Myanmar’s publication in state media of lists with the names and accompanying photographs of more than 1,400 men, women and children under the heading “Members of ARSA Terrorist Group” constitutes an assault on human rights and contravenes key principles of the rule of law.
Authorities have not explained why or how listed persons were identified, if they are currently in detention, or if they are wanted for prosecution or for questioning pursuant to criminal investigations. Some or all persons listed appear to have been “accused” outside any formal judicial process.
Given the lack of publicly available information as to the basis of ascribing membership of a prescribed terrorist organization to the persons in the photos, and the manner in which their information has been publicized, the ICJ is concerned that the stated accusations may be arbitrary.
To the extent that there may be any credible basis for ascribing criminal conduct, the authorities have an obligation to administer justice through due process and fair trials, and not name calling and public shaming.
Authorities should cease publishing such material and take effective protective measures to ensure the safety and security of the people named in these publications and their families.
Serious crimes, including alleged acts of terrorism as well as human rights violations, necessitate investigations that are prompt, independent, impartial, effective and transparent in line with international standards.
As with other crimes, the investigation and prosecution of alleged acts of terrorism should conform to applicable national laws, including Myanmar’s Code of Criminal Procedure, to the extent these do not violate applicable international standards.
If any of the listed individuals have been detained, they must be brought promptly before a judge and charged with a cognizable offense or else released.
Accused persons must be afforded legal protections, and if properly charged, they must be brought to justice through fair trials.
State authorities have a duty to respect and ensure the presumption of innocence.
Authorities must refrain from making public statements that are defamatory in nature, that violate fair trial rights by affirming or implying the guilt of persons accused of crimes, and that violate the principle of judicial independence and the separation of powers, all of which are recognized in national and international law.
Particularly given the heightened tensions prevailing in northern Rakhine State, persons included in these lists and their families are at great risk of extra-judicial reprisals, which violates their right to security of the person.
In addition, the potentially defamatory publication of these photos by the government constitutes a violation of their right to privacy.
It also seriously undermines the government’s stated commitments to facilitating the safe return of refugees, and its responsibility to safeguard the physical security and integrity of all individuals from all communities in Myanmar.
From 17 to 23 January 2018, Myanmar authorities published lists with the names, photos and identifying information of more than 1,400 men, women and children who they summarily accuse in the publications of involvement in or association with terrorism-related acts in Rakhine State.
These lists contain photos accompanied by captions with information variously including the name, age, village, alleged transgression, and other identifying information.
Most individuals are identified as “the terrorist” while others are characterized as a “family member of terrorists” or having “sympathized with the terrorist groups.”
The lists have run as supplements in the daily Burmese-language Myanmar Alinn newspaper and in the daily English-language Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper, published by the Ministry of Information.
Extracts have been published by the Office of the President of the Union, and by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which on 16 January requested Bangladesh authorities to extradite “accused” persons to Myanmar.
The ICJ has previously expressed concern that during and following security operations in Rakhine State, authorities have systematically failed to respect the rights of detainees in accordance with national and international law and standards.
Authorities have also so far failed to hold to account members of security forces, including soldiers and police, who appear to have perpetrated crimes against both Rohingya and Rakhine inhabitants of Rakhine State.
More than 650,000 inhabitants of northern Rakhine State, the vast majority of whom are Rohingya Muslims, have been displaced as a result of security operations commanded by Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, following attacks on police posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on 25 August 2017.
The government’s Counter-Terrorism Central Committee has declared ARSA as a ‘terrorist organization’ and stated that its supporters would be held responsible for acts of terrorism, pursuant to the 2014 Counter-Terrorism Law.
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