Hi Burnet News Club, my name is Rupert Colville and I am the main Spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; that's the bit of the UN that is most responsible for human rights issues. I have been doing this job for ten years and have lots of experience of being the spokesperson for major emergencies and conflicts around the world.
You can see me giving press briefings and interviews by searching my name on YouTube. Last year a couple of these videos that were about President Trump and Gaza went viral on Facebook.
Q) Has the UN made an impact yet?
From extraordinary_thought at Michael Faraday School
A) Good question! There is sometimes scepticism about whether the UN has an impact. But, in this case, it is definitely having some. In fact just one hour before I began writing this reply to you, an important group of 47 countries, called the UN Human Rights Council agreed on a Resolution (a written agreement) to take a number of actions. Most important of these is setting up a special new organization to take the evidence already available in UN reports (including ours) – and elsewhere – and start building detailed criminal cases against certain individuals in Myanmar (especially the top generals responsible for arranging the killing and harming of lots and lots of people, including children). So this is a big step forward to actually getting some of these people into prison one day. They can only be convicted in a court, but having the evidence collected and carefully sorted out in advance, as well as the legal reasoning about WHY they should be found guilty, will be a very big advantage when some of these people one day end up in front of judges in a court. This is only the second time in history that such an organization has been created – the other one was created two years ago to do the same thing for Syria, which is the other country where truly dreadful things have been done, and are still being done, by soldiers, policemen, violent extremists and others against hundreds of thousands of ordinary people.
The other way the UN has had an impact – especially my organization and something called the Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar – was by very loudly and publicly saying what was happening while it was happening and investigating it in detail as soon as we could.
Two questions from fantastic_duck at Faringdon Community College:
Q1) Is not doing anything a crime (is Aung San Suu Kyi not doing anything something punishable by law?), or is it only a crime if you contribute to the violence?
A) That’s quite a difficult question. Under international law, the answer is no. She could maybe be charged for “aiding and abetting” – i.e. actually helping the crime be committed in some way, if it turns out she did. But not for NOT doing something to stop it. But my boss, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has publicly criticized her for not at least speaking out to try to stop her army committing the awful crimes in Myanmar, and even worse for denying those crimes even took place. And being so publicly and so strongly criticized by a top UN official like him is very bad for a leader like her because it was all over the news, and adds to the stain on her reputation. It can be different under national law – in some countries (maybe yours), it can be a crime simply to know another crime is taking place and failing to report it.
Q2) Should we, and would we, ever intervene and help the Rohingya, especially if the situation got worse?
A) We could. Occasionally, in the past, international forces have intervened in places where really bad things were happening, for example in Bosnia or Kosovo or Sierra Leone. In all those three cases, they probably saved a lot of people by doing so. But countries are very wary about intervening in other countries. Generally this is a good thing, as we don’t want more wars. In 2005, all the world’s governments did agree to an idea called “the Responsibility to Protect.” This includes the possibility of intervening militarily to prevent the most serious “atrocity crimes” from taking place. But only if the Security Council agrees – and the Security Council almost never agrees to do this.
The UN is also helping look after the 750,000 or more Rohingyas who fled to the next door country, Bangladesh to avoid being killed. They’re living in very difficult conditions in refugee camps and need all the help they can get.Rupert Colville, Spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations
Q) I'd like to know why Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed to become the State Counselor of Myanmar if she has a criminal record behind her (15 years of home arrest)?
From honorable_bilberry at Portobello High School
A) The 15 years of house arrest were simply for her politics and most people outside Myanmar agreed that was unfair, and that she hadn’t committed any crime at all. In fact she won the Nobel Peace Prize – probably the most famous and important prize there is – for her peaceful opposition to the ruthless military government that ruled Myanmar for a long time. When she was finally released, she was a huge hero at home and all across the world. That was all before the recent events involving the Rohingya. Now, ironically, as State Counsellor, she seems to be defending the same military for something much worse – the slaughter and persecution of hundreds of thousands of people simply because of the group they belong to. She is being accused of being very brave and open-minded and in favour of human rights when the story was all about her, and not at all open-minded or interested in human rights when the story is all about the treatment of a huge group of people she doesn’t care for. It has been said of her that there is almost no other case where someone’s reputation “has fallen so far so fast.”
Q) How are the UN discussing and trying to help the situation ?
From valuable_moth at Michael Faraday School
A) Well, the recent report by the UN Fact-Finding Mission I mentioned in the first answer has had a very big impact and is being discussed a lot by governments and other important people all over the world. It is huge: 444 pages describing lots and lots of really dreadful things that the Myanmar military and police and some other people have done to the Rohingya. Lots of really horrible details. I don’t want to give you nightmares by describing them. It has shocked almost everyone. Its most important message is that the people responsible for all this must be tried and sent to prison some day. The report even named six generals, including the Commander-in-Chief, who the Fact-Finding Mission said should be put on trial. This is clearly worrying for the generals as they now risk being arrested if they ever step foot outside of Myanmar. It also puts a lot of pressure on them not to continue killing people: they now realize they may not get away with it, that they are being closely watched and evidence is being painstakingly gathered to help convict them one day. The UN is also helping look after the 750,000 or more Rohingyas who fled to the next door country, Bangladesh to avoid being killed. They’re living in very difficult conditions in refugee camps and need all the help they can get.