A NEW report has emerged confirming that Burmese security forces have raped, killed and burnt down over a thousand homes in a campaign of violence against the Rohingya people.
The report by Amnesty International released Monday says an analysis of survivor accounts and satellite images prove the allegations to be true, despite blanket denials by the Burmese authorities.
It also brands Aung San Suu Kyi a failure, saying her silence so far indicates she is either unwilling or unable to contain the violence.
“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,” Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said in a press release.
“The Burmese military has targeted Rohingya civilians in a callous and systematic campaign of violence. Men, women, children, whole families and entire villages have been attacked and abused, as a form of collective punishment.
“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,” he added.
Systematic campaign of violence
The recent violence in Rakhine state was triggered on Oct 9 when local police said Islamist militants had attacked their border posts and killed nine personnel. In apparent retaliation, Burmese security forces launched a large-scale operation in the area, targeting the Rohingya Muslim minority whom it blamed for the attacks.
The Amnesty International report says the series of events in the two months since then goes far beyond what could be considered a proportionate response to the alleged security threat.
Quoting from eyewitness accounts, it says soldiers have entered villages firing at random, killing men, women and children. In at least one instance, soldiers dragged people from their homes and shot them dead.
On Nov 12, the military deployed two helicopter gunships to target a group of villagers in northern Rakhine state after a skirmish with suspected militants. The helicopters reportedly fired randomly on villagers fleeing in panic, killing an unknown number. The following day, troops set fire to homes.
“We got scared when we heard the noise from the helicopter… The soldiers were shooting randomly. If they saw someone, the helicopter shot. They were shooting for a long time… We could not sleep that night.
“The next morning the military came and started shooting again,” an unnamed 30-year-old man said, according to the report.
The rights group says it could confirm from images and these survivor interviews that the Burmese army has so far torched more than 1,200 Rohingya homes and buildings, and in some cases, razed entire villages.
Eyewitnesses also describe how soldiers even used weapons like rocket-propelled grenade launchers (RPGs) to destroy homes.
‘Three military officers raped me’
The report also quashes claims by Burmese forces that the Rohingya women were too filthy to arouse its troops. It says several Rohingya women have claimed that the rape allegations were true, while aid workers in Bangladesh have also confirmed that some survivors who managed to flee across the border were being treated there for their rape injuries.
Fatimah, a 32-year-old Rohingya woman who fled to Bangladesh, is quoted in the report as saying that the military entered her village and dragged her out to a field where they raped her.
“Three military officers raped me… I don’t remember what happened next because I fell unconscious… I woke up early the next morning. I could not get up so I crawled across the paddy field.”
Apart from these incidents, the report also documents at least 23 cases of arbitrary arrests allegedly made by the Burmese army. It says the arrests largely targeted village elders, businessmen and community leaders, and that those taken were not given information about the charges they faced. They were also allegedly beaten during the arrests.
One woman interviewed says in the report:
“My two sons were tied up – the military tied their hands behind their backs -– they were beaten badly. The military kicked them in the chest. I saw it myself. I was crying so loudly.”
Citing articles by Burmese media, the report notes that at least six people have died in custody since the military campaign began.
‘A humanitarian catastrophe’
To escape the ongoing violence, tens of thousands of the 150,000-strong aid-reliant Rohingya community have tried to leave Rakhine state since Oct 9, resulting in what Amnesty International describes as a “humanitarian catastrophe”. Although the exact numbers are still unclear, the UN estimates it to be at least 27,000.
Responding to the exodus, the report notes that Bangladesh has tried to push back thousands in a bid to strengthen its long-standing policy of sealing its border with Burma.
“This is unlawful under international law,” Amnesty International said.
It notes that under the principle of non-refoulement, nations cannot forcibly return people to a country or place where they would be at real risk of serious human rights violations.
Djamin said: “The Burmese authorities have been willfully 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.”
The Rohingya, categorised by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted peoples, are a stateless Muslim minority of Burma numbering to a total of about 1.1 million people.
The Burmese largely view the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although they have lived for generations in Burma. Armed with the dream of better lives elsewhere, thousands of Rohingya brave choppy seas aboard rickety boats every year to escape persecution back home. Many, however, die during the journey or end up becoming victims of trafficking.