HUMAN Rights Watch (HRW) has said that the security forces of Burma (Myanmar) are responsible for crimes against humanity against the Rohingya Muslim minority population in the country’s restive Rakhine State.
HRW on Tuesday joined fellow international rights group Amnesty International in labelling the conduct of the Tatmadaw army of Burma – which along with Buddhist vigilante groups is accused of extrajudicial killings, arson and rape – crimes against humanity.
“The Burmese military is brutally expelling the Rohingya from northern Rakhine State,” Human Rights Watch legal and policy director said James Ross said.
“The massacres of villagers and mass arson driving people from their homes are all crimes against humanity.”
The rights watchdog previously called for the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo and other sanctions upon the Burmese military.
According to the International Organisation for Migration at least 429,000 mostly-Rohingya people have crossed from the Rakhine into Bangladesh since Aug 25, fleeing what the Burmese army calls a “clearing operation” after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched attacks on its outposts a month ago.
The UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has previously said he is “appalled” by the Burmese military’s “disproportionate” response to ARSA violence, which he said appeared to be a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government’s handling of the Rohingya crisis has been widespread, including French President Emmanuel Macron who last week accused Burma of genocide.
The International Criminal Court defines crimes against humanity as murder, forcible transfer of population, severe deprivation of liberty, sexual violence and persecution against any identifiable group “when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.”
While State Counsellor Suu Kyi last week claimed that there had been no violence in Rakhine since Sep 5, Amnesty and HRW have said that satellite images corroborate accounts from the displaced in Bangladesh regarding continued looting and burning of villages across the Rakhine.
Reuters reported on Sunday that doctors treating Rohingya in Bangladesh had found evidence consistent with violent sexual attacks.
“Attaching a legal label to the ghastly crimes being committed by the Burmese military against Rohingya families may seem inconsequential,” said Ross of HRW on Tuesday.
“But global recognition that crimes against humanity are taking place should stir the UN and concerned governments to action against the Burmese military to bring these crimes to an end.”
Mass Hindu graves
Burma’s army said on Monday it had found 17 bodies of Hindu victims buried in mass graves near Maungtaw township in the northern Rakhine, after finding 28 corpses of mainly women and children on Sunday. It blamed the killings on ARSA.
According to a local doctor quoted by the government, the victims’ bodies “were found with their throats slits while their hands were tied and were blindfolded.”
A local Hindu man who helped the military unearth the bodies told the AFP that “we are still searching together with soldiers and police as we believe more than 100 people were killed at that time.”
The BBC reported it had spoken to Hindus in Bangladesh who fled violence, some who said they had been threatened and attacked by ARSA militants, who allegedly accused them of being government spies.
ARSA – which declared a “unilateral ceasefire” on Sep 9 and has denied links to international terror groups – reportedly claimed it was not responsible for the killing of Hindus.