Growing public anger over ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims
Turkey’s foreign minister on Saturday decried other Muslim countries’ silence on the plight of the Rohingya Muslims.
“There are a great many Muslim countries. Where are they? Why are they silent?” Mevlut Cavusoglu asked at an event marking the Muslim Eid-al Adha holiday in the Mediterranean province of Antalya.
He said to date Turkey had delivered more than $70 million in humanitarian aid to the Rohingya Muslims, and that no country in the world was showing more concern for the Rohingya than Turkey.
But, he added: “It’s not enough to deliver aid. In two weeks we need to hold a meeting in New York with the UN’s secretary-general, leaders of Muslim countries, international organizations, head of the UN Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, Kofi Annan, and other leaders to solve this issue.”
Violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine state on 25 August when the country’s security forces launched an operation against the Rohingya Muslim community. It triggered a fresh influx of refugees towards neighboring Bangladesh, though the country sealed off its border to refugees.
Media reports said Myanmar security forces used disproportionate force, displacing thousands of Rohingya villagers and destroying their homes with mortars and machine guns.
The region has seen simmering tension between its Buddhist and Muslim populations since communal violence broke out in 2012.
A security crackdown launched last October in Maungdaw, where Rohingya make up the majority, led to a UN report on human rights violations by security forces that indicated crimes against humanity.
The UN documented mass gang-rape, killings — including infants and young children — brutal beatings, and disappearances. Rohingya representatives have said approximately 400 people have been slain during the crackdown.
Residents accuse security forces of shooting ‘indiscriminately’ at the Muslim minority, forcing thousands to flee.
The Myanmar army has been accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings in the restive Rakhine region, with residents and activists accusing soldiers of shooting indiscriminately at unarmed Rohingya men, women and children and carrying out arson attacks.
Authorities in Myanmar say close to 100 people have been killed since Friday when armed men, reportedly from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), launched a pre-dawn raid on police outposts in the restive region.
The army has declared a war against “terrorism”, encircling the townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung, home to around 800,000 people, and imposed a curfew from 6pm (11:30 GMT) to 6am (23:30 GMT).
However, advocates for the Rohingya have given a much higher death toll, telling Al Jazeera that at least 800 of the Muslim minority, including dozens of women and children, have been killed in the violence.
Al Jazeera could not independently verify the figures.
Aziz Khan, a Maungdaw resident, said the army stormed his village early on Friday and began “firing indiscriminately at people’s cars and homes.
“Government forces and the border guard police killed at least 11 people in my village. When they arrived they started shooting at everything that moved. Some soldiers then carried out arson attacks.
“Women and children were also among the dead,” he said. “Even a baby wasn’t spared.”
Ro Nay San Lwin, a Rohingya activist and blogger based in Europe, said anywhere between 5,000 – 10,000 people had been driven from their homes by the recent offensive.
Using a network of activists on the ground to document the conflict, San Lwin said mosques and madrasas [religious Islamic institutions] had been burned to the ground, with thousands of Muslims stranded without food and shelter.
“My own uncles were forced to flee by the government and the military,” he told Al Jazeera.
“There has been no help from the government, instead people’s homes have been destroyed and their goods looted.
“Without food, shelter and protection, they don’t know when we’ll be killed.”
Speaking to Al Jazeera under a pseudonym, Myint Lwin, a resident of Buthidaung township, said that “fear had gripped every household.
“People have been sharing videos of the killings on WhatsApp. Videos of women and children being killed. Innocent men being shot dead. You can’t begin to imagine how scared we are.
“Nobody wants to leave their home. Muslims are scared to go anywhere, hospitals, markets, anywhere. It’s a very dangerous situation.”
Videos uploaded on social media showed dozens of men, women and children fleeing with only the clothes on their backs while seeking refuge in rice and paddy fields.
Security has deteriorated sharply in Rakhine since Aung San Suu Kyi‘s government sent thousands of troops into Rohingya villages and hamlets last October after nine policemen were killed by suspected Rohingya armed group in attacks on border posts.
The security forces’ offensive has been beset by allegations of arson, killings and rape; and forced more than 87,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.
Matthew Smith, chief executive officer at Fortify Rights, a human rights group, said with the “authorities treating all Rohingya as combatants”, the government’s account of the violence would be “dubious at best”.
“The government has refused to cooperate with a UN fact-finding Mission on Rakhine and there are serious allegations of the military attacking unarmed civilians,” he told Al Jazeera on Sunday.
“A lot of people are on the run and they need serious protection and the authorities have not made it easy to help them.”
Rakhine state is home to most of Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya, who live largely in abject poverty and face widespread discrimination by the Buddhist majority.
The minority are widely reviled as illegal migrants from Bangladesh, despite having lived in the area for generations.
They have been rendered stateless by the government and the UN believes the army’s crackdown may amount to ethnic cleansing – a charge the government of Aung San Suu Kyi vehemently denies.
Fifty-six OIC representatives are expected to attend the January 19 meeting which will be led by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who recently called on Myanmar to stop the “genocide” of Rohingya Muslims.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar refuses to recognise the Rohingya as one of the country’s ethnic minorities, instead describing them as Bengalis — or illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh — even though many have lived in Myanmar for generations
Foreign ministers from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation will meet to discuss the Rohingya Muslim crisis next week in Kuala Lumpur, a Malaysian official said today, as thousands continue to flee Myanmar. Fifty-six OIC representatives are expected to attend the January 19 meeting which will be led by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who recently called on Myanmar to stop the “genocide” of Rohingya Muslims.
The Plight Of Rohingya Refugees Living In India
Buddhist-majority Myanmar refuses to recognise the Rohingya as one of the country’s ethnic minorities, instead describing them as Bengalis — or illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh — even though many have lived in Myanmar for generations. There has been a large exodus of Rohingya from northern Myanmar’s Rakhine state after the army launched clearance operations while searching for insurgents behind deadly raids on police border posts three months ago.
Escapees from the persecuted Muslim minority in Bangladesh have given harrowing accounts of security forces committing mass rape, murder and arson. The stories have cast a pall over the young government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, with Muslim-majority Malaysia being especially critical. Myanmar’s government has said the claims of abuse are fabricated and launched a special commission to investigate the allegations.
In November, Kuala Lumpur summoned the Myanmar ambassador while around 500 Malaysians and Rohingya protested outside the embassy. A senior Malaysian minister has also called on ASEAN, the ten-country Southeast Asia bloc, to review Myanmar’s membership, while the foreign ministry has accused Myanmar of engaging in “ethnic cleansing.”
New Eyewitness Accounts Show Systematic Attacks Based on Ethnicity, Religion
(New York) – Burmese government forces committed rape and other sexual violence against ethnic Rohingya women and girls as young as 13 during security operations in northern Rakhine State in late 2016, Human Rights Watch said today. The Burmese government should urgently endorse an independent, international investigation into alleged abuses in northern Rakhine State, including into possible systematic rape against Rohingya women and girls.
Burmese army and Border Guard Police personnel took part in rape, gang rape, invasive body searches, and sexual assaults in at least nine villages in Maungdaw district between October 9 and mid-December. Survivors and witnesses, who identified army and border police units by their uniforms, kerchiefs, armbands, and patches, described security forces carrying out attacks in groups, some holding women down or threatening them at gunpoint while others raped them. Many survivors reported being insulted and threatened on an ethnic or religious basis during the assaults.
“These horrific attacks on Rohingya women and girls by security forces add a new and brutal chapter to the Burmese military’s long and sickening history of sexual violence against women,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, senior emergencies researcher. “Military and police commanders should be held responsible for these crimes if they did not do everything in their power to stop them or punish those involved.”
Between December 2016 and January 2017, Human Rights Watch researchers in Bangladesh interviewed 18 women, of whom 11 had survived sexual assault, as well as 10 men. Seventeen men and women, including some women who survived assaults, witnessed sexual violence, including against their wives, sisters, or daughters. Altogether Human Rights Watch documented 28 incidents of rape and other sexual assault. Some incidents involved several victims. A report released by the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) on February 3 found that more than half of the 101 women UN investigators interviewed said they were raped or suffered other forms of sexual violence. The report, based on a total of 204 interviews, concluded that attacks including rape and other sexual violence “seem[ed] to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”
Several women described how soldiers surrounded their villages or homes, then gathered the villagers in an outdoor area, separating men from women, and detained them for up to several hours. Soldiers often shot villagers, and raped and gang raped women and girls. “Ayesha,” a Rohingya woman in her 20s, told Human Rights Watch: “They gathered all the women and started beating us with bamboo sticks and kicking us with their boots. After beating us, the military took [me and] 15 women about my age and separated us.… [The soldiers] raped me one by one, tearing my clothes.”After attacks by Rohingya militants on border police posts on October 9, 2016, the Burmese military undertook a series of “clearance operations” in northern Rakhine State. Security forces summarily executed men, women, and children; looted property; and burned down at least 1,500 homes and other buildings. More than 69,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh, while another 23,000 have become internally displaced in Maungdaw district.
During raids on homes, security forces frequently beat or killed family members and raped the women. “Noor,” in her 40s, said that 20 soldiers stormed her home and grabbed her and her husband: “They took me in the yard of the home. Another two put a rifle to my head, tore off my clothes, and raped me.… They slaughtered [my husband] in front of me with a machete. Then three more men raped me.… After some time, I had severe bleeding. I had severe pain in my lower abdomen and pain in my whole body.”
The sexual violence did not appear to be random or opportunistic, but part of a coordinated and systematic attack against Rohingya, in part because of their ethnicity and religion. Many women told Human Rights Watch that soldiers threatened or insulted them with language focused on their status as Rohingya Muslims, calling them “you Bengali bitch” or “you Muslim bitch” while beating or raping them. “We will kill you because you are Muslim,” one woman said soldiers threatened. Other women said that security forces asked if they were “harboring terrorists,” then proceeded to beat and rape them when they said no. A woman in her 20s who said soldiers attempted to rape her in her home, added that they told her, “You are just raising your kids to kill us, so we will kill your kids.”
Burmese authorities have taken no evident steps to seriously investigate allegations of sexual violence or other abuses reported by nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch. A national-level investigation commission on the situation in Maungdaw district headed by the first vice president and comprised of current and former government officials released an interim report on January 3, 2017. The commission claims to have addressed rape allegations and “interviewed local villagers and women using various methods … [but found] insufficient evidence to take legal action up to this date.” Also contrary to the findings of human rights groups, the commission rejected reports of serious abuses and religious persecution, and said there were no cases of malnutrition.
On December 26, 2016, the Information Committee of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi issued a press release addressing “the rumours that some women were raped during the area clearance operations of security forces following the violent attacks in Maungtaw Township.” Accompanied by an image stating “Fake Rape,” the release claimed that the investigation commission had interviewed two women who gave conflicting testimony as to whether they had been raped, and that village leaders later refuted their accounts. However, video footage of the commission’s visit shows an interviewer asking one of the women about violence against other women she witnessed, not her personal experience. Nothing in her video testimony suggests she lied in her interview. The interview appears confrontational, and out of keeping with accepted guidelines on how to conduct interviews with victims of sexual violence. The problematic circumstances under which authorities conducted these interviews, as well as the risks to the women, including when authorities exposed their names and identities to the media, raise serious doubts about the credibility of the Information Committee’s press release.
“The government should stop contesting these rape allegations and instead provide survivors with access to necessary support, health care, and other services,” Motaparthy said.
Rohingya victims of sexual assault face limited access to emergency health care including to prevent unwanted pregnancy from rape and infection with HIV, and to treat other sexually transmitted infections. Though the Burmese government has permitted some aid to go through to northern Rakhine State, it continues to obstruct international assistance from reaching the civilian population. It is unknown how many rape survivors remain in the area and whether they have received appropriate health care. None of the women Human Rights Watch interviewed had access to medical facilities until they reached Bangladesh. Many reported that in Bangladesh, they lacked information about services available, or could not arrange child care or pay transportation costs to clinics.
“The government’s failure to investigate rape and other crimes against the Rohingya should make it clear to Burma’s friends and donors that an independent, international inquiry is desperately needed to get to the bottom of these appalling abuses,” Motaparthy said.
Rape and Sexual Assault Against Rohingya Women and Girls in Northern Rakhine State
The following incidents took place between October 9 and mid-December 2016. Pseudonyms are used to protect those interviewed, as well as to protect their relatives who remain in Burma from possible government reprisals.
Cases of Rape and Gang Rape
Human Rights Watch interviewed nine Rohingya women who said that Burmese security force members had raped or gang raped them during attacks on their villages in Rakhine State. Several women described how security forces forcibly entered their homes, looted their belongings, and subjected women to invasive body searches before raping one or more women or girls in the family. Fatima, a Rohingya woman in her 20s, described an assault by soldiers against her and her young children in Kyet Yoe Pyin village in mid-November. She said:
Four soldiers attacked and suddenly entered the house. One grabbed the children, two of them grabbed each of my arms.… They were armed with rifles, pistols, small and long knives, and some were wearing ammunition belts.
My eldest [5-year-old] daughter screamed and said, “Please leave us.” … So they killed her … with a machete. They slaughtered her in front of me.
When they killed her, I became very upset. [The soldiers] said many things to me that I could not understand and put a gun to my head.… They kicked me in my hip and back, and beat me on the head with a wooden stick.
[Then] one of the soldiers tore off my clothes. Two soldiers raped me, one by one. They were about 30 to 35 years old. They touched too many places in a very painful way – they touched my chest, they touched my vaginal area. They did it quickly, they only opened their zippers – they didn’t take their pants off. When another soldier tried to rape me, I resisted. Then they burned my leg with plastic, they put it out on my leg.
Noor, in her 40s, said that about 20 soldiers stormed her home in the border town of Shein Kar Li in early December, and grabbed her and her husband:
Two of them held my arms tightly. I couldn’t move. They took me in the yard of the home. Another two put a rifle to my head, tore off my clothes, and raped me.… While they held me, my husband was also held. They slaughtered him in front of me with a machete. Then three more men raped me. I began bleeding severely. After some time, I didn’t know what was happening, I fell unconscious.… I regained consciousness the next morning. I took my gold jewelry, went to the nearby ghat [stairs leading to the river], and gave it to the boatman [so that I could cross to Bangladesh]. I walked there very slowly, as I was in pain. I had severe pain in my lower abdomen and pain in my whole body.
Witnesses also described security forces gathering women together in public areas – in paddy fields or school courtyards – and detaining them before selecting some women to rape. Ayesha, a woman in her 20s from Pyaung Pyit village, said:
They gathered all the women and started beating us with bamboo sticks and kicking us with their boots. In total they beat about 100 to 150 women, young boys, and girls. After beating us, the military took me and 15 women about my age and separated us [from the group].
They took us to a nearby school, kept us in the burning sun, standing in the field in front. They made us turn to face the sun. Then three soldiers took me to a nearby pond.
When they prepared to rape me, they opened their pants. All I could notice was their underwear. When one finished raping me, I resisted with my leg, and one of them punched me in the eye.… One of them kicked my knee and I got hurt. They also bit my face and scratched me with their nails.
I started bleeding. When I started severely bleeding from my genital area and leg, they left me. I became senseless. When I came to, I found my clothes torn around me. I found my skirt and wrapped my body in that.
Ayesha said that her abdomen and vaginal area had become red and swollen, and that she remained in pain for at least a week after the attack.
One woman in her 30s from Kyet Yoe Pyin village said that four soldiers raped her, then one raped her again by inserting the barrel of his rifle into her vagina.
Rape of Girls
Five people told Human Rights Watch they saw security forces raping or sexually assaulting girls as young as 13, or saw girls taken away, heard their screams, and learned soon afterward that they had been raped. Some of these victims were their family members.
Sayeda, a woman in her 40s from Kyet Yoe Pyin village, said that in mid-November soldiers gang raped her 16-year-old daughter in front of her, then burned her house:
After evening prayer time, the military came and surrounded our house, then entered. Three soldiers grabbed me and my [seven] daughters, and took us to the paddy field. They beat us with their rifles.
On the spot in front of me, four military raped [my eldest daughter]. Then one soldier took her to another place. When the soldiers attacked her, I grabbed my other daughters and ran. We ran into the bushes. Other people later told me she died. I didn’t see her body.
Amina, a woman in her 20s from Hpar Wut Chaung village, said that soldiers raped and killed her 13-year-old sister during a raid on their home in early December, as well as killing five other siblings. She said:
When they entered [our house], our brothers were sleeping on the veranda, and we [five sisters] were in the bed. They shot and killed my [brothers] and held the girls so they couldn’t move.
They instantly shot my younger sister in the head. While [another sister was] running away, they shot [her too].
They took my other [13-year-old] sister to another room and raped her there. We heard [her screaming]. She screamed, “Someone save me! He’s trying to take my clothes off!” What I saw from outside is that 10 more people entered that room with my sister.
Amina and her father managed to escape and fled to a neighboring village. There, her next-door neighbor who also fled told her that she had found Amina’s sister dead, without any clothes on.
Several women told Human Rights Watch that security forces subjected them to invasive body searches during village raids, either in their homes or while villagers were gathered in open fields. Soldiers put their hands underneath women’s clothes and painfully pressed their breasts and genital areas – searches that constitute sexual assault. They beat or slapped some women, and threatened them with machetes and guns. They also snatched gold jewelry women wore, and took money they kept in their blouses. Some women said they were searched twice.
Taslima, a woman in her mid-20s from Dar Gyi Zar village, said that in early November, after she fled to the nearby village of Yae Twin Kyun, soldiers came to the house where she was staying and dragged her and other women from the village out into the yard:
When [the military] entered the house, one soldier searched my body for gold and jewelry, and asked for money. When I didn’t give it to them, soldiers grabbed me and searched my body. They searched under my clothes … they pressed my chest very badly. They found where I hid my money in my chest. They also touched my hips and sensitive area [genital area].
She said they then dragged her outside: “There were about 10 to 12 women standing in the yard, around the same age as me. They touched us all, very bad touches. They used [their rifles] and machetes to threaten us.”
Sara, from Sin Thae Pyin village, said that in late November about 15 soldiers entered her home where she was with her mother-in-law and her 15-year-old niece. She said that they first searched the cupboards but, finding no valuables, they then searched the women’s bodies:
When they searched our bodies, a soldier was searching my chest, he put his hands inside my clothes. So I started to cry. When I started to cry, they hit us. They slapped me and my mother-in-law, and my sister-in-law’s elder daughter. They took my clothes off and attempted to rape me, but I screamed very loudly, so they left.
Several women said that soldiers subjected them to intrusive body searches or other non-consensual touching. Several men and women described witnessing these searches.
Access to Care and Services
Survivors of sexual assault need access to emergency and long-term medical services, legal assistance, and social support to address injuries caused by the assault; to prevent pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections; and to collect evidence to support prosecution of perpetrators.
International organizations including the International Organization for Migration and Médecins Sans Frontières maintain or fund clinics in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh, where the women interviewed by Human Rights Watch have fled. These facilities can provide essential and life-saving care, other medical treatment, and psychological counseling to sexual assault survivors. Survivors may also be referred to Bangladeshi government hospitals for more serious or long-term care.
However, while several women interviewed said they had received care at these facilities in Bangladesh, including psychological support, only one had visited medical facilities within 24 hours of being assaulted. The boatman who transported her from Burma to Bangladesh referred her to a clinic after noting the severity of her injuries, and she went there directly after crossing the border. The remaining women sought care several days after they were assaulted, after they had moved within Burma seeking safety, or after they had found a place to stay and basic necessities in Bangladesh. This placed them beyond the window during which providers can effectively administer emergency contraception (120 hours) and post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV (72 hours), as recommended by the World Health Organization. One woman said villagers in Burma provided her with contraceptive medication, while others took only paracetamol, a mild painkiller, after they were assaulted.
A lack of knowledge about services and how to access them has stopped women from getting care, even in Bangladesh. Many other women said they did not seek medical care, including at government or humanitarian-supported facilities in Bangladesh where they could receive treatment for free, because they believed incorrectly that they would have to pay for services, or because they did not know they could access them. Some women also cited financial difficulties paying for transport to facilities, or said that they had no one to watch their children while they visited. None of the women Human Rights Watch interviewed had returned to medical facilities for follow-up visits, though some said they still experienced pain or they had not completed a course of medication and needed prescription refills.
Fatima said, “Now I have urine problems. When I was at [the clinic] they gave me medicine but I didn’t properly recover my [normal urine flow].… After that I didn’t go back … because I was worried about paying for medicine.” Mumtaz said, “I still feel pain in my shoulder and chest [where they beat me] … also in my lower abdomen and back. Now my medicine is finished but I have no money to consult with the doctor, and [I can’t] leave my child home alone.”
Those interviewed also said they did not return for follow-up psychological counseling, even when they continued to experience nightmares about violent incidents or other signs of trauma. Many of the women interviewed said they did not know what counseling was. One woman who received an initial counseling session said she would not return because she felt too overwhelmed by the hardships she faced, and did not feel up to returning. “I won’t visit again. I feel weak, too tired to go,” she said.
Most of the women interviewed said they had come to Bangladesh only with their children, or with other female family members, and struggled to provide for themselves and their children. Their husbands or other male family members had either been killed by the Burmese military or had been separated from them during the violence. Many women no longer knew their husbands’ whereabouts or if they were still alive. Several interviewees who fled with only their children struggled to meet their basic food and shelter needs. They said they survived through limited charity distributions, by begging, or by sending a young child to the local bazaar to beg.
Concerned governments and international agencies should continue to support medical and psychosocial care for survivors of sexual violence in Burma, including those who have fled to Bangladesh. More efforts are also needed to encourage and educate those who may need services about how they can access them.
Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, who tried to cross the Naf River into Bangladesh to escape sectarian violence, are kept under watch by Bangladeshi security officials in Teknaf on December 25, 2016
At least 65,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled persecution and violence in Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since the army launched a crackdown in the northwestern Rakhine State early October, the United Nations says.
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its weekly report on Monday that 22,000 Rohingya had fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh over the past week.
“Over the past week, 22,000 new arrivals were reported to have crossed the border from Rakhine state,” the UN relief agency said, adding, “As of 5 January, an estimated 65,000 people are residing in registered camps, makeshift settlements and host communities” in Cox’s Bazar in southern Bangladesh.
The latest figure marks a sharp escalation in the numbers fleeing a military campaign.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims are living in Bangladesh, with the vast majority of them having taken refuge in makeshift settlements, official refugee camps and villages in Bangladesh’s resort district of Cox’s Bazar.
Many of those interviewed by journalists have told horrific stories of gang-rape, torture and murder at the hands of Myanmar’s government forces.
Meanwhile, a United Nations (UN) special envoy has arrived in Myanmar to begin an investigation into the brutal and deadly military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in the country.
Yanghee Lee, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, arrived in the country late on Sunday and will visit Rakhine State, where the Rohingya have been subjected to executions, rape, and arson attacks since October.
The developments come as Myanmar’s military launched a fresh wave of crackdown on Muslims after a deadly attack on the country’s border guards on October 9 left nine policemen dead. The government blamed the Rohingya for the assault.
This file photo taken on October 14, 2016 shows armed military troops and police force traveling in trucks through Maungdaw, located in Rakhine State
There have been numerous accounts by eyewitnesses of summary executions, rapes and arson attacks against Muslims since the crackdown began. The military has blocked access to Rakhine and banned journalists and aid workers from entering the zone.
The United Nations has warned that ongoing human rights violations against the Rohingya in Rakhine could be tantamount to “crimes against humanity.”
Rakhine has been the scene of communal violence at the hands of Buddhist extremists since 2012. Hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands have been forced from their homes to live in squalid camps in dire conditions in Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The government denies full citizenship to the 1.1 million-strong Rohingya population, branding them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. This as the Rohingya are believed to be a community of ancient lineage in Myanmar.
According to the UN, the Rohingya are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
The footage has made it more difficult for the government to say at least some abuses are not happening, and sown doubts into its dismissals of more grievous allegations such as rape, arson and murder.
YANGON, Myanmar (REPORT) — Newly revealed video of Myanmar police beating Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state has weakened months of government claims that its forces have not committed abuses in the tense and isolated region it has largely closed off to foreigners since a deadly insurgent attack in October.
The footage has made it more difficult for the government to say at least some abuses are not happening, and sown doubts into its dismissals of more grievous allegations such as rape, arson and murder.
Authorities quickly verified the video and detained the officers who were seen beating and kicking residents in a large-scale roundup.
According to the office of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the clip was posted to social media Dec. 31 but recorded Nov. 5 in a village called Kotankauk in the north of Rakhine, a state in western Myanmar where most of Myanmar’s more than 1 million Rohingya live. It was apparently filmed by a police officer, who recorded the beating while looking impassively into the camera and smoking a cigarette.
Aye Aye Soe, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry, insisted the event “has to be an isolated case.”
“You cannot just look at one incident and think, that’s the whole thing that is happening.”
She said that if the government is presented with facts, it will respond in kind, but that “it’s sort of mixed up and confusing over there,” and many allegations are difficult to verify.
“Come back with something concrete, and we will give you back something concrete,” she said.
Most journalists and aid workers, however, have been blocked from the area of Rakhine where abuses have been alleged.
Myat Thu, a former political prisoner and chairman of the Yangon School of Political Science, said the incident “undermines the government position a lot.” Asked whether he thought the video represented an isolated case, he said sarcastically, “I will say there are so many ‘isolated incidents’ in Rakhine state.”
The police were taking part in a search for militants from a fledgling insurgent group that says it is fighting for the rights of the stateless Muslim minority, who lack Myanmar citizenship though Rohingya have lived in the country for generations.
The militants killed nine police officers and stole weapons from their posts Oct. 9 in northern Rakhine state, setting off a “clearance operation” that resulted in tens of thousands of Rohingya fleeing across the border to camps in Bangladesh. Rohingya and rights groups say dozens have been killed as part of the operation, and the displaced have shared horrific tales that officials have repeatedly characterized as fabrications.
Police in the video were responding to an alleged follow-up attack in early November that killed one officer.
The state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar published details about the video Monday, but the next day returned to casting doubt on abuse claims with an article headlined, “Fabricated Stories, Misleading Pictures About Rakhine Cause Global Criticism.”
While some patently false videos and photos have been disseminated, rights groups say there are many legitimate abuse claims that demand an independent, international investigation.
“I’d say this video throws a stick in the spokes,” Matthew Smith, executive director of the NGO Fortify Rights, said in an email.
Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who heads a government-appointed commission to suggest ways to resolve tensions between Rakhine’s Muslim and Buddhist communities, recently visited the area and met with Myanmar leaders. He expressed concern about reports of human rights abuses but did not comment on their credibility, saying, “We didn’t go there to investigate.” He called for aid agencies to be allowed in as soon as possible and said he hoped media would be granted access as well.
Muslims in an overwhelmingly Buddhist nation, the Rohingya have long faced persecution in Myanmar, where most are denied citizenship.
Mohsena Begum, a Rohingya who escaped to Bangladesh from Myanmar, holds her child and sits at the entrance of a room of an unregistered refugee camp in Teknaf, near Cox’s Bazar, a southern coastal district about, 296 kilometers (183 miles) south of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Dec. 2, 2016
COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh — The Myanmar soldiers came in the morning, the young mother says. They set fire to the concrete-and-thatch homes, forcing the villagers to cluster together. When some of her neighbors tried to escape into the fields, they were shot. After that, she says, most people stopped running away.
“They drove us out of our houses, men and women in separate lines, ordering us to keep our hands folded on the back of our heads,” says 20-year-old Mohsena Begum, her voice choking as she described what happened to the little village of Caira Fara, which had long been home to hundreds of members of Myanmar’s minority Rohingya community. She said that when about 50 people had been gathered together, the soldiers, along with a group of local men, pulled four village leaders from the crowd and slit their throats.
Muslims in an overwhelmingly Buddhist nation, the Rohingya have long faced persecution in Myanmar, where most are denied citizenship. The latest outbreak of violence was triggered by October attacks on guard posts near the Bangladesh border that killed nine police officers. While the attackers’ identities and motives are unclear, the government launched a massive counter-insurgency sweep through Rohingya areas in western Rakhine state. Most Rohingya live in Rakhine, which borders Bangladesh.
The government, which has implied the attacks were carried out by Rohingya sympathizers, has acknowledged using helicopter gunships in support of ground troops in the sweep. While survivors and human rights groups have tracked waves of anti-Rohingya violence in recent weeks, the Myanmar government insists that stories like Begum’s are exaggerations.
Myanmar’s leader, the Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has accused the international community of stoking unrest.
A portrait of Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi with her mouth covered with a sandal displayed on a mobile phone screen is shown by a protester during a demonstration in front of the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016 against the murder, displacement and persecution of Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar
“It doesn’t help if everybody is just concentrating on the negative side of the situation, in spite of the fact that there were attacks on police outposts,” she said in a recent interview on Singapore’s Channel News Asia.
Suu Kyi, whose party took power in March after decades of military-backed rule, has been accused of not acting strongly enough to curb the violence against the more than 1 million Rohingya believed to be in the country. Although many have lived in Rakhine for generations, they are widely seen as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
“It helps if people recognize the difficulty and are more focused on resolving these difficulties rather than exaggerating them, so that everything seems worse than it really is,” she said in the interview.
But Begum says she has no need to exaggerate what happened in Caira Fara.
She said that after the four leaders were killed, violence churned through the village in chaotic scenes of horror. Begum’s husband, a poor, illiterate farm laborer, was beaten and then murdered by having his throat slit, along with an unknown number of other villagers, she said. Their bodies were eventually driven away in a truck.
She said attackers knocked her young son knocked from her grasp, then raped her.
Finally, when the soldiers weren’t paying attention, she grabbed her son and ran into the nearby hills. After hiding for two days, her brother gave her enough money — about $38 — to pay smugglers to get her and her son into Bangladesh.
When Bangladeshi border guards stopped them, she began to weep.
“I told them I have no one to protect me there,” she says, and told them: “‘Look at my baby! He will die if I go back there.’” After that, they let her pass.
Much of Rakhine has been closed to outsiders, including journalists, since the violence began. However, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, leader of a commission formed to investigate the situation in Rakhine state, was allowed to visit in recent days. He is expected to hold a press conference Tuesday in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.
Along the banks of the Naf River, which marks the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar, it’s not difficult to find people who can talk about what is happening.
Some 15,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh over past month, often brought in by smugglers, according to police and intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the government refuses to release numbers publicly. They have joined up to 500,000 undocumented Rohingya who have been living in Bangladesh after arriving from Myanmar in waves since the 1970s. Some 33,000 registered Rohingya refugees live the Cox’s Bazar district. Bangladesh does not welcome Rohingya — its maritime patrols sometimes turn back refugee boats full of them — but it is seen as a haven compared to Myanmar.
In this Dec. 4, 2016 photo, Osman Gani, a Rohingya man from Myanmar, shows a video clip that he shot on his mobile phone as he describes the recent violence standing on the bank of the Naf River, near a camp for Rohingya people who illegally crossed the Myanmar-Bangladesh border in Teknaf, near Cox’s Bazar, a southern coastal district about, 296 kilometers (183 miles) south of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The thin, fast-talking Arabic teacher, fled into nearby fields after his village was attacked on Nov. 11. As he fled north, he used his mobile phone to film destruction in other Rohingya villages he passed through. “They came and killed mercilessly. They burned our homes,” says Gani, standing near the Naf River over the weekend. “No one was there to save us”
The U.N. says up 30,000 Rohingya Muslims have abandoned their homes amid the recent violence. Satellite images analyzed by the rights group Human Rights Watch show 1,250 structures destroyed in November in Rohingya villages.
Osman Gani, a thin, fast-talking Arabic teacher, fled after his village, Gouzo Bil, was attacked Nov. 11.
“They came and killed mercilessly. They burned our homes,” says Gani, standing near the Naf River over the weekend. “No one was there to save us.”
He hid with his family for about a week near the village. But when searches intensified, and with soldiers targeting men, he was forced to leave Myanmar without his family.
“I had no other choice but to leave them behind. I came to the bank of the river and started swimming,” he says. His family was able to join him in Bangladesh a few days later.
As he fled north, he used his mobile phone to film destruction in other Rohingya villages he passed through. In some, the blackened remains of what appear to be children can be seen amid the wreckage of homes. Gani’s voice can be heard in some of the videos but The Associated Press could not confirm their authenticity.
“I have shot videos!” he says, holding out his mobile phone to a reporter. “Don’t you see the charred bodies?”
While he was initially in hiding after the attack, Osmani said he also managed to slip back into his village and film what remained of his home.
As he walks through the village, a child can be heard talking to him.
“Where are you coming from?” the boy asks.
Gani doesn’t answer, instead asking, “Where’s my cow?”
Then he pans through the ashes and broken concrete. “This is my land, my home,” he says. “This is Puitta’s. This is Uncle Yunus.”
UNHCR chief accuses country’s troops of killing men and raping women, forcing stateless minority to flee to Bangladesh.
Hundreds of thousands live in camps in Bangladesh
Myanmar is carrying out “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims, a United Nations official has said, as stories of gang rape, torture and murder emerge from among the thousands who have fled to Bangladesh.
Up to 30,000 members of the ethnic community have abandoned their homes in Myanmar to escape the unfolding violence, the UN said, after troops poured into the narrow strip where they live earlier this month.
John McKissick, head of the UN refugee agency UNHCR in the Bangladeshi border town of Cox’s Bazar, told the BBC that troops were “killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river” into Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has resisted urgent international appeals to open its border to avert a humanitarian crisis, instead telling Myanmar it must do more to prevent the stateless Rohingya minority from entering.
“It’s very difficult for the Bangladeshi government to say the border is open because this would further encourage the government of Myanmar to continue the atrocities and push them out until they have achieved their ultimate goal of ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority in Myanmar,” McKissick said.
A spokesman for Myanmar President Htin Kyaw criticised the comments.
“I would like to question the professionalism and ethics which should be followed and respected by UN staff. He should speak based on concrete and true facts, he shouldn’t make accusations,” Zaw Htay told AFP news agency.
It is not the first time ethnic-cleansing claims have been made against Myanmar.
In April 2013 Human Rights Watch said it was conducting a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya – an accusation rejected by Thein Sein, the then president, as a “smear campaign”.
The scale of human suffering was becoming clear on Thursday, as desperate people such as Mohammad Ayaz told how troops attacked his village and killed his pregnant wife.
Cradling his two-year-old son, he said troops killed at least 300 men in the village market and gang-raped dozens of women before setting fire to around 300 homes, Muslim-owned shops and the mosque where he served as imam.
Satellite photos released Sunday show entire villages destroyed, apparently by fire. Full report below.
YANGON – Myanmar’s Rakhine state was hit by fresh waves of violence over the weekend with more than 30 “insurgents” killed during two days of fighting, the military said, as proof emerged of atrocities against villagers.
Northern Rakhine, which is home to the Muslim Rohingya minority and borders Bangladesh, has been under military lockdown ever since surprise raids on border posts left nine police dead last month.
Soldiers have killed scores and arrested many more in their hunt for the attackers, who the government claims are radicalised Rohingya militants with links to overseas Islamists it has not named.
Also during the weekend, strong evidence emerged in the form of satellite photos that Myanmar security forces are literally using scorched-earth tactics, burning entire villages to the ground in the escalated anti-Rohingya campaign.
The photos, released by Human Rights Watch, are before-and-after views of three villages in embattled Maungdaw district.
The claims of a previously unknown Rohingya crisis, along with credible reports of grave rights abuses by the security forces have piled international pressure on Myanmar’s new civilian government.
There now are questions about the ability of the government headed by Aung San Suu Kyi to control the military. The leader has not been heard from in days, and criticism has mounted at her refusal to speak out for protecting the Rohingya – whom she calls Bengalis.
The satellite photos appear to show that entire villages in Maungdaw have been put to the torch recently, with 430 buildings, mostly homes and farm buildings, destroyed.
Photo analysts say the buildings seem to have been burnt to the ground. This has raised suspicions that the army and police have launched campaigns against entire Rohingya villages.
The latest images were taken on Nov 10 and were released Sunday.
Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch’s Asia director, said the new photos showed “widespread destruction” that was “greater than we first thought”.
“Burmese authorities should promptly establish a UN-assisted investigation as a first step toward ensuring justice and security for the victims,” he said in a statement.
The military and government have rejected allegations that troops have burned Rohingya villages. They have accused “insurgents” of lighting the fires and burning their own villages.
HRW says it identified 430 buildings, mostly homes and farm buildings, destroyed in three villages of Maungdaw district in Rakhine state, all of them likely burnt to the ground.
The first set of photos below shows before-and-after satellite views of Kyet Yoe Pyin, where photos show 245 buildings destroyed.
The second set of photos below shows Wa Peik village, where photo analysts say exactly 100 buildings were destroyed.
The state has sizzled with religious tension ever since waves of violence between the majority Buddhist population and the Muslim Rohingya left more than 200 dead in 2012.
More than 100,000 people, mostly Rohingya, were pushed into displacement camps by the bloodshed and have languished there ever since.
Rights groups say they face apartheid-like restrictions on movement and have repeatedly called on Suu Kyi to carve out a solution.
But Buddhist nationalists at home viciously oppose any move to grant them citizenship, claiming the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh despite their long roots in the country.
Days of apparent calm were shattered on Saturday when the army said six attackers and two soldiers were killed during a series of coordinated ambushes that were only beaten back with the help of helicopter gunships.
The toll then jumped on Sunday following further clashes.
In a statement late Sunday, Myanmar’s military said 22 attackers armed with swords were killed near Dar Gyi Zar village on Sunday morning after they charged at soldiers.
Six other insurgents were killed during clashes elsewhere in the state on Sunday, the statement added.
Authorities have heavily restricted access to the area, making it difficult to independently verify government reports or accusations of army abuse.
On Saturday evening, Rohingya activists uploaded a graphic video showing the corpses of eight people dressed in civilian clothes, including a small baby.
The video’s shooter, speaking in Rohingya, said the victims died that day near Dar Gyi Zar village, with some showing bullet wounds.
We will not re-publish that image, which in any case cannot be verified.
But the Rohingyablogger.com website released these photos during the weekend. They reportedly show burning homes in Pwint Phyu Chaung village of Maungdaw district, the same area where the satellite photos were taken, and women and children erfugees fleeing the violence, with almost no possessions.
The resurgence of violence in western Rakhine has deepened and complicated a crisis that already posed a critical challenge to the new administration led by Ms Suu Kyi.
Activists have launched a petition at Change.org calling on the Nobel Peace Prize committee to recall her prize, awarded in 1991 for opposing military regimes.
In this photograph, taken on October 21, 2016, Myanmar troops patrol a village in Rakhine State
Dozens of Rohingya Muslim women in Myanmar’s Rakhine state say government forces have committed acts of rape or sexual assault against them.
Eight Rohingya women, all from the remote U Shey Kya village, described in detail how soldiers last week raped them at gun point, while raiding their homes and looting property, according to Reuters news agency on Friday.
Myanmar deployed troops to Rakhine earlier this month following alleged attacks on police posts along the border with Bangladesh, which authorities blamed on Rohingya Muslims.
One 40-year-old woman said four soldiers raped her and assaulted her 15-year-old daughter, while stealing jewelry and cash from the family.
“They took me inside the house. They tore my clothes and they took my headscarf off…,” she said.
Another woman, 32, described being knocked off her feet by soldiers and repeatedly raped. “They told me, ‘We will kill you. We will not allow you to live in this country,’” she said.
The women said the soldiers took gold, money and anything that was valuable from their bamboo huts and burned down village homes and spoiled rice stores by pouring sand on them.
This file image shows Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence on a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman Sea, May 14, 2015
One 30-year-old woman said he did not have clothes or food to eat after everything was destroyed. “I’m feeling ashamed and scared,” Reuters quoted the unnamed woman as saying.
Five more women from U Shey Kya also detailed how soldiers had raped them. The accounts were confirmed by at least three male residents of the village and a Rohingya community leader.
U Shey Kya village’s official administrator, Armah Harkim, said he was verifying the accounts which most residents believed to be true. The residents said about 150 soldiers attacked U Shey Kya on October 19.
A presidential spokesman accused the villagers of fabricating the news while confirming that government troops had conducted a sweep of the village on October 19.
Most male residents have reportedly left the village as they believed they would be suspected as militants. The women said they stayed behind fearing that the military would burn down empty homes.
Residents said the soldiers dismantled the fences around the houses after the military declared northern Rakhine State an “operation zone.”
The UN has called on Myanmar to investigate new reports of human rights violations, including the killing of unarmed people and torching of rural settlements in Rakhine state.
Rights groups say troops have gone on a rampage, which has forced terrified civilians to flee their homes.
Rakhine, where Rohingya Muslims form the majority population, has been the scene of communal violence at the hands of Buddhist extremists since 2012.
Hundreds of people have been killed, while tens of thousands have been forced to flee their homes and live in squalid camps in dire situations in Myanmar and other countries in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
According to the UN, Rohingyas are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. The government denies full citizenship to Rohingya population, branding them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even as many trace their lineage in Myanmar back generations.