Rights groups stepped up their accusations on Wednesday against the Myanmar military’s brutal campaign against Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state as new details of killings surfaced, and urged the government not to force refugees in Bangladesh to return to Myanmar where they will continue to face discrimination.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the Myanmar army executed roughly 100 residents of Maung Nu village in northern Rakhine state on Aug. 27, two days after deadly attacks on 30 police outposts in the area by a militant Muslim group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
The military unleashed a brutal campaign against Rohingya civilians to try to find militants and those who collaborated with them in the attacks. Rights groups, the United Nations, and some of the half-million Rohingya who fled to neighboring Bangladesh have accused soldiers of committing atrocities.
ARSA also carried out a deadly attack on border guard stations in northern Rakhine in October 2016, which prompted an army crackdown that forced about 90,000 Rohingya to flee their homes.
Fourteen witnesses and survivors from Maung Nu and surrounding villages in the Chin Tha Mar village tract in Buthidaung township told HRW that soldiers beat, sexually assaulted, stabbed, and shot those who had sought safety in a residential compound.
Satellite imagery shows the “near total destruction” consistent with fire of Maung Nu and nearby Hpaung Taw Pyin village, HRW said in a statement.
“All the horrors of the Burmese army’s crimes against humanity against the Rohingya are evident in the mass killings of Maung Nu village,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director. “These atrocities demand more than words from concerned governments; they need concrete responses with consequences.”
The witnesses, who are now in Bangladesh, said troops took several men and boys out of the compound and shot or stabbed them to death, while they killed others who tried to escape.
The soldiers then loaded the bodies into military trucks and drove away.
HRW said it could not verify estimates of the villagers who were killed.
Rights groups and the United Nations have accused the Myanmar military of crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing in northern Rakhine amid numerous reports by Rohingya of security forces indiscriminately killing civilians, burning villages, torturing people, and raping girls and women.
The Myanmar government has denied the allegations and blamed Muslim militants for other killings of civilians and village torchings.
No forced repatriation
Also on Wednesday, London-based Amnesty International cautioned that Rohingya refugees must not be forced to return to Myanmar after both Myanmar and Bangladesh said earlier this week that they had set up a working group to for their repatriation.
Win Myat Aye, Myanmar’s minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement, told the U.N.’s refugee agency in Geneva on Monday that the process could begin at any time for Rohingya who want to return to Myanmar and that the verification of refugees will be based on the terms of a 1993 agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
“While it is positive that Myanmar and Bangladesh are discussing options for the safe return of Rohingya to their homes, this must be a voluntary process and not lead to a hasty and reckless effort to push people back against their will.” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s director of global issues, in a statement.
“No one should be forced back to a situation where they will continue to face serious human rights violations and systemic discrimination and segregation,” she said.
Myanmar considers the Rohingya illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and has denied them citizenship, though some have lived in the country for generations. They have also been denied acess to basic services such as education and health care.
Bangladesh, which has accused Myanmar of committing genocide against the Rohingya and has called on it to resolve the refugee crisis, is straining to provide services for the more than 500,000 Rohingya who have arrived there since Aug. 25.
Another 400,000 Rohingya from Myanmar have been living in refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh since before the Aug. 25 crackdown.
Humanitarian groups assisting Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh said they need U.S. $434 million during the next six months to help up to 1.2 million people, mostly children, Reuters reported.
The U.N.’s migration agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has been leading the efforts of humanitarian agencies in Cox’s Bazar, where the refugee camps are located, on behalf of the Bangladesh government.
“Unless we support the efforts of the Bangladesh government to provide immediate aid to the half million people who have arrived over the past month, many of the most vulnerable — women, children and the elderly — will die,” said William Lacy Swing, IOM’s director general, in a statement. “They will be the victims of neglect.”
“Bangladesh, IOM, and its partners are now struggling to provide adequate shelter, food, clean water, health care, and protection to hundreds of thousands camped out over the vast muddy sites that now dot Cox’s Bazar,” he said. “Five weeks on from the start of the crisis, funding has started to arrive, but much more will be needed.”
The plight of the Hindus
In addition to the Rohingya, thousands of ethnic Rakhine and Hindus from northern Rakhine have also been displaced or killed during the recent violence.
More than 50 Hindus were killed and dumped in mass graves, and another 192 remain missing from a village in Maungdaw township.
Hindu religious organizations in Myanmar said earlier this week that they are seeking government permission to take Hindu children whose parents were killed to the commercial capital Yangon, where they will be given shelter.
More than 50 Hindus were killed in the violence, and 192 are still missing. Those who escaped have blamed the assaults on Muslim militants who entered their village.
The religious groups have distributed relief supplies for Hindus who fled from Maungdaw and are now living temporarily in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe.
Hla Tun of the All Burma Hindi Religion League said on Wednesday that his organization has made a list of elderly people and orphans, but has not yet talked to Rakhine government officials about actually transferring them to Yangon for further care.
“We met with Rakhine state’s chief minister and told him what we should do for these internally displaced persons [IDPs], but the state government has to decide what we can do,” he said.
Members of the groups will visit refugee camps in Maungdaw township on Thursday and will give priority to the resettlement of the IDPs, Hla Tun said.
Reported by Waiyan Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.