Satellite images have revealed that the Myanmar Government is bulldozing villages in the Rakhine State in an enormous operation to demolish evidence of human rights abuses against the ethnic Rohingya minority. Human Rights Watch said that at least 55 villages have been erased since late 2017, after nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh to escape the Myanmar Government’s “ethnic cleansing campaign.”
Myanmar’s government claims that it is re-building the devastated region, but human rights groups argue that the government is destroying proof of atrocities committed against the Rohingya community before any investigations can occur. Brad Adams, the Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, explained that “the authorities want to cover up evidence of the atrocities and take away the land that belongs to the Rohingya. They want to make it difficult to find graves, weapons used or any other evidence that connect the crime scene to the criminals.”
Zubairia, a displaced Rohingya woman, visited her former town in Myin Hlut last year and was shocked and saddened to find houses torched. Zubairia explained that “everything is gone, not even the trees are left. They just bulldozed everything…I could hardly recognize it.” This massive operation has horrified the Rohingya and human rights groups, who believe the government is deliberately destroying the deteriorating remains of the Rohingya culture, making it incredibly difficult for them to return.
The persecuted Rohingya people, the vast majority of whom are Muslim, are perceived by local authorities as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many Rohingya families have been living in Myanmar for decades, if not centuries. Due to ongoing violence precipitated by the government’s armed forces and Buddhist mobs, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been forced to escape their homes.
Even though the United Nations has labelled the situation a textbook genocide, little action has been taken by the international community. Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation agreement late last year which was supposed to commence in January. Unsurprisingly, though, the majority of Rohingya refuse to return to their homes without the guarantee of safety and basic rights. Authorities are insisting that the bulldozing of Rohingya communities is a part of the plan to “build back” villages to a higher standard than before. They have been expanding roads, repairing bridges, and constructing dozens of transit camps near the Bangladesh border. However, no Rohingya have arrived.
The Myanmar authorities should allow a United Nations fact-finding mission to enter the Rakhine state and investigate the claims that these bulldozing operations are destroying evidence. Unfortunately, the government has continually refused to grant visas to the United Nations team, independent media reporters, or human rights groups. With the international community doing little to assist this persecuted minority and the government demolishing communities, it is difficult to imagine a peaceful solution.