AUTHORITIES in Burma have made wrongful arrests and committed acts of torture against Rohingya refugees who returned to Rakhine State from Bangladesh, a rights group alleged on Tuesday.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it documented several refugees claiming instances of armed and unarmed beatings, burning, and electric shocks, among other forms of torture against detained Rohingya.
“The torture of Rohingya returnees puts the lie to Myanmar (Burma) government promises that refugees who return will be safe and protected,” the group’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said in a statement.
“Despite Myanmar’s rhetoric guaranteeing a safe and dignified return, the reality is that Rohingya who go back still face the persecution and abuses they were forced to flee.”
The mistreatment, he said, reinforces the need for international protection, including United Nations monitors on the ground, before the Rohingya will be able to return safely to Burma.
HRW recorded the cases of six victims who fled to Bangladesh last year to escape the “ethnic cleansing” campaign by Burma’s army. The six – three men and three boys, the youngest at age 16 – were reportedly picked up separately from Maungdaw, tortured earlier this year and subsequently sentenced to four years’ prison for illegally crossing the border.
The Border Guard Police (BGP) officers allegedly interrogated them at gunpoint and tortured them with sticks, rods and electricity to force confessions on their alleged links to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militant group. The Rohingya claimed they received inadequate clean water and food during their detention.
The six also claimed that during their trials, they were not given access to legal counsel, and proceedings were conducted in Burmese, a language they barely understand.
One of the victims, 17-year-old “Rahamat”, described the repeated abuse by BGP officers.
“They burned a plastic bag and let the hot plastic drip onto my body,” he said.
“They also took a heated iron bar and branded my legs, pressed burning cigarettes to my skin, poured hot wax from a burning candle on my skin, scratched my body with blade, and hit me with rod and sticks.”
Another 17-year-old by the name of “Ahmed” told HRW he was hung upside down and beaten repeatedly by the interrogating officers who demanded that he confess to being a member of ARSA.
After receiving their four-year prison sentences, the six were transferred to the Buthidaung prison in Maungdaw town, along with hundreds of other mostly Rohingya prisoners. The six were later pardoned but have been re-arrested and tortured by authorities on numerous occasions.
In June, the United Nations and Burma’s government announced an agreement promising the safe return of Rohingya refugees who have fled violence in Rakhine state.
Almost 700,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to neighbouring Bangladesh since a military crackdown began in August 2017.
Current estimates of those residing in squalid refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar region number to about a million..
“The treatment of these Rohingya refugees should be a warning sign to those who believe the Myanmar authorities are ready to ensure safe returns,” Robertson said.
“Myanmar has a long way to go before it can demonstrate it is serious about making the necessary reforms for voluntary, safe, and dignified returns.”