THE Burmese army has formed a high-level investigation team comprising six senior military members to probe human rights abuses allegedly committed by security forces in the restive Rakhine state.
The military, or Tatmadaw as they are locally known, said the team will look into confirming whether there were any unlawful acts throughout the security sweeps since October, including the possibility of human rights violations committed by its personnel.
“Officials at all levels are giving instructions and supervision to ensure that security forces stay away from using excessive force and committing human rights violations in conducting area clearance operations within the framework of the law,” the Tatmadaw said in a statement released via its official information bureau, as quoted by the Myanmar Times.
“Legal action will be taken against anyone who breaks any one of the directives.”
On Feb 7, the United Nations released a report claiming Burma‘s security forces had committed mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya Muslims and burned their villages since October in a campaign that “very likely” amounted to crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing.
On Wednesday, sources told Reuters that more than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims may have been killed in the army crackdown, according to two unnamed senior United Nations officials dealing with refugees fleeing the violence, suggesting the death toll has been a far greater than previously reported.
The officials, from two separate UN agencies working in Bangladesh, where nearly 70,000 Rohingya have fled in recent months, said they were concerned the outside world had not fully grasped the severity of the crisis unfolding in Burma’s Rakhine State.
“The talk until now has been of hundreds of deaths. This is probably an underestimation – we could be looking at thousands,” said one of the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Both officials, in separate interviews, cited the weight of testimony gathered by their agencies from refugees over the past four months for concluding the death toll likely exceeded 1,000.
Burma’s presidential spokesman, Zaw Htay, said the latest reports from military commanders were that fewer than 100 people have been killed in a counterinsurgency operation against Rohingya militants who attacked police border posts in October.
Asked about the UN officials’ comments that the dead could number more than 1,000, he said: “Their number is much greater than our figure. We have to check on the ground.”
About 1.1 million Burma Muslims live in apartheid-like conditions in northwestern Burma, where they are denied citizenship. Many in Buddhist-majority Burma regard them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
In addition to the information the two UN officials gave Reuters, a report released by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) last Friday gave accounts of mass killings and gang rapes by troops in northwestern Burma in recent months, which it said probably constituted crimes against humanity.
The government led by Aung San Suu Kyi said last week it would investigate the allegations in the report. It has previously denied almost all accusations of killings, rapes and arson.
But mounting evidence of atrocities by the army puts Suu Kyi, who has no control over the armed forces under a constitution written by the previous military government, in a difficult position, Burma-based diplomats say.
Burma’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said it has requested for the the UN to furnish it with evidence of the claims but none have surfaced so far.
“We are always requesting for evidences, but nobody supplied any proof of what is being alleged. However, our investigation commission is examining whether it’s true or not,” Daw Aye Aye Soe, spokesperson from the ministry said, as quoted by the Myanmar Times.
Additional reporting by Reuters