GENEVA (Dispatches) - UN human rights experts investigating a possible genocide in Myanmar said that Facebook had played a role in spreading hate speech there.
More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state into Bangladesh since the regime launched a brutal security crackdown last August. Many have provided harrowing testimonies of executions and rapes by Myanmar security forces.
The UN human rights chief said last week he strongly suspected acts of genocide had taken place.
Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, told reporters that social media had played a "determining role” in Myanmar.
"It has ... substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict, if you will, within the public. Hate speech is certainly of course a part of that. As far as the Myanmar situation is concerned, social media is Facebook, and Facebook is social media,” he said.
UN Myanmar investigator Yanghee Lee said Facebook was a huge part of public, civil and private life, and the government used it to disseminate information to the public.
"Everything is done through Facebook in Myanmar,” she told reporters, adding that Facebook had helped the impoverished country but had also been used to spread hate speech.
"It was used to convey public messages but we know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own Facebooks and are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities,” she said.
"I’m afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended.”
The most prominent of Myanmar’s hardline nationalist monks, Wirathu, emerged from a one-year preaching ban on Saturday and said his anti-Muslim rhetoric had nothing to do with violence in Rakhine state.
Lee said the crackdown on Rohingya minority bears "the hallmarks of genocide” and insisted the government should be held accountable.
"I am becoming more convinced that crimes committed… bear the hallmarks of genocide, and call in the strongest terms for accountability,” she told the UN Human Rights Council. The South Korean academic, who has been barred from visiting Myanmar, voiced alarm at "credible reports” of widespread indiscriminate killings, including by burning people alive.
She pointed to "conservative estimates” that at least 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children under the age of five, were killed in the first month of violence alone. Lee echoed a call from UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein last week for the creation of a new international probe tasked with preparing criminal indictments over atrocities committed in Myanmar. She said the UN-backed investigation should be based out of Bangladesh and should work for three years to "collect, consolidate, map, analyze and maintain evidence of human rights violations and abuses”.
"The government leadership who did nothing to intervene, stop or condemn these acts must also be held accountable,” she added. Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been the target of global vitriol for a perceived failure to stand up for the stateless minority.
"Complicity is a very serious issue,” Lee told reporters, adding though that she still had "a little element of hope that she will put her foot down and say once and for all let’s stop this.”