A state-sponsored campaign of systemic, targeted abuse has driven more than half of Myanmar’s Rohingya population out of the country in a matter of weeks. Many of the alleged and documented atrocities against the minority Muslim group amount to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, Amnesty International charges.
In its latest report, “My World Is Finished,” the human rights organization identifies specific Myanmar military units linked to a series of gruesome assaults in the country’s Rakhine State that have led at least 530,000 Rohingyas to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in less than two months.
On Aug. 25, an insurgent group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked a number of government security posts, killing 12 state officials. The military’s brutal retaliation has widely targeted Rohingya men, women and children, who already had extremely limited rights in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
Amnesty is among several human rights groups that have documented state-sponsored violence against the Rohingyas during the current crisis, including unlawful killings, sometimes involving the use of landmines; forcible displacement; rape; arson and looting; torture, including beatings and sexual attacks; and other inhumane acts such as the denial of life-sustaining supplies and aid.
These “extensive, egregious human rights violations and crimes” have been committed within a context of decades of systemic persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar, but the Amnesty report described the current “ethnic cleansing campaign” as “beyond anything in the country’s recent history.”
Based on more than 150 interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses, the report accuses the Myanmar Army’s Western Command, the 33rd Light Infantry Division and the Border Guard Police of committing the most abhorrent acts of violence.
The Western Command in particular “has been intimately involved” in some of the worst abuses, including large-scale killings and targeted burnings, Amnesty’s Matthew Wells told reporters on a conference call. Wells spent the past several weeks at the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.
We lost our children, we lost our husbands. It is very hard. Shara Jahan, Rohingya refugee
In the report released Tuesday evening, Wells recounted meeting a 12-year-old girl named Fatima whose parents and siblings had been killed. Men in uniform opened fire on her family as they attempted to flee from their burning village, she recalled. Fatima said she saw her family members fall to the ground with bullet wounds as she ran. Then she was shot in the thigh.
“I fell down, but my neighbor grabbed me and carried me,” she said.
Amnesty sent photos of her injury to a forensic medical expert, who confirmed that she had been shot from behind. Fatima’s account matches other witness testimonies saying the military had shot them as they fled.
An “incredibly concerning” number of Rohingyas are arriving in Bangladesh with gunshot wounds, Wells told reporters.
Shara Jahan also told her story to Amnesty. The 40-year-old woman was home with her husband and sons when they noticed nearby houses on fire. The men ran outside as she called for her younger children inside the house. Soon, Jahan’s home caught fire. She escaped with severe burns, only to learn that her husband and 20-year-old son had been shot and killed.
“No one was there to save me,” she told Amnesty. “We lost our children, we lost our husbands. It is very hard.”
Tirana Hassan, Amnesty’s crisis response director, described the military-led crackdown as heinous and disproportionate.
“In this orchestrated campaign, Myanmar’s security forces have brutally meted out revenge on the entire Rohingya population of northern Rakhine State, in an apparent attempt to permanently drive them out of the country,” she said.
Amnesty’s researchers have asked Myanmar authorities to grant them direct access to Rakhine State, but have yet to receive a response. They’re urging the government to allow human rights groups, journalists and the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission unrestricted access to the region to investigate alleged crimes by both the state and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
The report also calls on international institutions ― including the U.N. Security Council, the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ― to impose a comprehensive arms embargo as well as financial sanctions on senior Myanmar officials reasonably suspected of serious crimes.
Myanmar has been accused of downplaying the crisis. The U.N. recently removed a report from its website detailing the Rohingyas’ desperate living conditions after receiving pushback from the Myanmar government. The country’s civil leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, has dismissed mounting reports of atrocities as “misinformation.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who will visit South Asia next week, described the Rohingyas’ plight as “heartbreaking” on Wednesday. If the alleged atrocities are true, he said, “someone is going to be held to account for that.”
“What’s most important to us is that the world can’t just stand idly by and be witness to the atrocities that are being reported in that area,” Tillerson said. “We really hold the military leadership accountable for what’s happening.”
Myanmar’s military and government have repeatedly denied responsibility for the persecution of Rohingyas and have attempted to justify the current crackdown ― actions that fit “a longstanding pattern of impunity,” according to Amnesty.
This article has been updated with comment from Tillerson.