U.N. investigator says Facebook has not shared ‘evidence’ of Myanmar crime

(Reuters) - The head of a U.N. investigative body on Myanmar said Facebook has not released evidence of “serious international crimes”, despite vowing to work with investigators looking into abuses in the country, including against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

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Nicholas Koumjian, head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar (IIMM), told Reuters the social media giant was holding material “highly relevant and probative of serious international crimes” but had not shared any during year-long talks.

He declined to give details of the material the IIMM had asked for.

Facebook has said it is cooperating with the IIMM and a representative on Tuesday declined to immediately comment further.

Myanmar is facing charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over a 2017 military crackdown on the Rohingya that forced more than 730,000 people to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Myanmar denies genocide and says its armed forces were conducting legitimate operations against militants who attacked police posts.

U.N investigators said Facebook had played a key role in spreading hate speech that fuelled the violence.

The company says it is working to stop hate speech and has deleted accounts linked to the military including senior army officials, but preserved data.

The U.N. Human Rights Council set up the IIMM in 2018 to collect evidence of international crimes in Myanmar to be used in future prosecutions.

“Unfortunately, to date, the Mechanism has not received any material from Facebook but our discussions continue and I am hopeful that the Mechanism will eventually receive this important evidence,” Koumjian said on Monday.

His comments followed a move by Facebook last week to block a bid by Gambia, which brought the genocide case against Myanmar at the ICJ in the Hague, to obtain posts and communications by members of Myanmar’s military and police.

The social media giant urged the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to reject the demand, which it said would violate a U.S. law that bars electronic communication services from disclosing users’ communications.

In a statement last week Facebook said it could not comply with Gambia’s request but was working with the IIMM.

Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation U.K., said in a statement on Tuesday the “evidence Facebook sits on could be crucial” to support ongoing cases against the Myanmar military.

Matthew Smith, founder and chief executive officer of Fortify Rights, told Reuters Facebook was “telling states that even in an instance of genocide, their communications and data are secure and won’t be shared with prosecutors or law enforcement”.

Reporting by Poppy McPherson; Editing by Robert Birsel/Mark Heinrich