A group of Rohingya Muslim militants unlawfully killed nearly 100 members of the Hindu community in Myanmar’s Rakhine state during deadly attacks on police outposts last year that resulted in a violent crackdown, according to a new report on the atrocities by Amnesty International.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) carried out brutal attacks on Hindu women, men, and children in two villages and abducted residents, said the report, based on photographic evidence and on dozens of interviews in northern Rakhine and in Bangladesh, where hundreds of Myanmar Hindus are living in refugee camps.
The investigation found that ARSA killed 53 Hindus from the Kha Maung Seik village tract in northern Maungdaw township on Aug. 25, 2017, the same day the militant group launched deadly attacks on 30 police outposts in the region.
Another 46 Hindus from neighboring Ye Bauk Kyar (also spelled Yebaw Kya) village who disappeared are believed to be dead.
In September 2017, local Hindus and members of Myanmar security forces unearthed four mass graves containing the remains of 45 massacred Hindus, later identified as residents of Kha Maung Seik village tract or people who were visiting the community at the time of the attack. The bodies of the other eight who were killed have not been found, the report said.
Amnesty International also documented ARSA’s involvement in killings and violent attacks on other ethnic and religious communities, including the murders of six Hindus and the injuring of another near Myo Thu Gyi village on the outskirts of Maungdaw township.
ARSA has denied responsibility for the attacks, blaming them instead on Rakhine ethnics who lived in the multicultural communities along with Hindus and Rohingya.
Until now, rights groups and the international community have blasted the Myanmar government for not allowing United Nations investigators and independent media into northern Rakhine to probe the campaign against the Rohingya following the August 2017 attack by ARSA, and a smaller-scale assault by the group on border outposts in October 2016.
Myanmar and the army have vehemently denied allegations that security forces indiscriminately killed, tortured, and raped Rohingya and burned down their homes, despite statements by the U.N. and others that the crackdowns, which together drove between 700,000 and 800,000 Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh, amounted to ethnic cleansing.
“Our latest investigation on the ground sheds much-needed light on the largely under-reported human rights abuses by ARSA during northern Rakhine state’s unspeakably dark recent history,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s crisis response director, in a statement.
“It’s hard to ignore the sheer brutality of ARSA’s actions, which have left an indelible impression on the survivors we’ve spoken to,” she said. “Accountability for these atrocities is every bit as crucial as it is for the crimes against humanity carried out by Myanmar’s security forces in northern Rakhine state.”
Total number killed higher
Ni Maul, a Hindu social worker and community leader who first reported the massacres of the Hindus found in mass graves, told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Wednesday that he already knew that ARSA had murdered dozens of Hindus from Kah Maung Seik and Ye Bauk Yar on Aug. 25, 2017, though he put the total number of villagers killed at 122.
“We were sad to see many people killed … I helped government authorities find the bodies and submitted a report, saying how many people were killed and how many were missing, but we never received any response from the government about it, and we don’t know what the international community will do now that it knows what ARSA did to these people,” he said
Though some members of the media, rights organizations, and a group of diplomats from the U.N. Security Country were allowed to visit ethnic communities in northern Rakhine and interview many locals, including Hindus, none of them issued any statements about ARSA being responsible for the attacks, he said.
Meanwhile, the government has been providing protection for eight young Hindu women who witnessed ARSA’s attack on their fellow villagers in Kha Maung Seik, Ni Maul said.
The militants had forced the women to convert to Islam and took them and eight of their children to a refugee camp in Bangladesh where the women were forced to issue statements on social media that Rakhine ethnics were responsible for the attack. Myanmar and Bangladeshi forces tracked down the women and children and repatriated them in October 2017.
Ni Maul also said the government has agreed to take back the more than 400 Hindus still living in camps in Bangladesh.
Better late than never
Observers in Myanmar said the government welcomed Amnesty International's latest report, even though it has firmly rejected previous reports by rights groups about atrocities committed against the Rohingya during the crackdown in Rakhine state.
“Amnesty International’s report shows very important and strong evidence that the international community needs to think about regarding the Rakhine conflict,” said Myanmar political analyst Yan Myo Thein.
Former information minister Ye Htut said the report’s release was better late than never.
“Although Amnesty International’s report came out late, it is better than remaining ignorant about the Rakhine problem,” he told RFA. “We can even say it is a good sign.”
Diplomats from the U.N. Security Council who visited Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh and areas in northern Rakhine state affected by violence had seemed not to accept what Myanmar officials told them about the ARSA attacks on ethnic minority communities, Ye Htut said.
“Now that Amnesty International has agreed with this, Myanmar will have better communication with the international community, diplomatically speaking,” he said.
Pyi Thway Naing, editor-in-chief of Myanmar’s Khit Yanant magazine, said the report shows that the government must allow independent media and others to visit Rakhine and look into the accounts of killings and other abuses.
“A report by a famous human rights organization like Amnesty International provides strong support [that there is] a general crisis in Myanmar,” he said.
Though the government opposes accusations by the international community that it has caused the problems in Rakhine state, it can’t dispute the evidence in the report, he said.
“The Myanmar government should allow international media and organizations to travel to conflict areas,” said Pyi Thway Naing. “If it does, we will have real evidence such as that which Amnesty international has in the report.”
“When the government finds out who committed crimes, it must take action against them, including ARSA, people from the military, and the police,” he said. “If the government can’t do this, it will face more hardship and problems.”
ICC ‘cannot take action’
Earlier this month, Amnesty International was among four human rights groups that called on the U.N. Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the crackdown on the Rohingya, saying the violence amounted to crimes against humanity.
The appeal came a week after U.N. Security Council envoys visited Myanmar and Bangladesh to assess the situation on the ground in Rakhine state, after which they called for a “proper” investigation into the events surrounding the Rohingya exodus.
Myanmar can set up such a probe through an ICC referral or by holding its own comprehensive inquiry.
The call by the rights groups came a month after an ICC prosecutor asked the international tribunal to rule on whether the court can exercise jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of the Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
Myanmar argued that because it is not a member of the ICC, such a move would undermine its charter and run counter to the Netherlands-based ICC’s charter.
On Wednesday, Zaw Htay, director general of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office, repeated the government’s previous response that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Myanmar, which is not a member of the 123-party body.
“The ICC has no jurisdiction, and we will not accept any action it takes against Myanmar,” he said at a press conference in Naypyidaw.
“ICC member Bangladesh has no jurisdiction concerning Myanmar because Myanmar is not an ICC member,” he said.
Whenever the government has concrete evidence of abuses or crimes committed in Rakhine during the crackdown, it will investigate it and take action against the wrongdoers, Zaw Htay said, adding that military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing told the U.N. Security Council envoys to provide such proof if they had it.
“We have been saying the same thing since we started having problems in Rakhine state,” he said. “Though Myanmar is not opposed to investigating and taking action against people who committed crimes, the ICC cannot take any action. It is impossible.”
“We don’t deny that we have human right violations in Myanmar, but please provide us with concrete evidence,” he said.
Reported by Thiha Htun, Thin Thiri, and Win Ko Ko Latt for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.