The Panel of Judges was headed by Danial Feierstein (left) in deliberating the trial. (Source: Bernama)
Religious superiority has long been one of the bases for the marginalisation and persecution of ethnic minorities. For the very same reason, the sufferings of the Muslim community in Myanmar continue to be a long, dark abyss towards annihilation. Their cries, although widely heard and reported by international media and agencies, do not change the fact that they remained oppressed by the Myanmar extremist Buddhist government. It does not help that the supposed beacon of hope, hiding behind her Nobel Peace Prize, is now the icon of hypocrisy and irony.
As the Muslim minorities’ identities are being diluted in the country’s diverse social fabric, efforts to obliterate their physical presence have manifested in nefarious acts of abuse and violence against men, women and children alike. Among the execution strategies adopted by the state of Myanmar towards its marginalised include; mass razing of homes and villages, forced evacuation, murder and rape, all of which have been commented upon by the United Nations as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Despite facing years of condemnation and massive criticisms by the international community, the Myanmar government is resolute in its standing of innocence; an outright lie to the face of justice. Even so, the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal attempted to shine some light at the end of the tunnel for the Muslim minority community in a trial held at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya. The trial lasted from 18th to 22nd September 2017.
1) The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal – Invoking Justice for the Trampled
Founded in Italy circa 1979, and independent of any state authority, the Permanent People’s Tribunal (hereinafter ‘the PPT’) is an international opinion tribunal boasting extensive experience in human rights crises such as the Vietnam’s Russell Tribunal (1966-1967). It looks into cases of violations of human rights and the rights of people.  As according to its Statute, which adopted the principles of the Universal Declaration of People’s Rights (Algeirs, 1976), the PPT’s underlining objective is to “give visibility and legitimacy to the authority of Peoples when the States and the International Bodies failed to protect their right, due to geopolitical reasons or other motivations.” 
The PPT was enlightened of the plight of the Myanmar Muslim minorities in 2013, and in this particular situation, the multitude roles of the PPT are explicitly stated to: 
The decision of the Tribunal has no legal force, yet it implements legal standards as those broadly endorsed by international human rights law. The PPT, unlike state-based legal authority, acts independently of any State, political interest, or vested interest of any parties.
In this context, the PPT’s judgement is particularly significant to place the Myanmar government under international spotlight and scrutiny for the horrific persecution of its people. The Tribunal further intends to garner attention to the commonly overlooked minorities such as the Kachins, who have been ostracised along with the Rohingyas. It is hoped that, in the future, the comprehensive body of testimonies and criminal reports would aid in legal actions to put an end to the violation of the rights of these minorities.
2) Route to Justice - the Proceeding against Myanmar by the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal
The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal has found the state of Myanmar guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Rohingyas, Kachins and other ethnic minorities.
The Panel of Judges, headed by Danial Feierstein, said in its judgement that the horrific acts committed by the Myanmar army have been proven “to deny every expression of autonomy and self-government of the people of Kachin state and, more generally, to humiliate and to destroy the ethnic and cultural identity of minorities living in Burma.”
As with all previous PPT proceedings, the right to defence was extended to the authorities of Myanmar, among which included Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander in Chief of the Myanmar Army and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Myanmar State Counsellor – from whom no response was recorded. Throughout the three days of public audience, the Chairperson of the Panel asked if there was any representation of the Myanmar government in the room, to which the answer was none. Hence, as prescribed in the Statutes of the Tribunal, an ex officio defence came into conduct, and the resulting text was publicly read out by the representative of the Secretariat of the PPT.
The Myanmar government’s present stand on this grave issue was reflected in the full text of the speech delivered by the State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi in her address to the diplomatic corps in Naypyidaw on 19th September. The text was presented before the panel of judges and audience and was considered a fundamental part of the proceedings due to its high relevance.
3) Issues Addressed in the Proceeding - Tracing the Footsteps of Destruction
a) Citizenship crisis
With the formation of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in 1961, and the subsequent military coup of General Ne Win in 1962, people of the Kachin state have lived enveloped in war and terror for almost three decades as a result of execution by the Burmese army. The army’s stance against the Muslim community has resulted in the extensive mistreatment of the community, particularly the Rohingya ethnic group.
Ever since being under the military dictatorship in 1962, the Myanmar army has been equating being Burmese to being Buddhist to spark hatred against Muslims and Islam. By monopolising the political arena with racial and religion cards, accusations of the minority Muslim community being illegal immigrants are recited repetitiously - fuelling hatred, and escalating xenophobia and hate crimes against targeted victims.
The state of isolation faced by the Muslim minorities is worsened due to the citizenship crisis. According to the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State Report which was led by Kofi Anan in August 2017, citizenship status for Muslims in Myanmar has been under threat since the passing of the 1982 Citizenship law, which precariously narrows the requirements for citizenship against the Muslim community.
Evidently, in 1989, during a citizenship inspection test, those found fitting into the characteristics had their National Registration Cards (NRC) swapped for new ‘Citizenship Scrutiny Cards’ (CSC). It is said that the majority of Muslims in Rakhine with NRCs submitted their documents, but never received CSCs, hence rendering them de facto stateless.
The 1982 law also establishes a certain system of hierarchy of citizens – one which is split into ‘citizens’ on one end, and ‘naturalised citizens’ on the other, with the former explicitly listed as Arakanese, Burmese, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Kayah, Mon or Shan. This extremely selective method of citizenship has caused membership of the country to be denied to the Rohingya even until today – despite numerous evidence that the community has deeply sunken roots in the country since the 18th century. This systemic discrimination is also a blatant breach of Article 1 of the 1961 United Nations Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which provides that; “A Contracting State shall grant its nationality to a person born in his territory who would otherwise be stateless”.
Other Muslim groups have also suffered extreme discrimination. The Tribunal recorded witness testimonies that, to be accepted as citizens of the country, they were given the choice of either; 
a) keeping their Muslim religion and declaring a foreign ethnicity (Malay, Bengali, Indian) or possibly another of the other nationalities like Shan or Karen; or
b) renouncing their religion and be declared as Buddhist with Burmese ethnicity.
The 1982 law had also warranted a citizenship verification process according to the Advisory Commission of Rakhine State. The process was problematic as it coerced the applicants to identify themselves as Bengali, otherwise they would not be able to pass the screening process.
A pilot project of the verification process commenced in 2014 at Myebon Township, where Temporary Resident Card (TRC)-holders were allowed application for citizenship, provided that they identify themselves as Bengali. The process expanded to all of Rakhine State in January 2015, despite being halted following protests. Subsequently in June, the government replaced the TRCs with the Identity Cards of National Verification (ICNV), in which applicants were again asked to identify as Bengali in order to obtain the card.
A year later, the process began again under the NLD government, issuing National Verification Cards (NVC) – a rebrand of the ICNV – which does not require applicants to state their ethnicity or religion in the application. Even so, the Advisory Commission of Rakhine State received reports on ethnic references still being applied to certain situations.
The Commission inferred that due to corrupt officials, citizens of Rakhine worry of unqualified Muslims obtaining citizenship, especially with reported allegations of non-Kaman Muslims posing as Kamans in the verification process. Meanwhile, Muslims disapprove of the NVC as a stepping stone towards citizenship in the future, with fears that the promise may turn out unfulfilled, as with past government policy implementations. From here, it is evident that the lack of structure, organisation and determination of the government in administering the policies have resulted in distrust from both sides of the fence.
The Tribunal in its judgment, opined; 
“Even if the Commission accepted as valid the concern the fear that the process could result in identity cards being given to unqualified Muslims, the description of the process and the numbers recognised by the government (a couple of thousand people verified among a population of more than one million) make it clear that the objective of the system is not to give citizenship to the people who are being persecuted but, on the contrary- to keep them stateless, without any possibility to enjoy any kind of rights”.
b) Socioeconomic persecution
The motivation behind these atrocious crimes stems from identity framing by exclusion – the process of making Myanmar a supreme Burman Buddhist entity. It was an unwritten rule that one cannot be a Burmese and a Muslim at the same time.
The Tribunal further stated that Burmese Muslims are being alienated and isolated from participation in politics, as well as socioeconomic sectors. It was reported that currently there are no Muslims in Parliament, the military service, the police service, administration and academia. The lack of representation further downgrades the community’s social status.
The socioeconomic persecution of the Myanmar Muslim community is evident with the reduced number of NRCs given out, causing difficulty to individuals in terms of obtaining jobs and existing as a rightful citizen. Extreme religious discriminations occur in the forms of, among others, restriction in the construction of mosques, reduced access to communal prayer services, and the establishment of Muslim-free villagers, akin an apartheid system. Further, holders of National Verification Cards are unable to obtain passports - hence, snagging their freedom of movement.
The tribunal further found that the Myanmar Muslims are also suffering from internal exile and displacement, and forced exile. Records show that over only three weeks in August-September 2017, more than 400,000 Rohingya, mostly women, children and elderly had to flee their homes and migrate to Bangladesh. There are at least 120,000 of the population of Muslims in Kachin state, and Shan state are in IDP camps, two-thirds of which are under KIA control, and are denied humanitarian aid.
The Rohingyas, mostly women, children and elderly had to flee their homes to Bangladesh. (Source: Dan Kitwood, Getty Images)
c) Human rights abuses
Reported crimes against the Rohingya, as heard in the Tribunal’s hearings of London and Kuala Lumpur, include arbitrary detention and torture, sexual abuse and enforced disappearances. Throughout the proceeding, graphic tales of witnessing friends and family being slaughtered, shot dead or buried alive were shared among witnesses.
Atrocities were committed at the highest level of malignance, and while in 2012, the amount of violence escalated drastically, the 2015 switch of governance to the joint NRD-rule, which was supposed to mean betterment for the Myanmar Muslim community, instead saw further human rights abuses against the already incapacitated population.
It is also reiterated in the judgement that the crimes were perpetrated by combatants against non-combatants, and that the atrocities committed were said to serve as a military campaign, and were conducted behind the mask of official duties.
In the judgement, after an extensive review and characterization of atrocities committed against the Myanmar Muslim community, the PPT found the State of Myanmar guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide of the Myanmar Muslim community. This highly regarded decision will now be forwarded to international agencies, including the United Nations, adding to the escalating mount of pressure towards the Myanmar government to end the violence.
4) What’s Next – The Tribunal’s Recommendations
Upon passing the verdict, the PPT submitted a list of 17 recommendations, comprising actions needed to be taken by the relevant parties in ceasing the crimes against the marginalised population, which include eradicating race-based targeted violence, promoting inclusivity and acceptance of all citizens, and working towards a healthier, fairer, truly democratic Myanmar.
Coming off the top of the list is an urgent call for a ceasefire among all armed groups in Rakhine state, as well as the de-militarisation of the borders of the region. The Myanmar government is also pressured to grant full citizenship without discrimination towards all of its people.
Crimes against the Myanmar Muslim community must be halted at once, and its perpetrators must be prosecuted to the highest extend of the law.
The Tribunal also called for representation of the Muslim community in Parliament and governance, and urged that the Police and Armed Forces to be put under civilian authority. The recommendations encompass issues from democracy and justice, to measures needed to be taken by ASEAN and the international community.
The Tribunal stated that it is not its intention to add to an already comprehensive list of suggestions from international bodies – instead, it aims to remedy dystopian Myanmar today for those living under its vicious wings of violence and crimes.
5) Conclusion - Towards Myanmar for All
The decision of the Permanent People’s Tribunal will now be forwarded to international bodies and agencies as a means of pressuring the State of Myanmar to stop the string of horrific acts against its Muslim minorities. It is hoped that with this highly contemplated decision by the Panel of the Judges, that the results of the Tribunal proceeding shall amass attention towards the Muslim minorities who are not being given much publicity as opposed to the Rohingyas. By having all the testimonies and evidence disclosed to the public, it is hoped that there will be a positive change towards the end of a long episode of racial and religious discrimination in Myanmar, and into a State of Myanmar that is inclusive, liberating and prosperous for its rightful citizens of all ethnic groups.
This article was written by Caysseny Tean Boonsiri, a first law year student at the University of Malaya (Edited by Hanan Khaleeda binti Fadzil)