A former UK ambassador to Myanmar has been arrested, according to two people familiar with the situation, as the country marks the fifth anniversary of a military crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority who have been accused of genocide.
Vicky Bowman, the UK’s envoy to Myanmar from 2002 to 2006, and her husband, artist and former political prisoner Htein Lin, were arrested by the military regime, which seized power in a coup last February.
Both men were taken to Insein Prison in Yangon, the sources said. Bowman should be charged with violating Myanmar immigration law, according to local media.
“We are concerned about the arrest of a British woman in Myanmar,” the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said in a statement on Thursday. “We are in contact with local authorities and providing consular assistance.”
Bowman is the director of the Myanmar Center for Responsible Business, a non-governmental organization that advises local businesses on anti-corruption, social and environmental practices. She previously worked with miner Rio Tinto on transparency and sustainability issues.
News of the arrests came on the fifth anniversary of a violent crackdown by Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, against the Muslim Rohingya minority in western Rakhine state.
The Foreign Office said on Wednesday the UK would “intervene” in a case brought by The Gambia to the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2019 accusing the Tatmadaw of “genocidal acts”. He also unveiled a new set of sanctions against companies linked to the military.
“The UK has made it clear that what happened to the Rohingya was ethnic cleansing and remains committed to taking action to end the brutality of Myanmar’s armed forces and hold them to account,” the FCDO said. in a press release.
According to a UN fact-finding mission, around 10,000 people were killed and 730,000 displaced to neighboring Bangladesh in the months-long assault, which included sexual violence, burning of villages and extrajudicial executions. The UN investigation concluded that the army’s conduct constituted “both war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
Last month, the ICJ ruled that the case could proceed, overruling Myanmar’s objections to its jurisdiction. A separate case has been opened against the Tatmadaw in Argentina.
Peter Vowles, the current UK ambassador to Myanmar, was expelled from the country last month.