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TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Oct17/07)
13 October 2017
Third World Network

Brutal attacks on Rohingya were well-organised and systematic
Published in SUNS #8551 dated 12 October 2017


Geneva, 11 Oct (Kanaga Raja) - The brutal attacks against the Rohingya in northen Rakhine State, as well as other serious human rights violations committed since 25 August 2017 were executed in "a well-organised, coordinated and systematic manner", according to a new United Nations report released on Wednesday.

This is one of the main findings of the report by a three-member team from the UN Human Rights Office which conducted some 65 interviews with the Rohingya refugees, both individuals and with groups, in Cox's Bazar District, Bangladesh.

The team had met with the newly-arrived Rohingya in Cox's Bazar District from 14 to 24 September 2017.

The mandate of the team from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was to monitor the situation of the newly-arrived Rohingya population as well as to establish the facts and circumstances in northern Rakhine in the aftermath of the 25 August 2017 alleged attacks by militants against 30 police posts and a regimental headquarters.

According to the UN report, "credible information gathered indicates that the destruction of Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine State, and other serious human rights violations committed in the aftermath of the 25 August attacks, were executed in a well-organised, coordinated, and systematic manner."

The information reveals that these human rights violations were committed against the Rohingya population in northern Rakhine State by the Myanmar security forces often in concert with armed Rakhine Buddhist individuals, said the report.

"The manner in which the villages, home and property of the Rohingya across northern Rakhine State has been destroyed points to it being well-organised and coordinated, thereby challenging the assertion that it was merely collateral damage of the military security operations following the alleged attack against police outposts and on a regimental headquarters across locations in northern Rakhine State, allegedly by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA)."

The report said credible information indicates that the Myanmar security forces purposely destroyed the property of the Rohingyas, scorched their dwellings and entire villages in northern Rakhine State, not only to drive the population out in droves but also to prevent the fleeing Rohingya victims from returning to their homes.

"The destruction by the Tatmadaw [the armed forces of Myanmar] of houses, fields, food-stocks, crops, livestock and even trees, render the possibility of the Rohingya returning to normal lives and livelihoods in the future in northern Rakhine almost impossible. It also indicates an effort to effectively erase all signs of memorable landmarks in the geography of the Rohingya landscape and memory in such a way that a return to their lands would yield nothing but a desolate and unrecognizable terrain."

The report noted that as of 8 October, an estimated 519,000 new Rohingya arrivals have been reported since 25 August 2017.

"An analysis of the information received indicates a well-organised, coordinated and systematic pattern of destruction by the Myanmar security forces (sometimes with the support of individual Rakhine Buddhist villagers) of the villages, homes and property belonging to Rohingya and the forced displacement of large sections of the Rohingya population from their dwellings and villages in northern Rakhine State from 25 August onwards."

According to the report, the team documented consistent accounts of the Myanmar security forces surrounding or entering villages or settlements, sometimes accompanied by Rakhine Buddhist individuals firing indiscriminately at Rohingya villagers, injuring some and killing other innocent victims, setting houses on fire, and announcing in other villages that the same would befall them if they did not comply with the order to immediately abandon their homes.

In other instances, information collected indicates that houses were set on fire, after the Rohingya inhabitants fled out of fear.

A majority of the people interviewed by the team reported the burning or destruction of their property and livelihood options by the Myanmar army.

The report recalled that in a statement made on 19 September 2017, the Myanmar State Counsellor Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi claimed that the Myanmar security forces have not conducted any further "clearance operations" since 5 September 2017.

However, on 17 September 2017, the team was able to identify columns of smoke rising across the Naf River in northern Rakhine State.

Furthermore, satellite imagery indicates that the burning of villages continued weeks after 5 September 2017.

Statements from the Bangladeshi Border Guards representatives and other actors present close to the border also indicate that explosions, shootings and burnings were heard and seen after 5 September 2017.

"In addition to the destruction of property, homes and livelihoods, other human rights violations were committed against the Rohingya that contributed to their forced displacement through the establishment of a climate of intimidation and fear," said the report.

Information received indicated that, a few days before 25 August, the Myanmar security forces imposed further restrictions on access to markets, medical clinics, schools and religious sites.

Furthermore, the report said, Rohingya men aged between 15-40 years were reportedly arrested by the Myanmar Police sometimes as long as a month before the 25 August attack, without charges or arrest warrants, and several of those detained have reportedly not been heard from since.

Several statements indicated that Rohingya victims ran to hide in the hills and subsequently found their houses burnt to the ground, and that, in some cases, the Myanmar security forces were attacking villagers who returned to their villages.

In some cases, before and during the attacks, megaphones were used to announce: "You do not belong here - go to Bangladesh. If you do not leave, we will torch your houses and kill you".

Additional information received indicated that local authorities in some cases warned the Rohingya in advance that their homes would be attacked and burnt to the ground indicating that the attacks were planned. As a result, people fled out of fear for their life and many families were separated from each other.

It was also highlighted that specific attacks particularly targeted the educated in the Rohingya society such as teachers, business men, religious and community leaders - people with influence.

They were reportedly arrested and transferred to unknown places. Several eyewitnesses stated that people were completely taken by surprise when the attack on their villages occurred and that the operations often started after midnight or just after lunch time.

REPORTED HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

The report said several victims reported the killing of close family members by random gunfire or referred to the Myanmar security forces surrounding villages at some distance and then shooting indiscriminately at houses and individuals alike.

While describing the situation, the report added, several witnesses recalled the presence of the Myanmar security forces accompanied by mobs of Rakhine Buddhist individuals, sometimes in groups of up to 100-150 individuals.

In some cases, prior to being killed, victims were reportedly accused of supporting "terrorists".

"Almost all testimonies indicated that people were shot at close range and in the back while they tried to flee in panic."

Eyewitnesses reported to the team that Rakhine Buddhist individuals wielded knives or machetes as they entered Rohingya settlements.

The team said it collected personal details of the victims allegedly killed. In some cases victims were allegedly deliberately targeted and while in other cases they were killed through explosions, fire and stray bullets.

Witness accounts attest to Rohingya victims, including children and elderly people, burnt to death inside their houses.

The team heard several accounts of elderly Rohingya being left behind by their families as the latter fled in panic.

In one case it was highlighted that a victim was deliberately trapped inside a house by the Myanmar security forces and burnt alive.

"Children were not spared by the security forces, nor by Rakhine Buddhist individuals. There were accounts of severe beatings, stabbings or killings during the attacks," said the report. It was further alleged that the "most beautiful girls" in the village who were unmarried were rounded up, separated from their families and taken away to unknown destinations.

A majority of the interviewees believed that those who were handpicked by the security forces are no longer alive.

The team said that it collected information related to the names and age of the disappeared females.

"Well into the course of the mission, more and more information began to be shared both by girls and women who had survived rape or other forms of sexual violence. Information was collected related to girls as young as five to seven years of age who had been raped, often in front of their relatives, and sometimes by three to five men taking turns, all dressed in army uniforms."

Testimonies collected from victims and witnesses revealed that physical assault, including beatings, by Myanmar security forces, was widespread following the outbreak of violence on 25 August.

"Victims reportedly included Rohingya men, women and children of all ages, sometimes as young as four to five years old. Rifle butts were allegedly used to hit sensitive areas of the human body such as stomach and head."

The Myanmar security forces and supporting Rakhine Buddhist individuals reportedly forced victims, including small children, to watch as torture was inflicted on their loved ones.

In certain cases, individuals were allegedly severely beaten, raped or otherwise sexually abused, and even killed in front of their relatives, which had the effect of inflicting often severe mental anguish, and instilling fear.

"Information received by the Team refers to the burning of mosques and the destruction of the Holy Quran, which was burnt and torn apart in front of villagers," the report further said.

The team said that it received credible information that an estimated 11 Rohingya victims had suffered severe injuries including missing limbs following mine incidents. The defused landmines have been identified as anti- personnel mines.

On the basis of the information received, the team believes that the mines were deliberately planted by the Myanmar security forces after 23 August 2017 along the border in an attempt to prevent the Rohingya refugees from returning to Myanmar.

Information received by the team referred to the use of landmines and to incidents of people stepping on mines whilst fleeing, or attempting to return to Myanmar to check on other missing family members from 25 August onwards. They were either killed instantly, or suffered serious injuries.

The Cox's Bazar District Hospital and other medical facilities confirmed the treatment of mine injuries.

SOME CONCLUSIONS

In some conclusions, the report said that the vast majority of those interviewed suffered multiple human rights violations.

Many reported having been first internally displaced, sometimes moving between several villages, before trying to cross the border into Bangladesh (attacked by the Myanmar security forces in the abandoned villages or on hillsides).

The majority of eyewitness accounts referred to violations allegedly perpetrated by the Myanmar security forces often through joint operations with Rakhine Buddhist individuals.

Testimonies referred to apparently well-organised and coordinated action, where first the Myanmar security forces came into a village followed by the Rakhine Buddhists individuals using knives or machetes to inflict death, injury or damage.

The "clearance operations" started before 25 August 2017, and as early as the beginning of August.

"The apparently well-organised, coordinated and systematic nature of the attacks carried out by the Myanmar security forces against the entire Rohingya population across northern Rakhine State has led to a mass exodus of more than 500,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh."

According to the report, the testimonies gathered by OHCHR indicate that the attacks against Rohingya villages constitute serious human rights violations.

As recalled by many victims, the security forces and the Rakhine Buddhist individuals incited hatred, violence and killings against the Rohingya population within northern Rakhine State through extremely derogatory abuse based on their religion, language and culture and ethnic identity.

There are indications that violence is still ongoing at the time of writing this report, the team cautioned.

Several Rohingyas expressed fear for their life and grave reservations over the possibility of return to their homeland in Myanmar.

The information gathered also indicates however that some sections of the Rohingya population currently present in Bangladesh might be willing to return to their villages despite widespread destruction, provided the following conditions are met by the Government of Myanmar: (1) Provision of Myanmar citizenship; (2) Respect for civil, political, economic, cultural and social rights; (3) Compensation for loss of livelihood; (4) Accountability for human rights violations suffered; and (5) Deployment of UN peacekeeping operations to ensure the safety of the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

The Rohingya population continues to face severe challenges in the camps in Bangladesh, said the report.

"Despite untiring efforts on the part of the Bangladesh government and aid agencies, the burden of the Rohingya mass exodus is too heavy to bear in the immediate future."

There are serious protection concerns regarding the immediate needs of the most vulnerable, and it is important to establish a permanent presence at the boat landing sites as part of the immediate humanitarian response.

The health and sanitation conditions are critical and described by on-site medical doctors as "a perfect storm in the making".

"There are concerns that unaccompanied minors and single female heads of families might become victims of trafficking and sexual violence," the report concluded.

 


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