THERE is “mounting evidence of genocide” in Burma (Myanmar) according to a report published this week, as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed the need for a “credible and impartial investigation” into alleged abuses against Rohingya Muslims during a one-day state visit.
Speaking during a joint press conference with the Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in the capital Naypyidaw on Wednesday, Tillerson said that the US was “deeply concerned by credible reports of widespread atrocities” committed by the country’s Tatmadaw army.
While dozens of American lawmakers have pressured President Donald Trump’s administration to impose targeted sanctions and travel bans against Burma’s military leadership, Tillerson said that sanctions were not “advisable at this time”.
“The recent serious allegations of abuses in Rakhine State demand a credible and impartial investigation, and those who commit human rights abuses or violations must be held accountable,” said Tillerson.
The Secretary of State also met with the powerful Tatmadaw chief General Min Aung Hlaing, who claimed in a Facebook post to have informed Tillerson of the “real situation” in the Rakhine.
Min Aung Hlaing reiterated the Burmese government’s official line, that “ARSA extremist Bengali terrorists fled to Bangladesh fearing counter-attack of security forces after they failed to carry out successful attacks on the security outposts.”
“Terrorists brutally killed all including children, women and Bengalis of their same race cooperating with the government,” said the post, echoing the findings of a supposed investigation by the Burmese military released this week which exonerated it of any wrongdoing during the Rohingya crisis.
Fastest exodus since Rwanda
A report entitled They tried to kill us all released this week by Fortify Rights and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, meanwhile, alleged that there is “mounting evidence of genocide” against Rohingya Muslims.
More than 600,000 refugees have fled into neighbouring Bangladesh since the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched attacks on police and military outposts on Aug 25, sparking so-called “clearing operations” in the Rakhine by Burmese security forces.
The army and Buddhist vigilantes have now been accused of mass killings, arson and rape, allegations which are evidenced throughout Fortify Rights and the Simon-Skjodt Center’s report.
“Clearance operations” in the Rakhine have been used by the Burmese military as a “mechanism to commit mass atrocities” against Rohingya men, women and children, it said, causing the “fastest-growing outflow of refugees from a country since the Rwandan genocide.”
“The evidence available thus far should serve as the highest of alarms to leaders within Myanmar and the international community to prevent genocide and to protect people who remain at risk,” it said, pointing to eyewitness accounts of mass killings, gang rapes and arbitrary arrests along with satellite imagery indicating that arson attacks had destroyed more than 200 villages.
“Soldiers gang-raped women and girls in homes, schools, other community buildings, paddy fields, and forested areas, often in plain view of other soldiers and civilians,” claimed the report.
One 27-year-old woman described being gang raped along with three other women by Burmese soldiers in her own home, stating that “I grabbed my legs, saying, ‘Please do not do this. I already have a husband. Please do not do this.’”
Genocide is defined as the committing of acts such as killings and enforcing conditions intended to bring about physical destruction of a population with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
Based upon interviews with more than 200 people, including more than 100 Rohingya women, the report claimed that Suu Kyi’s government has “perpetuated an environment for mass violence and atrocities” including by fostering discrimination against the Rohingya community.
It called upon Burma’s government to cease violence against Rohingya civilians, allow access to humanitarian organisations and rights monitors, and prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses.
While Suu Kyi has claimed her country “does not fear international scrutiny”, to date the Burmese government has refused to allow investigations of alleged crimes including barring entry to a specially created UN fact-finding mission.
“Regardless, the Government of Myanmar and the international community should not wait for a formal legal determination of genocide to take immediate action,” said the report, which recommended that the international community refer the case to the International Criminal Court, which tries and prosecutes atrocity crimes.
Tillerson said on Wednesday that the US was calling upon Burma’s government “to lead a full and effective, independent investigation” into abuses, with which the military should cooperate.
While the United Nations has said it is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” France’s President Emmanuel Macron said in September that attacks against the Rohingya community amounted to genocide.