The United Nations General Assembly on Friday adopted a $3.07 billion operating budget which for the first time includes funding for the investigation of war crimes in Syria and Myanmar.
The budget represents a slight increase from 2019’s figure of $2.9 billion.
The increase is due to additional missions assigned to the UN Secretariat, inflation and exchange rate adjustments, according to diplomats.
These include the observer mission in Yemen, a political mission established in Haiti, the investigation of crimes committed in Syria since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, and in Myanmar after the 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority.
For the first time, the budgets for the Syria and Myanmar investigations — which were previously financed by voluntary contributions — will in 2020 be transferred to the UN secretariat’s budget and will receive compulsory contributions from the 193 member states.
Russia proposed multiple amendments during negotiations in the Committee on Budgetary Questions meeting and in the General Assembly plenary session.
At each vote, Russia, Syria, Myanmar and their supporters, including North Korea, Iran, Nicaragua and Venezuela, were outvoted. They all stated that they dissociated themselves from references to investigative mechanisms in the adopted resolutions.
Russia said it would examine its future obligatory payments in light of the vote outcome and predicted an increase in the arrears that currently plague the UN’s treasury due to countries not paying enough.
Moscow argued Friday the investigative mechanism was illegitimate, while Damascus stressed that it had no mandate from the Security Council.
The UN’s operating budget is separate from the annual budget for peacekeeping operations of some $6 billion that is adopted in June.
The Gambia condemned Aung San Suu Kyi’s “silence” over the plight of Rohingya Muslims on Thursday after the Nobel Peace Prize laureate defended Myanmar against genocide charges at the UN’s top court.
Lawyers for the mostly Muslim African country said her arguments that Myanmar’s 2017 military crackdown was a “clearance operation” targeting militants ignored widespread allegations of mass murder, rape and forced deportation.
“Madame agent, your silence said far more than your words,” The Gambia’s lawyer Philippe Sands told the International Court of Justice (ICJ), referring to Suu Kyi, who is officially acting as Myanmar’s agent in the case.
“The word ‘rape’ did not once pass the lips of the agent,” Sands added, as Suu Kyi sat impassively in the courtroom, wearing traditional Burmese dress and flowers in her hair.
The Gambia has taken majority-Buddhist Myanmar to the court in The Hague, accusing it of breaching the 1948 UN Genocide convention and seeking emergency measures to protect the Rohingya.
Once regarded as an international rights icon for standing up to Myanmar’s brutal junta, Suu Kyi has seen her reputation tarnished by her decision to side with the military over the Rohingya crisis.
She used a dramatic appearance at the ICJ on Wednesday to say there was no “genocidal intent” behind the operation that led to some 740,000 Rohingya fleeing into neighbouring Bangladesh.
Suu Kyi defended Myanmar’s actions saying it faced an “internal conflict” and that the military conducted “clearance operations” after an attack by Rohingya militants in August 2017.
‘Imminent risk of genocide’
But Paul Reichler, another of The Gambia’s lawyers, said that those killed included “infants beaten to death or torn from their mothers’ arms and thrown into rivers to drown. How many of them were terrorists?
“Armed conflict can never be an excuse for genocide,” he said.
The lawyer said Suu Kyi had also failed to deny the conclusions of a 2018 UN investigation that found that genocide had been committed in Myanmar against the Rohingya.
“What is most striking is what Myanmar has not denied,” Reichler said.
He also dismissed Suu Kyi’s insistence that Myanmar’s military should be left to probe the allegations itself, saying it was not credible when its own top generals have themselves been accused of genocide.
“How could anyone expect the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) to investigate when six of its top generals, including Min Aung Hlaing, have all been accused of genocide by the UN fact-finding mission?” he asked.
The US on Tuesday slapped fresh sanctions including a travel ban on military chief Min Aung Hlaing over the Rohingya crisis.
The lawyer added that Suu Kyi in her speech to the court had also followed Myanmar’s “racist” policy of refusing to refer to the Rohingya Muslim minority by their name.
Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou pushed the court to impose the emergency measures, saying there was a “serious and imminent risk of genocide recurring” and that “the lives of these human beings are at risk.”
Suu Kyi was expected to make closing remarks later Thursday.
A decision on the measures could take months, while a final ruling if the ICJ decides to take on the full case could take years.
The Gambia asked the UN’s top court Tuesday to order Myanmar to “stop this genocide” of the Rohingya Muslim minority, as a hearing attended by Myanmar’s former peace icon Aung San Suu Kyi got underway.
“All that The Gambia asks is that you tell Myanmar to stop these senseless killings, to stop these acts of barbarity that continue to shock our collective conscience, to stop this genocide of its own people,” Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou told judges.
Gambia will open its case against Myanmar before the UN’s top court in December accusing the mainly Buddhist state of genocide against its Rohingya Muslims, the tribunal said Monday.
The small, majority-Muslim African country will ask the International Court of Justice to make an emergency injunction to protect the Rohingya, pending a decision on whether to deal with the wider case.
Gambia’s case at the ICJ accuses Myanmar of breaching the 1948 UN Genocide Convention through a brutal military campaign targeting the Rohingya minority in Rakhine state.
The ICJ said in a statement that it “will hold public hearings in the case” from December 10 to 12. “The hearings will be devoted to the request for the indication of provisional measures submitted by the Republic of The Gambia,” it added.
Gambia says it is filing the case on behalf of the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
Some 740,000 Rohingya were forced to flee into sprawling camps in Bangladesh after a brutal 2017 military crackdown, in violence that United Nations investigators say amounts to genocide.
Gambia’s lawyers said it wants the ICJ to announce urgent emergency measures “to protect the Rohingya against further harm.”
The case will be the first international legal attempt to bring Myanmar to justice over allegations of crimes against the Rohingya, and is a rare example of a country suing another over an issue to which it is not directly a party.
The ICJ was set up in 1946 after World War II to adjudicate in disputes between UN member states.
Separately the International Criminal Court — another Hague-based court which was set up in 2002 to probe war crimes — on Thursday authorised its chief prosecutor to launch a full investigation into the persecution of the Rohingya.
Rights groups meanwhile filed a separate lawsuit over the Rohingya in Argentina in which Myanmar’s former democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was personally named.
Myanmar has repeatedly defended the crackdown on the Rohingya as necessary to stamp out militants.
It has not reacted to the ICJ case, but said last week that the ICC investigation was “not in accordance with international law”.
Myanmar is not a member of the ICC, but the court says it can be held responsible for crimes that affect neighbouring Bangladesh.
The UN chief on Sunday urged Myanmar to ensure the “safe” return of Rohingya refugees driven out by army operations, a plea made in front of Aung San Suu Kyi more than two years since her country cracked down on the Muslim minority.
Speaking at a summit of Southeast Asian leaders in Bangkok — with Myanmar’s de facto head Suu Kyi in the room — Antonio Guterres said he remains “deeply concerned” about the plight of the Rohingya.
Violence in Rakhine state in 2017 forced more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee, most seeking refuge in overcrowded camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, in what UN investigators say amounted to genocide.
Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens.
Ethnic Rakhine rebels took more than 40 police officers and soldiers hostage in a brazen raid on a ferry on Saturday, Myanmar’s military said, the latest flare-up in the restive western region.
The military has deployed thousands of troops to try to crush Arakan Army insurgents in the state, where the ethnic group is fighting for more autonomy for Rakhine Buddhists.
But the AA has inflicted a heavy toll through violent raids, kidnappings and improvised explosive devices.
On Saturday morning rebels in concealed positions on a river bank shot at a ferry carrying off-duty police and soldiers north from the state capital, forcing it to dock, military spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said.
“More than 10 soldiers from the army, about 30 police and two staff from the prison department” were among the more than 40 passengers forced to disembark before being taken away, he said.
Authorities were using helicopters in their pursuit of the rebels, and had spotted a large contingent crossing a river, he added.
The Arakan Army could not immediately be reached for comment.
The flare-up comes less than two weeks after suspected rebels disguised as a sports team stormed a bus and abducted dozens of firefighters and civilians in Rakhine.
Tens of thousands have been displaced in the state due to the fighting.
Rakhine is the same area where the military drove out more than 740,000 Rohingya Muslims in a 2017 campaign UN investigators have called genocide.
Rights groups have accused soldiers of committing war crimes including extrajudicial killings in its fresh campaign against the Arakan Army.
But monitors have also singled out the rebels for alleged abuses.
Both sides have rebuffed accusations as violence has continued in an area largely sealed off to independent media.
Rohingya Muslims remaining in Myanmar still face a “serious risk of genocide”, UN investigators said Monday, warning the repatriation of a million already driven from the country by the army remains “impossible”.
The fact-finding mission to Myanmar, set up by the Human Rights Council, last year branded the army operations in 2017 as “genocide” and called for the prosecution of top generals, including army chief Min Aung Hlaing.
Some 740,000 Rohingya fled burning villages, bringing accounts of murder, rape and torture over the border to sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh, where survivors of previous waves of persecution already languished.
But in a damning report, the United Nations team said the 600,000 Rohingya still inside Myanmar’s Rakhine state remain in deteriorating and “deplorable” conditions.
“Myanmar continues to harbour genocidal intent and the Rohingya remain under serious risk of genocide,” the investigators said in their final report on Myanmar, due to be presented Tuesday in Geneva.
The country is “denying wrongdoing, destroying evidence, refusing to conduct effective investigations and clearing, razing, confiscating and building on land from which it displaced Rohingya”, it said.
Rohingya were living in “inhumane” conditions, the report continued, adding more than 40,000 structures had been destroyed in the 2017 crackdown.
The mission reiterated calls for the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or to set up a tribunal, like for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
It said it had a confidential list of more than 100 names, including officials, suspected of being involved in genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, in addition to the six generals named publicly last year.
The report also repeated calls for foreign governments and companies to sever all business ties with the military, urging a “moratorium” on investment and development assistance in Rakhine state.
The maligned Muslim community has long been subjected to tight movement restrictions, making it difficult or impossible to access healthcare, work and education.
The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and are accused of being illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
The army justified the crackdown as a means of rooting out Rohingya insurgents.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation deal two years ago, but virtually no refugees have returned to date.
The investigators described conditions in Myanmar as “unsafe, unsustainable and impossible” for returns to take place.
Nearly 130,000 Rohingya have been trapped in camps in central Rakhine since a previous bout of violence seven years ago.
Described as “open-air prisons” by Amnesty International, people there remain reliant on humanitarian aid and are rarely granted permission to leave.
Those outside the camps fare little better, needing special authorisation — and often hefty bribes — to leave their village boundaries.
Their homes flattened by bulldozers and land commandeered, refugees in Bangladesh fear they will be subjected to the same, or even worse, treatment if they return to the processing camps built by Myanmar.
The UN team also accused the army of fresh “war crimes”, including forced labour and torture, against civilians in the north of Rakhine state.
The area has once again become embroiled in conflict as the military wages war on the Arakan Army (AA), rebels fighting for the rights of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun rejected the team’s findings, calling them “one-sided”.
“Instead of making biased accusations, they should go onto the ground to see the reality,” Zaw Min Tun told AFP.
The UN investigators have never been granted permission to enter Myanmar or access Rakhine.
The team has handed its report to an investigative panel, which aims to build up evidence to support any future prosecution.
“The scandal of international inaction has to end,” mission expert Christopher Sidoti said.
“Unless the United Nations and the international community take effective action this time, this sad history is destined to be repeated.”
A volunteer ambulance driver was killed in Myanmar’s remote northeast as clashes between the army and ethnic insurgents escalated over the weekend, state media reported Sunday.
The area near the Chinese border has been riven by armed conflict for decades, but a fresh round of violence was sparked this week when a coalition of armed groups launched joint attacks against a military academy and police outposts, killing at least 15.
The army claims the attacks were retaliation for massive drug seizures in July, but insurgents say they were responding to military offensives.
An ambulance from a local philanthropy group working around the town of Lashio came under assault by insurgent sniper and artillery fire on Saturday, the state-owned Global New Light of Myanmar reported.
The death toll from a landslide triggered by monsoon rains in eastern Myanmar rose to at least 34, an official said Saturday, as emergency workers continued a desperate search through thick mud for scores more feared missing.
Myanmar’s monsoon season brings an annual torrent of heavy downpours, which often leaves tens of thousands displaced from flooded homes and triggering deadly landslides across its more hilly regions.
A huge brown gash on the hillside marked where the deluge of mud flooded onto Ye Pyar Kone village in Mon state on Friday, wiping out 16 homes.
Search and rescue teams worked through the night with excavators and their bare hands trying to find survivors and recover bodies from the deep sludge, continuing through Saturday.
“We found 34 dead, and the search for dead bodies is still ongoing,” local administrator Myo Min Tun told AFP.
So far, 47 people have been left injured while officials believe that more than 80 people could still be missing.
Aerial pictures showed broken remnants of rooftops and other debris from the houses strewn next to trucks knocked over by the force of the mudslide.
The village’s hillside temple was left inundated, leaving the pagoda’s golden spire peeking out from beneath the mud.
Htay Htay Win, 32, told AFP that two of her daughters and five other relatives had still not been found.
She only survived because she had left her home minutes earlier to go look at the flooding nearby.
“I heard a huge noise and turned round to see my home being hit by the mud,” she said, crying.
Rescue workers spent Saturday morning loading bodies wrapped in plastic onto the back of flatbed trucks as worried villagers looked on.
Tin Htay described how he and his family managed to escape when the landslide hit his house and his efforts to rescue others trapped by the mud.
“I dragged a woman and two children from a car but I could not reach two other people, so I had to leave them,” the 30-year-old said.
Emergency crews had to unblock the main highway from Yangon to Mawlamyine, buried under six feet (1.8 metres) of sludge.
Torrential downpours have burst riverbanks across the country while coastal communities have been warned of higher tides.
In the town of Shwegyin in eastern Bago region, residents waded out through waist-deep waters or waited to be rescued by boat after the Sittaung river burst its banks, swallowing entire homes.
Around 89,000 people have been displaced by floods in recent weeks, although many have since been able to return home, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Vietnam has also experienced heavy flooding this week with at least eight people killed in the country’s central highlands and rescuers using a zipline to carry dozens of others to safety.
A landslide caused by heavy monsoon rains killed at least 13 people and injured dozens more in eastern Myanmar, officials said Friday, as floods forced tens of thousands across the country to flee their homes.
The deluge of mud engulfed 16 homes and a monastery early Friday in Thae Pyar Kone village in Mon state, district administrator Myo Min Tun told AFP.
“Thirteen people have so far been found dead and 27 taken to hospital in Mawlamyine (Mon state’s capital),” he told AFP by phone.
Emergency teams are set to continue the search and rescue operation into Friday night in the hunt for more survivors or to retrieve bodies.
Workers were also trying to unblock the main highway from Yangon to Mawlamyine, buried under up to six feet (1.8 metres) of debris, Myo Min Tun added.
Torrential downpours have caused rivers to burst their banks across the country while coastal communities have been warned of looming high tides.
AFP aerial images showed how the town of Shwegyin in eastern Bago region had turned into a vast lake after the Sittaung river burst its banks.
Just the rooftops of some buildings could be seen as residents grabbed all they could before fleeing in rescue boats.
Officials say at least 30,000 people, mainly in Bago region and Mon and Karen states, were seeking refuge from the floods, many in monasteries.
The UN’s Office for Coordinated Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has estimated around 89,000 people have been displaced in recent weeks, although many have since been able to return home.
Vietnam has also experienced heavy flooding this week with at least eight people killed in the country’s central highlands.
Rescuers used a zipline to take dozens of victims to safety in Lam Dong province.
Monsoon-triggered landslides in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh have killed one person and left more than 4,500 homeless, aid officials said Sunday.
About 35 centimetres (14 inches) of rain fell in 72 hours before the landslides started Saturday in camps around Cox’s Bazar that house more than 900,000 of the Muslim minority who fled Myanmar, the UN said.
Twenty-six landslides were reported in makeshift camps built on hills near the border with Myanmar. Trees there have been torn up to build huts and for firewood, leaving the terrain unstable.
UN refugee agency official Areez Rahman said about 30 shanty camps have been affected by the storms. One woman in her 50s died after being hit by a wall that collapsed, he told AFP.
Nur Mohammad, a 40-year-old Rohingya in the main Kutupalong camp, said 12 relatives had fled their tarpaulin-clad huts on the hills to take shelter with him.
“My home is already overcrowded. I’m worried how I will feed all these people,” he said.
Officials said some 5,000 Rohingya on a strip of no man’s land between Bangladesh and Myanmar had also been badly hit by the storms.
“Children are suffering from diarrhoea and we don’t have enough drinking water,” camp leader Dil Mohammad told AFP by phone.
He said most of the camp was knee deep in water as Myanmar authorities had put a dam on a nearby river.
Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said on Sunday emergency preparations were being made.
Monsoon storms killed 170 people in the refugee camp in 2017.
Last year the UN refugee agency moved 30,000 Rohingya out of areas considered at high risk of landslides and floods.
Some 740,000 Rohingya fled a military crackdown in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017, joining about 200,000 already living in camps across the border.
Bangladesh wants to relocate up to 100,000 of the refugees to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal but this is opposed by the refugees and international rights groups.
Seven nurseries in Myanmar’s capital remained closed Thursday as police charged a suspect for allegedly raping a two-year-old, a case that has horrified a country where experts say assaults on children are widespread.
The father of the girl spoke to local media about the investigation last week.
He described how his daughter had returned home from her nursery in Naypyidaw in May with injuries that doctors told him were the result of rape.
The government this week temporarily closed the school and several others in the capital.
“Fifteen private schools were shut on Monday but eight have re-opened,” the Department of Social Welfare’s Tin Zaw Moe told AFP.
A judge announced Thursday that a suspect has been arrested and charged with rape.
But an online campaign fueled by rumours over the assault has gained traction for weeks.