The UN on Tuesday appointed a three-member team to investigate alleged abuses by security forces against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
The fact-finding mission will be led by prominent Indian lawyer Indira Jaising, Sri Lankan lawyer Radhika Coomaraswamy, and Australian human rights consultant Christopher Dominic Sidoti, according to a statement from the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) on Tuesday.
Myanmar’s military has been accused of killing and raping Rohingya Muslims, a persecuted minority group, in a crackdown in Northern Rakhine state in western Myanmar last year.
“We expect the mission members to meet in Geneva in the coming weeks to determine their initial course of action – the strategy, methodology and fact-finding approach they will employ in discharging their mandate,” Rolando Gomez, a HRC spokesperson, told Al Jazeera via email.
“The three members will be supported by a team of human rights specialists in Geneva.”
The mission will present an oral mandate to the UN in September and a full report in March 2018.
The UN adopted a resolution to set up an independent, international mission in March. It was brought by the European Union and supported by other countries including the US to “ensure full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims”.
Some countries including Myanmar, China, India, and Cuba did not support the resolution.
‘Much to hide’
Rohingya Muslims, stripped of their citizenship in 1982, are often referred to as “illegal” immigrants by Myanmar’s leaders. About 1.1 million Rohingya are denied citizenship and their movement is severely restricted, with tens of thousands confined to camps in Bangladesh since violence drove them from their homes in 2012 and more recently.
Around 75,000 people have fled Rakhine state since the military began a security operation last October in response to what it claims was an attack by Rohingya armed men on border posts, in which nine police officers were killed.
Myanmar has staunchly opposed a UN Commission of Inquiry into alleged abuses. It is not yet clear if the UN team will be granted access to Rakhine, or even be permitted to land in Myanmar.
“As in all such cases, the mission members will make it a priority to reach out to and engage constructively with [Myanmar’s] government and other relevant interlocutors. It remains the hope of the HRC that the mission will be facilitated by the government through unfettered access to the affected areas,” Gomez said.
In February, a UN report, based on interviews with Rohingya refugees, accused Myanmar’s security forces of carrying out mass rapes and killings, possibility amounting to crimes against humanity.
“Minorities all over the world are facing persecution. The situation of the Rohingya community in Myanmar is especially deplorable because they face the risk of a genocide,” Indira Jaising, heading the UN mission, told Al Jazeera by telephone.
“We are hoping that our recommendations will make an impact and awaken the conscience of the international community,” she said.
The UN team will also look into allegations of arbitrary detention, torture and inhuman treatment, enforced disappearances, forced displacement and unlawful destruction of property by security forces, according to the UN’s statement.
A widely discredited army-led report on the crackdown published earlier this month found no abuses had been committed.
“It is unsurprising that Myanmar has rejected a UN probe. Criminals rarely wish for scrutiny of what they have been doing and what is going on in Myanmar is criminal state-led bloodshed on a gargantuan scale,” said Priyamvada Gopal, an author and academic who has written about Rohingya Muslims, via an email to Al Jazeera.
“What that does tell us is, of course there is much to hide.”
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies