Military burning Rohingya out: Amnesty
Amnesty International says it has found evidence of an “orchestrated campaign of systematic burnings” by Myanmar security forces targeting dozens of Rohingya villages over the past three weeks.
The human rights group released a new analysis of video, satellite photos, witness accounts and other data that found more than 80 sites were torched in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State since an August 25 militant attack on a border post. The UN children’s agency estimates about 389,000 people have fled to Bangladesh to escape a military offensive that has been described as ethnic cleansing.
Top UN officials, including Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, have previously expressed concerns about possible “ethnic cleansing” perpetrated against the Rohingya. But Amnesty’s findings, released yesterday in Myanmar, offer some of the most precise evidence that Rohingya areas were specifically targeted.
The satellite images, contracted by Amnesty from satellite pro- viders Deimos and Planet Labs, and other source materials point to “80 large-scale fires in inhabited areas, each measuring at least 375m in length” since August 25, the group said.
The data adds to many accounts of villages being burned from refugees who spoke to UN agencies, rights groups and journalists in Bangladesh.
“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,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s crisis response director. “There is a clear and systematic pattern of abuse here. Security forces surround a village, shoot people fleeing in panic and then torch houses to the ground. “In legal terms, these are crimes against humanity.”
The International Criminal Court says crimes against humanity involve torture, enslavement, murder or extermination of civilians in a “widespread and systematic” way.
Ms Hassan also took issue with claims by Myanmar’s government that the Rohingya themselves were setting their homes on fire.
“The government’s attempts to shift the blame to the Rohingya population are blatant lies,” she said. “Our investigation makes it crystal clear that its own security forces, along with vigilante mobs, are responsible for burning Rohingya homes.”
Myanmar authorities have curtailed access for journalists and human rights experts to Rakhine in recent months, and Amnesty acknowledged that the breadth of the damage cannot be verified on site. It said the full extent of destruction “is likely to be much higher” than the evidence compiled because cloud cover sometimes blocked the satellite views.
The UN-backed, 47-country Human Rights Council in Geneva is expected to discuss Myanmar on Monday.
Myanmar insisted it was not barring aid workers from Rakhine State, where a counter-insurgency campaign has sparked an exodus of Muslim Rohingya refugees, but said authorities on the ground might restrict access for security reasons.
“We don’t block anyone,” Myanmar’s government spokesman Zaw Htay said. “We don’t block any organisations sending aid to those areas but they might have some difficulty travelling where access is restricted by local authorities for security reasons.”
Bangladesh will use troops to deliver foreign aid to the border town that has been overwhelmed by Rohingyas refugees, following criticism of the chaotic conditions in which relief supplies have been handed out at the huge camps around Cox’s Bazar.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told parliament late on Thursday that the army would handle relief aid that several nations have sent in recent days.
“I have given the army responsibility to make sure the relief goods properly reach them and to oversee what’s in the relief materials,” she said.
Initially, the army will be responsible for taking the aid to Cox’s Bazar.