Experts have collected 2 million pieces of information about human rights violations in Myanmar. Nicholas Koumjian, head of the Myanmar Mechanism, told UN News the goal is to share the evidence with courts and make justice. Read the interview this Friday. @UNHumanRights #Myanmar pic.twitter.com/uPAQ4b84os
— UN News (@UN_News_Centre) October 15, 2021
The Mechanism was established after an Independent International Fact-Finding Mission found “clear patterns” of violations by the military, known as the Tatmadaw, and insisted that the perpetrators of the “gross human rights violations”, including those against the Rohingya, must not go unpunished.
The IIMM is not a court, neither does it have the power to prosecute. The hope is that all the information that could otherwise be lost, is preserved, and then shared with national, regional or international courts.
In an extensive interview with UN News, the head of the Mechanism, Nicholas Koumjian, explains the importance of preserving this evidence before it is potentially lost.
“Crime scenes get disturbed, bodies decompose, wounds can heal, people’s memories can fade, witnesses with information can pass away”, he explains. “So it’s very important to collect the information while you can.”
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
UN News: You and your colleagues have been working for over two years. What has been your focus? What has been achieved so far?
Nicholas Koumjian: We started two years ago, in July of 2019, and we’ve been building up the Mechanism, acquiring all of the expertise that we believe would be necessary.
We have those with expertise in International Criminal law, in things like gender violence, investigation of crimes against children, investigation of sexual assaults, analysts with experience in very complex international cases.
We have those with experience in using open source evidence and very sophisticated and secure information systems, so that the information that we collect and preserve, is held confidentially and no one has access to it, and that also allows us to analyse the very vast quantities of data that we have collected.
We’re now looking at the evidence that we’ve collected, over two million pieces, and analysing that in various situations, that we believe have the potential to amount to criminal cases against individuals responsible for those offences.
UN News: Are there any preliminary conclusions? Can you share any?
Nicholas Koumjian: What’s different about our mechanism is that we’re not really a reporting mechanism. We’re not a court or prosecution service. We’re collecting the evidence and preparing files to share them with those courts that might, or judicial authorities that might have the authority, and the willingness, to hold fair proceedings to hold individuals to account.
We’ve specifically been asked to cooperate with the International Criminal Court, which has an investigation related to Rakhine State [home to many of those mostly-Rohingya Muslims who have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh], and we’re doing that.
We also have been asked by the parties at the International Court of Justice to share evidence, and we looked at that situation. We want to help the judges in that case reach the best decision, and so we’ve agreed to look for relevant evidence that we can share, with the permission of those that provided it to us.