Human rights groups poured scorn on Tuesday on a Myanmar military investigation into alleged atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, branding it a “whitewash” and calling for U.N. and independent investigators to be allowed into the country.
More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since late August, driven out by a counter-insurgency clearance operation in Rakhine State that a top U.N. official has called a classic case of “ethnic cleansing”.
Accusations of organized mass rape and other crimes against humanity were leveled at the Myanmar military on Sunday by another senior U.N. official, who had toured camps in Bangladesh where Rohingya refugees have taken shelter.
Pramila Patten, the U.N. special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, said she would raise accusations against the Myanmar military with the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
The military, known as the Tatmadaw, has consistently protested its innocence, and on Monday it posted the findings of an internal investigation on the Facebook page of its commander in chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
It said it had found no instances where its soldiers had shot and killed Rohingya villagers, raped women or tortured prisoners. It denied that security forces had torched Rohingya villages or used “excessive force”.
The military said that, while 376 “terrorists” were killed, there were no deaths of innocent people.
“The Burmese military’s absurd effort to absolve itself of mass atrocities underscores why an independent international investigation is needed to establish the facts and identify those responsible,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch in a statement.
The military’s self-exoneration came as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prepared to visit Myanmar on Wednesday for talks with the country’s leaders.
Tillerson and Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of a less than two-year-old civilian administration that has no control over the military, met in Manila on Monday, where they were both attending a regional summit.
With U.S. senators in Washington pressing to impose economic sanctions and travel restrictions targeting the military and its business interests, Tillerson is expected to deliver a stern message to Myanmar’s generals, while supporting the transition to democracy.
Suu Kyi discussed the Rohingya crisis with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the Southeast Asian summit in Manila.
Guterres, addressing the summit, described the exodus of refugees from Myanmar as a “worrying escalation in a protracted tragedy” and a potential source of instability and radicalization in the region.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also he had an “extended conversation” with Suu Kyi about the plight of Rohingya Muslims.
“This is a tremendous concern to Canada and to many, many countries around the world,” Trudeau told a news conference in Manila.