Burmese military accused of raping, killing and burning down entire villages

Burmese security forces accused of systematic campaign of violence against Rohingya Muslims as UN receives daily reports of rapes and killings

Samuel Osborne
Monday 19 December 2016 00:28
Boys stand among debris after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in the western Rakhine State near Sittwe, Myanmar
Boys stand among debris after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in the western Rakhine State near Sittwe, Myanmar

Burmese security forces have killed, raped and burned down the houses of entire villages in a systematic campaign of violence against Rohingya Muslims, Amnesty International has said.

In a report based on interviews with Rohingyas in both Burma and Bangladesh, Amnesty says it has documented the military’s “vicious and disproportionate” security campaign in northern Rakhine state over the past two months.

The report cites multiple eyewitnesses alleging soldiers entered their villages and fired randomly, killing men, women and children. Several Rohingya women also claimed to have been raped by soldiers.

The rights group accused the country’s leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, of “failing to live up to both her political and moral responsibility”.

Burmese authorities have issued blanket denials that troops have committed any human rights violations, with Burmese government officials claiming the army is hunting “terrorists” behind raids on police on 9 October, in which nine police officers were killed.

“The Burmese military has targeted Rohingya civilians in a callous and systematic campaign of violence,” Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said

“Men, women, children, whole families and entire villages have been attacked and abused, as a form of collective punishment.

He added: “The deplorable actions of the military could be part of a widespread and systematic attack on a civilian population and may amount to crimes against humanity.

“While the military is directly responsible for the violations, Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to live up to both her political and moral responsibility to try to stop and condemn what is unfolding in Rakhine state.

“The Burmese authorities have been wilfully ignorant over of the violations committed by the military in Rakhine state. These completely indefensible violations must end immediately, and independent investigations must be held to ensure that those responsible are held to account.”

Although they have lived in Burma for generations, Rohingya Muslims are barred from citizenship in the nation of 50 million, and instead live as some of the most oppressed people in the world.

Since communal violence broke out in 2012, more than 120,000 Rohingya have been driven from their homes and crammed into squalid camps guarded by police. There, they are denied healthcare and education, and their movements are heavily restricted.

Some have tried to flee by boat, but many ended up becoming victims of human trafficking or were held for ransom.

The report comes as the United Nations human rights chief said rapes and killings of Rohingya Muslims are reported to the UN human rights office on a daily basis.

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said the government had taken a “short-sighted, counterproductive, even callous” approach to the crisis.

He said the government's handling of issues in northern Rakhine state, where independent monitors are barred from investigating, risk grave long term repercussions for the region.

At least 86 people have been killed, according to state media, and the UN estimates 27,000 members of the largely stateless Rohingya minority have fled across the border from Rakhine into Bangladesh.

“The repeated dismissal of the claims of serious human rights violations as fabrications, coupled with the failure to allow our independent monitors access to the worst affected areas in northern Rakhine, is highly insulting to the victims and an abdication of the government's obligations under international human rights law,” Mr Zeid said.

“If the authorities have nothing to hide, then why is there such reluctance to grant us access? Given the continued failure to grant us access, we can only fear the worst.”

UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said the UN human rights office had submitted a formal request for access to the area, which had not yet been granted.

Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, said his colleagues in Bangladesh had spoken to more than 1,000 newly-arrived refugees in the past few weeks who gave accounts of houses being burned, targeting of civilians and traumatised women and children who had witnessed the killing of family members.

UNHCR could not verify the accounts first-hand, but it was extremely concerned and it urged the Myanmar authorities to investigate and the government of Bangladesh to give the refugees a safe haven, he added.

Mr Zeid said in June that crimes against humanity may have been committed against the Rohingya.

Ms Shamdasani said if the government did not handle the situation very carefully and address the grievances of the Rohingya minority, violence could ensue.

“Unfortunately this is exactly what has happened in the past couple of months,” she added. “We are worried that this is going to get further out of hand. This is perfect breeding ground for violent extremists.”

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