British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt defended Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s ‘difficult position’ over the Rohingya crisis on Thursday, even as he warned that the world would not rest until the persecuted minority received justice.
Britain may back the referral of Burma to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Mr Hunt confirmed, after returning from a visit to Rakhine state, the centre of a brutal military campaign of murder, mass rape and arson that drove more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh.
Describing an ongoing “climate of fear” in the state, he stated that “Burma needs to know that the international community won’t let it rest.”
The country is facing increasing international pressure to face accountability for crimes committed against the Rohingya, including a call from United Nations investigators for Burma’s top generals to be tried for genocide.
Yangon has set up its own independent commission to address the army’s actions.
“If we don’t see that process happening, we will use all the tools at our disposal to make sure there is justice… the world is watching,” Hunt said after a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, which he described as “lively” and “frank”.
Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar in what UN describes as ‘genocide’
Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar in what UN describes as ‘genocide’ Credit: AFP
In a later question and answer session with the public on Twitter, he added: “If there is not going to be accountability and justice in Burma then the international community needs to look at all options including ICC referral.”
But Mr Hunt also rallied to the defence of Ms Suu Kyi, in a departure from the growing global condemnation of the Nobel peace prize winner for her failure to take action.
“Unfortunately, she doesn’t control the military,” he told his Twitter followers. “They have a constitution which is halfway towards a democracy and the military are not accountable to her and are able to act with impunity. So we have to understand the difficulty of her position.”
Others who have investigated the cruelty inflicted on the Rohingya have not been so lenient on Ms Suu Kyi.
Chris Sidoti, an Australian lawyer who co-authored a searing United Nations report on atrocities against the Rohingya, told The Telegraph last week that the former human rights heroine as acted as a “fig leaf” for the military “by dismissing the overwhelming number of reports of mass rape as fake.”
The full, stomach-churning details of the UN’s 440-page report were unveiled in Geneva on Tuesday, outlining depraved acts of inhumanity that included massacres of entire villages, children being burned alive and women tied to trees then raped.
The evidence warrants the charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, UN investigators said.
In an interview, Mr Sidoti welcomed Mr Hunt’s upcoming trip to Burma and urged world leaders to visit the country to persuade the country to cooperate with international investigations and address the impunity of the army.
While an ICC referral may not receive the necessary approval of the UN Secretary Council, prosecutions could proceed through a specialised criminal tribunal or an individual country exercising its rights to universal jurisdiction, he said.
Newly arrived Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar prepare to leave a transit shelter in Shahparirdwip, Bangladesh
Newly arrived Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar prepare to leave a transit shelter in Shahparirdwip, Bangladesh Credit: AP
Throughout his visit, Mr Hunt stressed that Rohingya refugees sheltering in Bangladesh could not safely return home until they saw “a proper judicial process, accountability and justice for the perpetrators of atrocities.”
Australia added its voice to the building global outrage this week, condemning the crimes described in the UN report in the “strongest terms” and announcing that it was considering “targetted sanctions.”
The US House of Representatives also said that it was examining action needed to stop the violence. “Evidence of Burma’s genocide against the Rohingya continues to grow,” said Ed Royce, chairman of the House foreign affairs committee.