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U.N. Human Rights Probe: Top Myanmar Generals Should Face Genocide Charges


UN human rights investigators say they think the top generals in Myanmar should be tried for genocide. The investigators are calling on the UN Security Council to move swiftly and get the International Criminal Court involved. Their report goes into details about the atrocities carried out against Rohingya Muslims in an ethnic cleansing campaign that began a year ago. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The UN human rights experts pored over satellite imagery, videos and photographs and interviewed 875 people to come to their conclusion that the military had genocidal intent when it carried out attacks against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's Rakhine state. They call it a human rights catastrophe with widespread sexual violence and mass killings. One of the authors, Christopher Sidoti, says six top generals should be prosecuted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

CHRISTOPHER SIDOTI: There is no doubt in our minds whatsoever that what we saw happen in Rakhine as a whole would not have happened without it, firstly, being within the knowledge of the senior military leadership and, secondly, under their effective control. And it's because of the clarity of the chain of command in Myanmar that we have recommended the investigation and prosecution of these six.

KELEMEN: The investigators also say that the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi has blocked investigations. Here's another panel member, Radhika Coomaraswamy.

RADHIKA COOMARASWAMY: We just feel that the Nobel Prize winner has such moral authority. Perhaps she should act.

KELEMEN: The U.S. has been waiting for that too, according to Akshaya Kumar of Human Rights Watch.

AKSHAYA KUMAR: There's been an effort in Washington to really tread softly and try to give her the space to let Aung San Suu Kyi do the right thing. And unfortunately, she just hasn't.

KELEMEN: Human rights experts have been raising concerns about the fate of Muslim Rohingya and other minorities in Myanmar for decades. Last year, after Rohingya rebels attacked police stations, the military stepped up a brutal campaign against the Rohingya. Hundreds of thousands have since fled to neighboring Bangladesh. The UN Security Council is expected to discuss this Tuesday. But Kumar, who follows the UN for Human Rights Watch, is not expecting much.

KUMAR: It doesn't look like they're going to take any action after this meeting. It might just be one of those sessions where people talk a good game but don't follow things up. And that's what we're really seeking to change.

KELEMEN: Groups like hers want the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on top generals in Myanmar and stop arms sales to the country. Daniel Sullivan of another advocacy group, Refugees International, also wants to see the Trump administration speak up.

DANIEL SULLIVAN: What really has been lacking is further measures of targeted sanctions, referral to the International Criminal Court or, really, at the - right at the base is a lack of leadership from the top. I mean, this is one of the worst crimes that we've seen in our generation, and we haven't heard anything from the president. So we don't feel that leadership and pressure from the United States, and that's been really disappointing.

KELEMEN: So far, the U.S. has stopped short of calling this a genocide. And the State Department has not yet released its own report on the mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar. The Treasury Department has imposed some targeted sanctions on four military and border guard commanders, but not on all the top generals that the UN human rights experts say should be tried for genocide. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.