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U.N. says Facebook 'slow' to respond to Myanmar 'genocide' against Rohingya

The tech giant has banned several top Myanmar military officials over hate speech and fake news.
by Alastair Jamieson /
Rohingya refugees perform prayers as they attend a ceremony organised to remember the first anniversary of a military crackdown that prompted a massive exodus of people from Myanmar to Bangladesh
Rohingya refugees pray on the first anniversary of a military crackdown.Dibyangshu Sarkar / Getty Images

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LONDON — Facebook has been “slow and ineffective” in tackling online hatred against Rohingyas, according to a United Nations report Monday that also called for Myanmar military leaders to be prosecuted for genocide.

Investigators working for the U.N.'s top human rights body said the country’s military carried out mass killings and gang rapes against the ethnic minority with “genocidal intent.”

Image: Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar armed forces, will be removed from Facebook.
Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar armed forces, will be removed from Facebook.Ye Aung Thu / Getty Images

Also on Monday, Facebook announced it was removing some Myanmar military leaders from its platform —including some of those identified in the U.N. report.

The U.N. investigators took the unusual step of identifying the commander-in-chief and five generals by name to pinpoint the main alleged perpetrators of deadly, systematic crimes against the ethnic minority.

The civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi has allowed hate speech to thrive, destroyed documents and failed to protect minorities from crimes against humanity and war crimes by the army, they concluded.

In doing so, it “contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes,” their report said.

The investigators compiled hundreds of accounts of crimes including gang rape, the torching of hundreds of villages, enslavement, and killings of children.

They said hatred against Rohingya was still being incited among Facebook users in Myanmar.

“The role of social media is significant,” it said. “Facebook has been a useful instrument for those seeking to spread hate, in a context where for most users Facebook is the Internet.

“Although improved in recent months, Facebook’s response has been slow and ineffective. The extent to which Facebook posts and messages have led to real-world discrimination and violence must be independently and thoroughly examined.”

Facebook enjoys sudden and overwhelming dominance in Myanmar, where basic freedoms such as internet access were banned by a military-led regime until 2014.

The subsequent rapid rush to adopt smartphones, coupled with a lack of established media, has led to a wave of fake news sites and hate speech — a problem acknowledged by the social media giant itself.

“We continue to work to prevent the misuse of Facebook in Myanmar,” it said in a blog post. "This is a huge responsibility given so many people there rely on Facebook for information — more so than in almost any other country given the nascent state of the news media and the recent rapid adoption of mobile phones.”

It said: "We're removing a total of 18 Facebook accounts, one Instagram account and 52 Facebook Pages, followed by almost 12 million people. While we were too slow to act, we’re now making progress."

Government troops launched a brutal crackdown in Myanmar in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on police posts and a military base. Some 700,000 Rohingya fled the crackdown and most are now living in refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh.

The U.N. investigators also faulted Aung San Suu Kyi for not using her role as head of Myanmar's government, nor her "moral authority" — she is a Nobel peace prize laureate — to stop the deadly violence.

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