In a report released on February 3, 2017, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reveals atrocities committed against the Muslim Rohingya population by Myanmar’s armed forces. The report suggests that crimes against humanity have occurred since October 9, 2016, when the armed forces implemented “area clearance operations” in response to an attack on three border guard posts, which saw nine police officers killed.
Since October, some 66,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape the violence and persecution in their home state of Rakhine. In-depth interviews with 204 of these refugees indicate that the Myanmar armed forces, the Border Guard Police Force, the regular police force, and civilians have killed, raped, beaten and tortured Rohingya people. Interviewees described killings of men, women, and children that were carried out by shooting, stabbing, beating and burning. More than half of the women interviewed reported having been sexually assaulted or raped, often by more than one officer. Burning of homes, schools, markets, and mosques, sometimes with people trapped inside, were also described. In addition, destruction of food and food sources, including the burning of paddy fields and harvests, confiscation of farming and fishing tools, and killing of livestock threatens the health and survival of those still in Rakhine State.
Until recently, the government of Myanmar has denied accusations of human rights abuses conducted by the country’s armed forces against the Rohingya people. However, in a conversation with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, indicated that an investigation would be launched. Myanmar’s presidential spokesperson, U Zaw Htay, also stated that the report was being taken seriously and that a commission under the direction of Vice President, U Myint Swe, would lead the investigation.
While the Government of Myanmar’s recognition of the possibility of human rights abuses is a positive step forward from past practices of outright denial, concerns remain. Commissioner Zeid has called upon the international community to address the situation in Myanmar and has suggested that an independent inquiry is necessary. Myanmar has thus far blocked the OHCHR from accessing the sealed off area in northern Rakhine State where the majority of those interviewed came from.
Myanmar’s Rohingya population has faced long-standing systemic discrimination, exclusion, and marginalization. However, the increased violence since October described in the report constitutes a gross violation of human rights and must be addressed.