt at impartiality or independence.”

Incidentally hundreds of Rohingyas have been reported missing, all of them likely to have been arrested and tortured by security forces in custody. In some instances, prisoners have had their eyes gouged out and hands cut off from the wrists, according to our sources.

The report by Reuters may be accessed at http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-myanmar-rohingya-police-idUKKBN1601OJ