Burma Campaign UK today called on the international community to focus pressure on Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing, head of the Burmese military, to halt attacks against Rohingya civilians.
“There is only one person in Burma who can order the soldiers to stop killing Rohingya civilians and stop burning down villages, that person is Min Aung Hlaing,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “Since his soldiers started the new offensive he has faced no direct pressure or criticism from the international community.”
Since attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on 25th August killed members of the police, military and government staff, the military has responded with a military offensive targeting Rohingya civilians indiscriminately.
Government and military restrictions on media access make establishing facts very difficult, but Rohingya sources which are usually reliable believe that definitely hundreds and probably more than 1,000 people have been killed. They also estimate more than 10,000 homes destroyed. Reports are also starting to emerge of rape, torture and other human rights violations.
The military offensive appears similar to the one which began in October 2016, but appears larger in scale with a more concerted effort to destroy all structures. The October 2016 offensive led the United Nations to conclude potential crimes against humanity had taken place and that resulted in the UN Human Rights Council establishing a Fact-Finding Mission to investigate what had taken place in Rakhine State and in Shan and Kachin States where the military is also targeting ethnic civilians.
The international community needs to personally name Min Aung Hlaing when making calls for restraint or an end to abuses. He needs to feel personal pressure and be named and shamed for his actions.
Despite Min Aung Hlaing leading a military which is being investigated by the United Nations for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, blocking constitutional reform to make Burma more democratic, and being the biggest obstacle in the peace process, he receives remarkably little attention and direct criticism. Instead of being treated as a pariah, he is being given red carpet treatment internationally. Last year he was invited by the EU to a prestigious meeting of heads of European military forces. It was followed by a visit to Italy where he was taken to visit factories of military suppliers. Earlier this year he visited Austria and Germany where again he visited suppliers of military equipment, and was offered training for his army by both governments.
The British government has also been providing free training to the military, which cost £305,000 in the last financial year. 13 military officers have visited the UK so far this year, all at taxpayers expense.
Min Aung Hlaing has recently enjoyed red carpet treatment on visits to India and Japan, even meeting their Prime Ministers, not a normal diplomatic event for an army head.
There is no easy way to pressure the Min Aung Hlaing to end the attacks but any method of applying pressure that can be tried should be tried, a process of adding straws to the camel’s back. What is clear is the current approach of friendship, cooperation and soft engagement is spectacularly failing to have any impact on reducing human rights violations which break international law. Instead they are increasing exponentially.
There must be engagement with the military but it must be critical engagement. Governments should stop providing training and stop military to military co-operation.
Visa bans could be imposed on senior military figures, with exceptions made only for meetings specifically to promote human rights and democracy.
There should not just be a global arms embargo against the military, but governments should also stop companies supplying any kind of equipment to the military.
Countries should also consider banning investments with and business partnerships with military owned companies.
“European and other governments need to stop looking at Min Aung Hlaing and his military as potential customers for military equipment and start looking at them as criminals who belong behind bars,” said Mark Farmaner. “Min Aung Hlaing is the biggest obstacle to improving human rights and democratic reform in Burma. His soldiers are slaughtering civilians. Min Aung Hlaing should be an international pariah, known for commanding an army which shoots unarmed civilians, cuts the throats of babies and uses mass rape.”