A national-level commission investigating accusations of abuse of Rohingya Muslims during a security crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state has received information contrary to accounts of the violence detailed in a report by the United Nations, a member of the commission said Tuesday.
The 13-member government-appointed commission began its current six-day fact-finding mission to the northern part of Rakhine state on Feb. 10 to look into a reports of security forces killing, raping, and committing other abuses against Rohingya who live in townships now under lockdown.
A 43-page report issued on Feb. 3 by the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) that the abuses committed by soldiers and police after coordinated attacks on three border guard posts in early October indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”
Saw Thalay Saw, a commission member and lawmaker from Shwegyin in Bago region, said the group has visited 17 villages in Maungdaw township over the past three days.
“We questioned villagers and investigated the differences between the U.N. report and the situation on the ground,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“Most villages that the U.N. report mentioned are Muslim villages,” she said. “Female commission members questioned Muslim women, and we questioned Muslim community leaders.”
The U.N. report said more than 10 women were stripped naked and raped in Laungto village in Maungdaw township, but villagers told the commission during the group’s investigation that no such cases had occurred there and that police only performed body searches of women, Saw Thalay Saw said.
She pointed out that the U.N. report also said that a fisherman found the body of his younger sister, who was raped and killed, in Kyeinchaung village, but when the commission members visited the place and questioned Muslim residents about the incident, they said no such incident had occurred.
“We also met the doctor of a small local hospital and asked him about it, but he said no one was sent to the hospital in that condition,” she said.
“Because our commission was formed by the president, our responsibility is to submit what we found during this trip,” Saw Thalay Saw said.
After Vice President Myint Swe, chief of the commission, arrived in the region on Tuesday, the group inspect the jail in Buithidaung township, one of the areas that has been under lockdown, she said.
He said prisoners at the facility which holds nearly 1,300 inmates, should be allowed to meet with their families, be given regular medical care, and have faster access to the court system for judging their cases, the Myanmar News Agency reported.
No evidence to take action
The commission has been investigating reports of murder, torture, arson, and rape in northern Rakhine state since December and has made two other trips to the areas affected by violence.
In January, the commission issued an interim report, saying it had found no cases of genocide or religious persecution of Rohingya Muslims living in the region in the wake of deadly border guard attacks last October and a subsequent security lockdown.
It also said its interviews of local residents about rape allegations by Rohingya women and girls who fled to Bangladesh had yielded insufficient evidence to take legal action, and that its investigations into accusations of arson, torture, and illegal arrests were ongoing.
Myanmar security forces targeted the Rohingya after it was determined that Rohingya militants were responsible for the attacks on the border guard posts during which nine policemen were killed.
The U.N. has estimated that more than 1,000 Rohingya have been killed during the security operations, and more than 69,000 have fled to neighboring Bangladesh where they are living in refugee camps.
Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, has come under international criticism from rights groups and other Nobel Peace Prize winners for perceived inaction on the plight of the Rohingya.
However, under a constitution written by the long-ruling military regime that ceded power to her National League for Democracy (NLD) party in 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi has no control over the military or security forces accused of the atrocities, and independent media access to the conflict zone in Rakhine has been strictly limited.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.