Justice is the only answer to Myanmar’s bloody military rule | Opinions

Exactly one year ago, on February 1, the Myanmar military launched a coup and opened another bloody chapter in my country’s history. Since then, the junta has driven the state to the brink of collapse and committed widespread atrocities. There is now only one way to break this cycle of abuse: seek international justice mechanisms that can hold those responsible to account.

Over the past 12 months, there has been a steady stream of horrific news from Myanmar as more than 1,500 people have been killed in protest crackdowns and massacres. In a recent incident on Christmas Eve, the army massacred some 35 people – including women and children and two charity workers – in Kayah state. Thousands more have been arrested while the junta routinely uses torture against those who protest against its rule.

At the same time, the economy suffered a severe decline, while health and education services came to a halt. While General-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the junta, harbors illusions about the introduction of new electric trains to expand national public transport, the rest of the country is suffering from crippling daily power cuts.

In Rakhine State, the Rohingya minority continue to face ongoing genocide and live in what amounts to an open prison. The junta arrested Rohingya who tried to flee to Bangladesh and imposed even stricter restrictions on freedom of movement. Many are also caught in the crossfire in the simmering conflict between the army and the armed group of the Arakan Army.

If there is a silver lining to the coup, however small, it is the renewed sense of inter-ethnic solidarity. As a Rohingya, I have often been abused when I posted on social media about crimes committed by the military in the past. Now, however, I get support, understanding and even apologies from those who used to spew hatred against the Rohingya. People have understood that the army is our common enemy.

The Tatmadaw, as the army is known in the country, has terrorized the people of Myanmar for decades, committing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. They did so with impunity, knowing that their crimes would have no consequences. This is why we need the international community to step in and deliver justice. Fortunately, real progress has been made in this direction in recent years.

In 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that it was opening an investigation into crimes against humanity committed by the Tatmadaw against the Rohingya. Around the same time, The Gambia took a genocide case against Myanmar to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Both processes are ongoing, giving hope to the army’s many casualties.

Last year, Argentina’s judiciary also agreed to take up a landmark genocide case against Myanmar’s military rulers. The case, which my own organization BROUK first argued, is based on the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, according to which certain crimes are so horrific that they can be tried anywhere in the world, regardless of where they took place. The process has only just begun, but we hope that ultimately Min Aung Hlaing and his cronies will answer for their crimes in court.

It is also encouraging that many civilian leaders in Myanmar, who previously rejected any attempt to bring military criminals to justice, now see the need to hold the Tatmadaw to account. The government of national unity, set up following the coup, said it would cooperate with international justice mechanisms. Myanmar is unanimous in wanting to see its executioners in military fatigues behind bars.

There is also no doubt that Tatmadaw leaders are getting more and more nervous as the net tightens around them. In December, an order was leaked to the media in which military leaders warned any member of their personnel against responding to letters from international justice bodies or the Argentine Federal Court.

But as justice seems increasingly within reach, the international community can and must do much more. The United Nations Security Council has been deadlocked for years as China continues to veto motions on Myanmar. Its members must stop putting politics above people’s lives and endorse a full referral of the situation in Myanmar to the ICC.

At the same time, other states should follow the example of Canada and the Netherlands, which have both promised to support The Gambia’s case before the ICJ. Finally, countries should also follow our example in Argentina and seek to open universal jurisdiction cases themselves, which is also encouraged by the UN’s own human rights experts. The recent conviction in Germany of a Syrian officer for crimes against humanity shows that this is a process that can deliver justice.

A year ago, the Tatmadaw plunged Myanmar into crisis by seizing power in a coup, continuing its decades-long terror against its people. The world must now show the Tatmadaw that it is united against its crimes and that there is nowhere for those responsible to hide. The people of Myanmar have suffered for too long and deserve nothing less than justice.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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