A recent report from the UN has exposed the horrific extent of atrocities and human rights abuses committed by Myanmar’s security forces against the Royhingya in late 2016. The atrocities were committed as part of an “area clearance operation” in the region, in which hundreds were killed in the northwest region of Rakhine State and caused many more to flee into neighboring Bangladesh amid fears of persecution.
The report was compiled from accounts of some 200 refugees who fled to Bangladesh during the conflict and was published on the 3rd of February. One mother recounted how her five-year-old daughter was murdered while trying to protect her from rape. She said a man “took out a long knife and killed her by slitting her throat”. In another case, an eight-month-old baby was reportedly killed while five security officers gang-raped his mother. Residents and rights advocates had also accused security forces of summary executions, rapes and setting fire to homes in the recent violence with the vast majority of those interviewed saying they had witnessed killings, and almost half reported having a family member who was killed or missing. More than half of the women interviewed said they had been victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence.
Linnea Arvidsson, one of the UN workers who interviewed the refugees told The Independent: “I’ve never encountered a situation like this, where you do 204 interviews and every single person you speak with has a traumatic story, whether their house was burnt, they’ve been raped or a relative was killed or taken away. They would break down. Women and even grown men would be crying”
The Royhingya are an ethnically Muslim people who live in the Rakhine state in Myanmar. While they claim to have longstanding roots in the area, the Myanmarese government has asserted that they are illegal immigrants in the area. Insurgency against the Myanmarese government has been common in the area since Myanmar’s independence in 1948. In late 2016 violence erupted again in the region as a group of Royhingya insurgents attacked police posts in the region killing some officers in the process. The government followed up with a series of “clearance operations” in the area.
Ms Arvidsson stated that the violent attacks were more than systematic operations: “To say these are area clearance operations looking for insurgents who killed police officers doesn’t make any sense. The testimonies we gathered pointed at two intents as the motivation of this persecution: the collective punishment following humiliation over the attacks against police officers in October, and the ethnic and racial element – the disdain for this minority. You don’t slaughter eight-month-old babies because a police officer was attacked. It’s because you just don’t consider the child as human.”
The country’s government and its de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi have previously dismissed claims of rights abuses and insisted that the security forces follow the rule of law in their treatment of the Royhingya. Local authorities to date have taken no evident steps to seriously investigate allegations, with an earlier commission claiming to have addressed rape allegations and found insufficient evidence to take legal action up to this date, which sharply contradicts the UN report. However, Ms Suu Kyi’s spokesman told the BBC that the latest allegations were extremely serious and that officials would look into them immediately.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, described the “devastating cruelty” against Rohingya children as “unbearable”, saying the allegations of babies being stabbed “beg” a reaction from the international community, stating:“The Government of Myanmar must immediately halt these grave human rights violations against its own people, instead of continuing to deny they have occurred, and accept the responsibility to ensure that victims have access to justice, reparations and safety.”
It is hoped that this report and the international condemnation for the actions of soldiers will spurn the government into action and make those who have committed wrongs accountable for their actions. The government should urgently endorse an independent, international investigation into alleged abuses, but given it’s consistent inattention in dealing with the mistreatment of the Royhingya people and the possibility of continued insurgency in the region, the government may be slow to give the justice that the victims seek.
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