'There used to be 900 houses in our village, now only 80 are left. There is no one left to even bury the bodies' - Rohingya refugee
Amnesty report reveals Myanmar's horrific persecution of Rohingya Muslims
“Irrefutable evidence” of a scorched-earth campaign against the Rohingya in Myanmar has been published by Amnesty International as the UN called for “immediate steps” to end what it condemned as ethnic cleansing.
On Thursday, Amnesty said analysis of fire-detection data, satellite imagery, photographs and videos from the ground, along with interviews with dozens of eyewitnesses in Myanmar and Bangladesh revealed more than 80 sites had been set ablaze in an “orchestrated campaign of systematic burnings”.
The human rights organisation said the new evidence pointed to a mass-scale, scorched-earth campaign across northern Rakhine state over the past three weeks, where Amnesty reported Myanmar security forces and vigilante mobs were burning down entire Rohingya villages and shooting people at random as they try to flee.
“The evidence is irrefutable — the Myanmar security forces are setting northern Rakhine State ablaze in a targeted campaign to push the Rohingya people out of Myanmar. Make no mistake: this is ethnic cleansing,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director.
Around 400,000 out of just over 1 million mainly stateless Rohingya in Myanmar have fled into Bangladesh amid military operations launched in the wake of attacks on August 25 by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army which left 12 security personnel and one official dead.
An estimated 1,000 to 3,000 people have been killed over the past three weeks and thousands of properties destroyed.
The need for humanitarian aid in Bangladesh has now reached “massive” proportions the UN said on Thursday.
“We urge the international community to step up humanitarian support and come up with help,” Mohammed Abdiker, director of operations and emergencies for the International Organisation for Migration, told a news conference in Dhaka, adding the need was “massive”.
The powerful United Nations Security Council made a rare condemnation of recent events in Rakhine, after even China — which has close ties with the Myanmar government and considerable financial investment in its smaller neighbour — was persuaded to back the criticism.
After the 15-nation UNSC meeting in New York, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres called for a halt to the military campaign in Rakhine and said the mass displacement of Rohingya amounted to ethnic cleansing.
"I call on the Myanmar authorities to suspend military action, end the violence, uphold the rule of law and recognise the right of return of all those who had to leave the country,” he said.
Asked if he agreed the Rohingya population was being ethnically cleansed, he replied: "When one-third of the Rohingya population has got to flee the country, can you find a better word to describe it?"
According to Amnesty, fires had been detected across large swathes of predominantly Rohingya areas. In areas of mixed population, properties belonging to the Muslim minority had been burned, while those of their ethnic-Rakhine neighbours were intact. The true extent of the destruction was likely to be much higher as monsoon cloud conditions made it difficult for satellites to pick up all burnings.
Amnesty quoted one 48-year-old man saying he witnessed army and police storm into his village of Yae Twin Kyun in northern Maungdaw township on September 8.
“When the military came, they started shooting at people who got very scared and started running. I saw the military shoot many people and kill two young boys. They used weapons to burn our houses. There used to be 900 houses in our village, now only 80 are left. There is no one left to even bury the bodies.”
The group said it had been able to corroborate the burning by analysing photographs taken from across the Naf River in Bangladesh, showing huge pillars of smoke rising inside Myanmar.
In another testimony recorded by Amnesty, a Rohingya man who fled his home in Myo Thu Gyi in Maungdaw township on August 26 said:
“The military attacked at 11am. They started shooting at houses and at people, it went on for around an hour. After it stopped I saw my friend dead on the road. Later at 4pm the military started shooting again. When people fled, they burnt the houses with bottles of petrol and rocket launchers. The burning continued for three days. Now there are no homes in our area — all are burnt completely.”
Amnesty said it was able to confirm there were large-scale fires in Myo Thu Gyi on August 28 by using satellite detected fire data.
As evidence and condemnation of abuses grow the Myanmar authorities continue to deny wrong doing, blaming Rohingya for burning their own properties and seeking to portray allegations of atrocities as “fake news” or as Aung San Suu Kyi put it, “a huge iceberg of misinformation”.
But attempts to keep other countries onside appear to be faltering, despite efforts in Myanmar to suggest otherwise.
On Thursday, state newspaper The Global New Light of Myanmar carried this quote from China’s ambassador to Myanmar, Hong Liang. “The stance of China regarding the terrorist attacks in Rakhine is clear, it is just an internal affair. The counter-attacks of Myanmar security forces against extremist terrorists and the government’s undertakings to provide assistance to the people are strongly welcomed.”
And Myanmar said last week it was negotiating with Russia and China to ensure they blocked any censure by the UN Security Council over the violence in Rakhine state.Those negotiations appear to have failed. Although China had blocked a proposal during the UNSC meeting from Egypt to add language on ensuring the right of return to the Rohingya sheltering in Bangladesh, British ambassador Matthew Rycroft stressed that it was the first time in nine years that the Security Council was able to agree on a common stance on Myanmar.
He said that that after a briefing from UN officials to the council on the "catastrophe" of Rakine, “We were united in our concern about the situation.”