Two former soldiers from Myanmar admitted to taking part in the killing of up to 180 Rohingya men, women and children during a crackdown on the Muslim minority in 2017, a prominent rights group said Tuesday, September 8, releasing explosive testimony that is unprecedented as it comes from onetime members of the deeply secretive military.
In video testimony obtained by NGO Fortify Rights, Private Myo Win Tun said he executed people during operations that started in August 2017 in northern Rakhine state and that one of his commanders ordered soldiers to “exterminate all kalar,” a derogatory reference to Muslims in Myanmar. He also admitted to rape.
Private Zaw Naing Tun, 30, confessed to taking part in dozens of killings, including elderly people, and burying bodies in mass graves. Altogether, both men said they took part in coordinated rampages with other soldiers that left up to 180 Rohingya dead. The testimonies were recorded in July by the Arakan Army, a local insurgent group that has been fighting against the Myanmar military for more than a year in a quest for more autonomy for Rakhine Buddhists.
United Nations investigators have called for Myanmar’s top generals to face prosecution on genocide charges for the military campaign against the Rohingya in late 2017, when thousands were believed killed and 740,000 fled over the border to Bangladesh. Myanmar has admitted that some atrocities took place, but refutes the genocide allegation, and says its soldiers were acting mostly in self-defence against Rohingya militants.
Various legal efforts to hold Myanmar accountable are in the works, including a case filed by the Gambia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). But the testimonies could add more momentum to the calls and strengthen legal cases, especially if the former soldiers testify in future trials.
They turned themselves over to authorities at the border in Bangladesh and Fortify Rights believes they are in custody at the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is looking into its own investigation of atrocities against Rohingya.
“This is a huge development,” Matthew Smith, co-founder of Fortify, told VICE News. Fortify said the testimonies align with others it documented in northern Rakhine state.
“In the history of the ICC, no one from Myanmar has ever been in the court's custody, and now we have two perpetrators who may also become insider witnesses. This demonstrates what we’ve known all along, that the Tatmadaw is not untouchable or immune from the wheels of international justice. This isn’t going to go away. The wheels of justice are cranking forward.”
Payam Akhavan, international legal counsel for Bangladesh, told the Canadian Broadcast Corporation that two Myanmar nationals did come to the border last month and sought protection. He did not divulge their names or confirm they were the same men as in the video but did say they were no longer in Bangladesh.
"There are numerous such individuals who have participated in mass atrocities," he said.