Human rights group Amnesty International has called for Burma’s army chief and military top brass to face justice in a searing new report documenting alleged crimes against humanity that forced over 700,000 of the Rohingya Muslim minority to flee to Bangladesh last year.
The 190-page document – “We Will Destroy Everything”: Military Responsibility for Crimes against Humanity in Rakhine State, Myanmar [Burma] – is based on a nine month investigation, involving more than 400 interviews and corroborating evidence including satellite images, photos and videos.
The group names 13 officials it alleges played a key role in the murder, rape and deportation of Rohingya, including accusing Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the Burmese military Commander-in-Chief, of being implicated in ethnic cleansing during a brutal army crackdown that began on August 25.
“The explosion of violence – including murder, rape, torture, burning and forced starvation – perpetrated by Myanmar’s security forces in villages across northern Rakhine State was not the action of rogue soldiers or units,” said Amnesty senior crisis adviser, Matthew Wells.
“There is a mountain of evidence that this was part of a highly orchestrated, systematic attack on the Rohingya population.”
Amnesty adds to calls for the situation in Burma to be referred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague for investigation and prosecution. A similar demand was made by the House of Commons International Development Select Committee in May.
Meanwhile, last week the court’s judges gave Burma a July 27 deadline to respond to a request by prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, that they consider hearing a case on the alleged deportation of Rohingya minorities to Bangladesh.
Among Amnesty’s latest evidence, collected on both sides of the Burma-Bangladesh border, is an audio recording, which it believes to be a telephone call between a Rohingya resident of the village of Inn Din and a Burmese military officer.
In the recording, the officer says, in Burmese: “We got an order to burn down the entire village if there is any disturbance. If you villagers aren’t living peacefully, we will destroy everything… We are starting the operation… If you just stay quiet, there will be no problems. If not, you will all be in danger.”
Inn Din was the site of one of the worst known massacres during the 2017 army operation. In an earlier chilling report, Amnesty revealed that vigilantes and the military had looted and burned homes and shot people as they fled.
The army has consistently denied charges of ethnic cleansing, made among others by the United Nations, but in April it did sentence seven soldiers to ten years of hard labour for their role in the slaughter of ten Rohingya men at Inn Din.
At a glance | Myanmar’s Rohingya people
The new Amnesty report, citing confidential military documents as evidence, accuses the very top of Burma’s military command – the office of the commander-in-chief, or War Office – of having been actively engaged in overseeing operations during which crimes against humanity were committed.
“Senior officials from the War Office physically went to Rakhine State in the lead up to 25 August and in the weeks that followed. Among them was Senior General Min Aung Hlaing himself, who travelled to the region from 19-21 September 2017 to be briefed on the operations,” alleges Amnesty.
It claims that senior officials would also have been involved in the deployment of air assets such as helicopters, which appear to be linked to serious crimes, and that some of the fiercest fighting battalions were deployed front and centre of the operation.
Senior military officials knew, or should have known, that crimes against humanity were being committed, yet failed to prevent it, claims the group.
Existing evidence warrants an investigation into whether some or all may have been directly involved in planning, ordering or committing murder, rape, torture and the burning of villages, it adds.
Among the atrocities detailed in the report are massacres and gangrapes in the villages of Chut Pyin, Min Gyi and Maung Nu.
One woman who was raped by soldiers in a school told Amnesty that when she emerged from the building she saw many dead bodies.
“Some had been shot, some had been cut. All of the dead bodies were bound [their hands tied with rope]. There were bullets on the ground everywhere…There was so much blood. The dead bodies were like stones in a field. I thought I would be sick. I was only stopped by my tears," she said.
Men and boys also told Amnesty investigators of how they had been tortured to the point of death by security forces.
“I was standing with my hands tied behind my head, then they pulled off my longyi (sarong) and put a [lit] candle under my penis,” said one farmer. “They were saying, ‘Tell the truth or you will die’.”
The report also expands on alleged abuses by the armed insurgent group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which sparked the military crackdown by launching coordinated attacks on security posts.
An Amnesty report in May already revealed how ARSA had reportedly also killed people from different ethnic and religious communities in northern Rakhine state.
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