BURMA’S (Myanmar) military staged a “well-planned and coordinated” campaign of mass killings, gang rapes and other atrocities against the minority Muslim Rohingya population in the country, a US government investigation found.
The US State Department report ahead of its scheduled release on Monday could be used to impose sanctions or take other punitive measures against the Southeast Asian country, US officials told Reuters.
“The survey reveals that the recent violence in northern Rakhine State was extreme, large-scale, widespread, and seemingly geared toward both terrorizing the population and driving out the Rohingya residents,” according to the 20-page report.
“The scope and scale of the military’s operations indicate they were well-planned and coordinated.”
However, the report stopped short of describing the crackdown as genocide or crime against humanity. The officials said the labelling of the alleged crimes committed were a subject of heated debate that delayed the release of the report for a month.
The report involved more than a thousand interviews of Rohingya men and women in refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, where over 700,000 Rohingya have sought asylum following the military’s crackdown on insurgents in their native Rakhine state in Burma since August 2017.
The department also conducted a survey which found that the majority of Rohingya refugees experienced or directly witnessed extreme violence and the destruction of their homes. They identified the Burmese military as a perpetrator in most cases, the report said.
Most of those surveyed said they witnessed a killing, two-thirds witnessed an injury, and half witnessed sexual violence, identifying the Burmese military as a perpetrator in 84 percent of the killings or injuries they witnessed.
Three-quarters of Rohingya interviewed said they saw members of the army kill someone; the same proportion say they witnessed the army destroying huts or whole villages. Police, unidentified security forces, and armed civilians carried out the rest of the observed killings, they said.
The survey also found that one-fifth of all respondents witnessed a mass-casualty event of killings or injuries, either in their villages or as they fled, with more than 100 victims.
The department’s report highlighted two main phases of violence—the first in October 2016 and the second beginning in August 2017—followed attacks against Burmese security forces by the Rohingya insurgent group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
“The vast majority of reported incidents against Rohingya took place from August to October 2017,” the report said.
“The survey shows that the military, which used the ARSA attacks to justify its so-called counterinsurgency operations in northern Rakhine State, targeted civilians indiscriminately and often with extreme brutality.”
The Rohingya survivors claimed they had witnessed soldiers killing infants and small children, the shooting of unarmed men, and victims being buried alive in mass graves.
One refugee recounted the kidnapping of four Rohingya girls who were tied up with ropes and raped for three days, according to the report, which was the victims were left “half dead”.
Last Thursday, Canada’s parliament unanimously voted to declare Burma’s military actions against the minority Rohingya an act of “genocide”.
The western country’s lower house endorsed the findings of a UN fact-finding mission on Burma that found “crimes against humanity have been committed against the Rohingya” and that the acts took place under orders from military commanders.
They also urged the international community to investigate and prosecute Burma’s generals for “the crime of genocide”.
A fact-finding mission by the UN found evidence of ethnic cleansing and accused Burma’s military of genocide. The final report, released earlier this month, documented patterns of gross human rights violations and abuses that included killing indiscriminately, gang-raping women, assaulting children, and burning entire villages.
The UN investigators called for Burma’s army general Min Aung Hlaing and five generals to be prosecuted for genocide and crimes against humanity, among others.
The military has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has remained largely silent on the atrocities.
The Nobel laureate has received widespread criticism for being complicit in the military’s brutal crackdown.