Will those presiding over the killings of Rohingya children ever face justice?
The report makes for horrifying reading: in the first month of violence after the Rohingya were targeted by Myanmar's military, at least 6,700 people died in brutal circumstances, among them hundreds of children who were burned and beaten to death or shot. The figures from the humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), taken from camps in Bangladesh where nearly 640,000 Rohingya fled to escape, confirm the very worst suspicions: that the Myanmar authorities' official claim of no more than 400 deaths was at best grossly underestimated and at worst, a blatant lie. The country's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who originally claimed the number of deaths was less than 100, has blithely dismissed those killed as terrorists and insurgents. The revelation from MSF, which says one in 10 of those killed were children under the age of five, puts paid to that despicable deception. Of at least 730 babies and toddlers killed in the massacre, 430 were shot, 109 were burned alive and 51 were beaten to death. The reality on the ground is most likely even more bleak. As the report states, "the data does not account for those people who have not yet been able to flee Myanmar or for families who were killed in their entirety".
There is now a substantial body of evidence to take a case against Myanmar’s authorities to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Last month, 22 years after Bosnian-Serb forces murdered more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the Srebrenica massacre, Ratko Mladic was finally brought to justice and convicted of war crimes in The Hague. But since Naypyidaw has not ratified the Rome Statute, a case can only proceed if all five members of the UN Security Council approve it. Myanmar’s government is counting on China to shield it, just as the butchers of Bosnia once counted on Russia to protect them.
Yet there has still been no proper internal investigation of the atrocities in Myanmar, nor has Ms Suu Kyi appeared repentant on the back of damning evidence of mass killings. Three weeks ago Myanmar signed a pact with Bangladesh for the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya but there has, as yet, been no indication of how and when that will happen and what protection they will be given. It is futile for the international community to repose any hope in Ms Suu Kyi. Even more concerning is MSF's warning that the treaty is "premature" and that "Rohingya should not be forced to return and their safety and rights need to be guaranteed before any such plans can be seriously considered". Will those who presided, and are still presiding, over the killings of the Rohingya ever face justice? The MSF report freights that question with unavoidable urgency.
Follow The National's Opinion section on Twitter
Published: December 14, 2017 07:46 PM