Geneva: Myanmar`s military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with "genocidal intent" and the commander-in-chief and five generals should be prosecuted for the gravest crimes under international law, U.N. investigators said.
In a report, they called for the U.N. Security Council to set up an ad hoc tribunal to try suspects or refer them to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The Security Council should also impose an arms embargo on Myanmar and targeted sanctions against individuals most responsible for crimes.
They blamed the country`s de facto civilian leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, for failing to use her "moral authority" to protect civilians. Her government "contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes" by letting hate speech thrive, destroying documents and failing to shield minorities from crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The report also criticised Facebook for allowing the world`s biggest social media network to be used to incite violence and hatred. Facebook responded on Monday by announcing that it was blocking 20 Myanmar officials and organisations found by the U.N. panel to have "committed or enabled serious human rights abuses".
Contacted by phone, Myanmar military spokesman Major General Tun Tun Nyi said he could not immediately comment. The Myanmar government was sent an advance copy of the U.N. report in line with standard practice.
Zaw Htay, spokesman for Suu Kyi`s government, could not immediately be reached for comment. Reuters was also unable to contact the six generals named in the report.
A year ago, government troops led a brutal crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine state in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on 30 Myanmar police posts and a military base. Some 700,000 Rohingya fled the crackdown and most are now living in refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh.
The UN report said the military action, which included the torching of villages, was "grossly disproportionate to actual security threats".
"The crimes in Rakhine State, and the manner in which they were perpetrated, are similar in nature, gravity and scope to those that have allowed genocidal intent to be established in other contexts," said the U.N. panel, known as the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.
Suu Kyi`s government has rejected most allegations of atrocities made against the security forces by refugees. It has built transit centres for refugees to return, but U.N. aid agencies say it is not yet safe for them to do so.
Suu Kyi "has not used her de facto position as Head of Government, nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events, or seek alternative avenues to meet a responsibility to protect the civilian population", the report said.
The United Nations defines genocide as acts meant to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part. Such a designation is rare, but has been used in countries including Bosnia, Rwanda and Sudan.
In the final 20-page report, the panel said: "There is sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Tatmadaw (army) chain of command, so that a competent court can determine their liability for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine state."
Marzuki Darusman, chair of the panel, said commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing should step down pending investigation.
"Accountability can only take place both from the point of view of the international community but also from the people of Myanmar if the single most significant factor is addressed. And that is the role of the commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing."
The list of generals also included Brigadier-General Aung Aung, commander of the 33rd Light Infantry Division, which oversaw operations in the coastal village of Inn Din where 10 Rohingya captive boys and men were killed.
That massacre was uncovered by two Reuters journalists - Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28 - who were arrested last December and are being tried on charges of violating Myanmar`s Official Secrets Act. The court had been due to deliver a verdict on Monday, but at a brief hearing postponed the hearings until Sept. 3.