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U.S. sanctions on Myanmar military leaders inadequate: U.N. investigator

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia/DHAKA, Bangladesh (Reuters) – Sanctions imposed this week by the United States on Myanmar’s military leaders over human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims do not go far enough, U.N. special rapporteur Yanghee Lee said on Thursday.

U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation in Myanmar Yanghee Lee speaks during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

The United States banned Myanmar military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, three other senior commanders and their families from entering the United States in the strongest steps yet taken by Washington in response to the massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Lee said a travel ban was not enough and called for the commanders’ assets to be frozen.

“They were never going to travel to the U.S… let’s be realistic,” she told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.

Lee said the sanctions – applied to Min Aung Hlaing, his deputy Soe Win, and brigadier generals Than Oo and Aung Aung – should be extended to two more military leaders identified in a U.N. investigators report in 2018.

The report, compiled by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, had called for the six generals to be tried for genocide.

A military crackdown in Myanmar in 2017 drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, according to U.N. figures.

U.N. investigators have said Myanmar’s operation included mass killings, gang rapes and arson and was executed with “genocidal intent”.

Myanmar denies the charge.

At a separate press briefing in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, International Criminal Court (ICC) Deputy Prosecutor James Stewart said Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda earlier this month sought permission from the ICC judges to open an investigation into alleged crimes committed against the Rohingya.

“The outcome of this request is still pending and is before the Court’s judges,” said Stewart, who added he was visiting Bangladesh as part of a delegation from the Hague-based ICC to explain the judicial process to the government and other parties.

Bensouda said last month she would ask ICC judges for permission to investigate crimes that had “at least one element” in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a member of the ICC, but Myanmar is not.

The UN’s Lee, speaking in Kuala Lumpur, also said reports from Myanmar in recent weeks suggested that human rights violations and abuses committed by the army and insurgents against civilian populations may be getting worse.

Last month, Lee said the army may be committing gross human rights violations under cover of a mobile phone blackout in Rakhine and Chin states.

On Thursday, Lee said the blackout had left many villages unprepared for severe monsoon floods in the area. It has also hampered disaster relief and humanitarian responses to the floods, she said.

Reporting by Rozanna Latiff in Kuala Lumpur and Serajul Quadir in Dhaka; Editing by Nick Macfie and Frances Kerry

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