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Myanmar's Military Leaders Should Be Prosecuted For Genocide, Probe Says


A team of investigators working for the United Nations says top military leaders in Myanmar should be prosecuted for genocide against Rohingya Muslims. The investigators say a conservative estimate of the number of Rohingya killed is 10,000. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled the country. The chair of the yearlong fact-finding mission told reporters, quote, "the military's contempt for human life, dignity and freedom, for international law in general, should be a cause of concern for the entire population of Myanmar and to the international community as a whole." That's the end of the quote. Jamey Keaten is the chief correspondent for the Associated Press in Geneva and joins me. Jamey, good morning.

JAMEY KEATEN: Good morning.

GREENE: We should make very clear here genocide is not a word that the United Nations uses often. I mean, they don't just throw this around. This is very serious what they're saying.

KEATEN: This is very serious. This is very serious stuff. The United Nations, of course, does not often use the term genocide. It has been applied in, of course, in places like Darfur, in places like the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, of course. That - so that tells you a little bit about the sort of seminal sort of moment that we may be looking at here.

GREENE: This report calls - specifically calls out six top leaders in Myanmar. What does the report say they did?

KEATEN: Well, it says the team - so the fact-finding team behind this says that these - the chain of command in Myanmar was responsible for creating an environment that led to these types of abuses. To give you a little bit of context here, the fact-finding mission has said that these kind - that abuses and impunity have occurred in Myanmar for decades and that the military junta has rarely come up for a full accounting. And their call is to get the entire world community to step up and try to put more pressure on the military leaders in that country.

So with that in mind, what are they saying that these six particular - and it should be noted that it's not just these six, right? The fact-finding mission also has compiled a much longer list that they're going to keep under wraps for a while to - in case that that might be useable in a court of law or in a tribunal in the future. But the main points that they have tried to convey here are that these six have created the environment, they have used the chain of command to send down messages that could create a context for people on the ground - military troops and security forces - to actually conduct systematic abuses against the...

GREENE: Wow, so they're saying...

KEATEN: ...The Rohingya.

GREENE: ...This really starts on the top. It's almost like a policy that was being handed down to people lower down in the military.

KEATEN: Yeah. It really is that. I mean, you know, and they have at times - to also sort of elaborate further on what I just said, there have been sort of soundings, there have been statements, there have been utterances - is the term that they use - from the top military leaders that have encouraged this type of behavior. And even though - and I will say this. One of the members of the mission said to us at a news conference today, there is no smoking gun - is the term that they used - there's no direct smoking gun that says that these military leaders said in an email or in some sort of military order, go out and kill the Rohingya. But what they did say is that there are inferences - numerous inferences that can be drawn, especially based on case law with regard to previous cases of genocide that leads them to believe that this is the prosecution that is needed right now in an international body.

GREENE: And we just have a few seconds left. Will there be a prosecution? I mean, does this U.N. group have the power to bring people to The Hague?

KEATEN: They do not. And, in fact, that would have to be coming directly from the Security Council. And politics being what they are, that may be a bit of a tough ask. One of the options that they've also floated is what's called a special sort of tribunal or special criminal court, which also has some precedent. And so that could be an option to get around some of the reticence that might exist within the Security Council.

GREENE: All right. Jamey Keaten is the chief correspondent for the Associated Press in Geneva. Thanks a lot. We appreciate it.

KEATEN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.