Stop the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar
- More than 80 sites set ablaze in orchestrated campaign since 25 August
- More than 370,000 Rohingya fled across border in less than three weeks
- Testimonies show attacks were planned, deliberate and systematic
What is happening to the Rohingya in Myanmar right now is planned, deliberate and targeted. It is the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis. It is ethnic cleansing. This isn’t a new crisis. It has been decades in the making. The plight of the Rohingya is anchored in a system of discrimination that has denied them recognition and dignity. Myanmar’s 1982 citizenship law stripped them of the rights everyone should be able to take for granted. The Rohingya, and other ethnic minorities in Myanmar, have been systematically marginalized. In Myanmar, society has long been fractured. The violence we see now is the result.
We can now confirm that at least 80 inhabited sites have been set alight by the Myanmar’s security forces and vigilante mobs. Entire villages have been burnt to the ground. The Amnesty International’s analysis of active fire-detection data, satellite imagery, photographs and videos from the ground, as well as interviews with dozens of eyewitnesses in Myanmar and across the border in Bangladesh, shows how an orchestrated campaign of systematic burnings has targeted Rohingya villages across northern Rakhine State for almost three weeks.
The fires have been detected across large swathes of predominantly Rohingya areas within Rakhine State. While the extent of the damage cannot be independently verified on the ground, due to access restrictions by the Myanmar government, they are likely to have burned down whole villages, forcing tens of thousands to flee in terror.
“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 – systematic attacks and forcible deportation of civilians.” Said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director.
In just over a fortnight, around 370,000 Rohingya, 80 percent of them women and children, have hazarded the journey from Myanmar’s Rakhine state to Bangladesh. They left their homes in panic, fleeing the military’s campaign of punitive reprisals in response to a series of attacks by Rohingya insurgents that killed 12. They seek shelter anywhere they can. The Myanmar military’s retaliation bears no sense of proportion or legality.
Not only are the security forces using violence to drive the Rohingya away, but they are shooting people at random as they try to escape. The nightmare continues at the border of Bangladesh, where landmines have been placed, posing a deadly threat to the Rohingya who have already faced so much violence. On 8 September, Amnesty International confirmed that the Myanmar security forces had planted mines along the northern part of its border with Bangladesh on two busy paths near Taung Pyo Let Wea [known locally as Tumbro] where many Rohingya fleeing violence pass through.
"The Myanmar military’s callous use of inherently indiscriminate and deadly weapons at highly trafficked paths around the border is putting the lives of ordinary people at enormous risk.” said Tirana Hassan.
The Myanmar Army is one of only a handful of state forces worldwide, along with North Korea and Syria, to openly use antipersonnel landmines in recent years. The weapons were banned by an international treaty in 1997.
Earlier this week, the spokesperson for Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, dismissed media reports that the army was planting landmines: “Who can surely say those mines were not laid by the terrorists?” A few days later the Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque confirmed to Reuters news agency that Dhaka had launched a formal complaint with Myanmar for planting landmines along the countries’ shared border.
“The Myanmar authorities should stop issuing blanket denials. All the evidence suggests that its own security forces are planting landmines that are not only unlawful, but that are already maiming ordinary people,” said Tirana Hassan.
Unfortunately, there are international military supports, too. The Australian governments is providing training to the Myanmar Army, while Russia and Israel are among countries supplying it with weapons. While the EU maintains an arms embargo on Myanmar, there have been recent moves by some Member States to provide other forms of support including training. The USA is also exploring expanding military co-operation with the Myanmar army through trainings and workshops.
“Governments around the world who continue to train or sell arms to Myanmar’s military are propping up a force that is carrying out a vicious campaign of violence against Rohingya that amounts to crimes against humanity. This must stop and any other states who are thinking about similar engagement should change course immediately,” said Tirana Hassan. Unless the international community acts now, all that will be left for the Rohingya in Myanmar will be the bodies of the dead and the ruins of their homes.
The responsibility for this crisis lies principally with the Myanmar military, which has authored and executed a policy of punishing the entire Rohingya community. They must be held accountable for the crimes they have committed. Unless the international community decisively addresses what is happening at their hands, there will be nothing to stop hundreds of more homes from being torched, forcing ever more people to flee.
This is ethnic cleansing which amounts to crimes against humanity. These are systematic and coordinated attacks, and the Commander in Chief has the power to stop it. Myanmar must immediately end the military’s campaign of violence and human rights abuses.
Myanmar’s government must also allow unfettered access for humanitarian groups, including specialized demining teams, into Rakhine State. UN experts must be allowed to investigate the widespread and systematic violations that have taken place. Those responsible should be held to account.
Quoted and edited by: Negar Paidar