When Myanmar’s putative icon of democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, raised the flag of her party, the National League for Democracy, in Yangon on Tuesday, she at least theoretically flagged off the ruling party’s campaign for the election this November.
But the really unprecedented development of the day was the startling confession by two soldiers on the Rohingya persecution, notably executions, mass burials, rape and obliteration of villages. “Shoot all you see and all you hear,” was the stern directive of the commanding officer.
The extent to which the in house spilling of the beans will tarnish the standing of the omnipotent military and a generally tightlipped Suu Kyi can only be speculated upon. Suffice it to register that the video testimony from the two soldiers ~ which was shared with international prosecutors ~ is the first time that representatives of Tatmadaw (the Myanmarese military) have openly confessed to taking part in what UN officials say was a genocidal campaign against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
The statement by the soldiers coincides with the International Criminal Court opening a case to examine whether the Myanmarese military committed large-scale crimes against the Rohingyas. The soldiers have been sent to The Hague to be present during the trial.
This is a “monumental moment for Rohingyas and the people of Myanmar in their ongoing struggle for justice,” is the response of a human rights watchdog. Both soldiers could well be the first “insider witnesses” in the custody of the court.
While it is yet to be confirmed whether these two soldiers committed the crimes to which they confessed, details of their statement conform to descriptions provided by dozens of witnesses and observers, including Rohingya refugees, residents of Rakhine, soldiers and politicians. It is not clear what will happen to the two men, who are not under arrest but were effectively placed in the custody of the ICC on Monday.
The soldiers’ testimony will also add weight to the separate case at the International Court of Justice, where Myanmar has been accused of trying to “destroy the Rohingyas as a group, in whole or in part, by the use of mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as the systematic destruction by fire of their villages”.
The regime in Naypidaw, if nominally helmed by Suu Kyi, could arguably have its back to the wall. It shall not be easy to airbrush, far less deny, the hideous narrative. Arguably, the soldiers’ confession will impinge on the proceedings of the International Criminal Court.
Their presence might lend a new dimension to the hearing. Myanmar’s Election Commission is yet to decide whether the vote will still go ahead as planned. In the interim, Suu Kyi has alleged that her campaign was disrupted because of travel restrictions in the wake of Covid19. The objective reflection of the soldiers reflects poorly on the military.