The International Criminal Court (ICC) should swiftly prosecute two Myanmar Army soldiers who have confessed to their involvement in massacres, rape, and other crimes against Rohingya in Myanmar, and the court should facilitate witness protection for them, said Fortify Rights on Tuesday.
Fortify Rights said it has reason to believe Myanmar Army Private Myo Win Tun, 33, and Private Zaw Naing Tun, 30, are in the custody of the ICC and in The Hague.
“This is a monumental moment for Rohingya and the people of Myanmar in their ongoing struggle for justice,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Fortify Rights.
“These men could be the first perpetrators from Myanmar tried at the ICC, and the first insider witnesses in the custody of the court. We expect prompt action.”
Fortify Rights obtained and analysed two videos showing the confessions of Private Myo Win Tun of Myanmar Army Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 565 and Private Zaw Naing Tun of LIB 353.
LIBs 565 and 353 were operational in Rakhine State during the military-led “clearance operations” against Rohingya civilians in 2016 and 2017.
Private Zaw Naing Tun, 30, of Myanmar LIB 353, confessed to killings, burying bodies in mass graves, and other crimes against Rohingya Muslims in five villages in Maungdaw Township during the 2017 “clearance operations”.
In the unpublished confessions, Myo Win Tun describes his involvement in killing Rohingya women, men, and children, and he admits to rape in Taung Bazar village and surrounding villages in Buthidaung Township in September 2017.
Zaw Naing Tun confesses to his involvement in killings, burying bodies in mass graves, and other crimes against Rohingya in five villages in Maungdaw Township during the Myanmar Army’s 2017 “clearance operations”.
‘Wiping out’ Rohingyas
The soldiers provide the names and ranks of 19 direct perpetrators from the Myanmar Army, including themselves, as well as six senior commanders in the Myanmar Army whom they claim ordered or contributed to atrocity crimes against Rohingya, including a lieutenant colonel, a colonel, and three captains.
Both men separately claimed to be acting on orders from senior commanders to “exterminate all [Rohingya],” to “shoot all that you see and that you hear,” and to “kill all” Rohingya in specific areas.
Significantly, both men were operational in two separate townships, simultaneously following orders under different commanders, which may indicate operational consistency between battalions, coordination, and intent to commit genocide.
Myo Win Tun, 33, is an ethnic Shanni originally from Mohnyin Township in Myanmar’s Kachin State.
He was a private in the Myanmar Army from April 2016 until he deserted his ranks in Rakhine State in May 2020. Zaw Naing Tun, 30, is an ethnic Rakhine originally from Ramree Township, Rakhine State.
He was forcibly conscripted into the Myanmar Army in March 2016 and served as a private until he deserted his ranks in Rakhine State in June 2020.
The Arakan Army — an ethnic armed group currently engaged in armed conflict with the Myanmar Army in Rakhine State — filmed Myo Win Tun’s confession on July 23, 2020 and filmed Zaw Naing Tun’s confession on July 8, 2020.
In mid-August, the two men appeared on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, requesting protection from Bangladesh authorities.
As a state party to the Rome Statute, Dhaka notified the ICC of the presence of the two former soldiers.
According to the legal counsel for the Government of Bangladesh, the men are no longer in Bangladesh, according to Fortify Rights.
The filmed confessions appear to be credible, said Fortify Rights.
The information described in the confessions is consistent with human rights documentation of the 2016 and 2017 Myanmar Army-led “clearance operations” against Rohingya.
For instance, Zaw Naing Tun and Myo Win Tun identify six LIBs as responsible for crimes against Rohingya— LIBs 345, 353, 551, 552, 564, and 565.
Fortify Rights as well as the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar previously identified these six LIBs, and others, as involved in genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingya in 2017.
Myo Win Tun confesses to his involvement in destroying Rohingya villages in the vicinity of Taung Bazar in Buthidaung Township in September 2017.
He also admits to rape, involvement in the killings of 30 men, women, and children in Taung Bazar, and the additional killings of 60 to 70 civilians in “village after village” in the vicinity of Taung Bazar.
Zaw Naing Tun similarly confesses that he and his battalion “wiped out” 20 Rohingya villages in Maungdaw Township in September 2017 and that he participated in the killing of an estimated 80 civilians, “including children, adults, women, and even elderly people” through coordinated massacres.
‘Ordered to exterminate’
Based on these confessions alone, these two men may be directly responsible for killing up to 180 Rohingya civilians.
Private Myo Win Tun, 33, of Myanmar Army LIB 565, confesses to rape and killing Rohingya women, men, and children in Taung Bazar village and surrounding villages in Buthidaung Township in September 2017.
“The Second Chief Commander of the MOC-15, Colonel Than Htike, ordered us ‘to exterminate all kalar and their race will be exterminated,’” said Myo Win Tun in his confession. “The Muslim men were shot on their foreheads and kicked into the grave.” “Kalar” is a derogatory term used in Myanmar in reference to Rohingya.
Both soldiers describe the locations of mass graves. Myo Win Tun describes a mass grave of 30 bodies located on “Tower Tai Street,” which is reportedly located near the headquarters of LIB 552 and approximately six miles north of Maung Nu village — the site of a well-documented massacre.
The men identify six Rohingya villages in which they committed crimes against Rohingya civilians in 2017: Kyet Yoe Pyin, Ngan Chaung, U Shin Kya, Doe Tan, and Zin Paing Nyar villages in Maungdaw Township, and Taung Bazar village in Buthidaung Township.
The UN and human rights groups, including Fortify Rights, previously identified these and other areas affected by the military-led “clearance operations” in 2016 and 2017. The men also confirmed their involvement in “clearance operations” in other unnamed villages.
“These confessions demonstrate what we’ve long known, which is that the Myanmar Army is a well-functioning national army operating with a specific and centralised command structure,” said Matthew Smith. “Commanders control, direct, and order their subordinates in all they do. In this case, commanders ordered foot soldiers to commit genocidal acts and exterminate Rohingya, and that’s exactly what they did.”
In 2018, Fortify Rights published evidence that Myanmar Army soldiers raped Rohingya women, killed Rohingya men, women, and children, buried bodies in mass graves, and systematically destroyed properties, villages, and food stocks in northern Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017.
Fortify Rights documented atrocity crimes by Myanmar Army soldiers in places mentioned by Zaw Naing Tun and Myo Win Tun.
Fortify Rights documented how Myanmar Army soldiers threw infant children into fires in Kyet Yoe Pyin village.Several Rohingya survivors described to Fortify Rights the existence of mass graves in Kyet Yoe Pyin village.
Holding perpetrators accountable
The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar similarly documented killings of infants and children in Kyet Yoe Pyin village as well as “a particularly brutal level of sexual violence” in the village, where “[w]omen and girls were subjected to mass gang rape, forced nudity, sexual humiliation and sexual assault.”
In his confession, Zaw Naing Tun says he served as a sentry guard for superior officers when they raped Rohingya women in Kyet Yoe Pyin. He says: “I witnessed Sergeant Pyae Phyoe Aung and Corporal Shwe Htwe rape three kalar-ma [Rohingya women] when we implemented the clearance operations in Kyet Yoe Pyin village.”
On September 6, 2018, the ICC granted the Chief Prosecutor jurisdiction to investigate and possibly prosecute the crime against humanity of forced deportation of Rohingya to Bangladesh, as well as persecution and other inhumane acts.
The UN Security Council should immediately refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC, enabling the court to investigate and prosecute all of the crimes perpetrated against Rohingya, including the crime of genocide, said Fortify Rights.
Given their confessions and apparent transfer to The Hague, it is reasonable to assume Myo Win Tun and Zaw Naing Tun could plead guilty to the crimes to which they confessed in exchange for becoming “insider witnesses” for future trials.
Such a development would significantly advance efforts to hold perpetrators accountable for atrocity crimes against Rohingya, said Fortify Rights.
“We hope the willingness of these men to come forward carries like a wave of justice across the Myanmar military and officialdom,” said Matthew Smith.
“More soldiers and government insiders in the country should come forward with information. There are systems in place to protect their rights.”