Military attacks against Rohingya population have hallmarks of 'ethnic cleansing': HRW

Military attacks against Rohingya population have hallmarks of 'ethnic cleansing': HRW
3 min read
08 September, 2017
Human Rights Watch said the Myanmar military's atrocities against Rohingya Muslims have the hallmarks of 'ethnic cleansing', while calling on the UN Security Council to take urgent action.
Killings, arson and shelling of Rohingya villages are hallmarks of 'ethnic cleansing', says HRW [Getty]
Ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing security forces in Myanmar's Rakhine State have described killings, shelling, and arson in their villages that have all the hallmarks of a campaign of "ethnic cleansing," Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

HRW has called on the United Nations Security Councilto hold an emergency meeting and warn Myanmar authorities that they will face severe sanctions unless they put an end to the brutal campaign against the Rohingya population.

The demand for action comes as the UN estimates at least 270,000 Rohingya have fled the Myanmar violence in just two weeks.

The Burmese army, police, and ethnic Rakhine armed groups have carried out operations against predominantly Rohingya villages since the August 25 attacks by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militants against about 30 police posts and an army base.

Army commander Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing told the media that the government-approved military clearance operations in Rakhine State was "unfinished business" dating back to the Second World War.

"Rohingya refugees have harrowing accounts of fleeing Burmese army attacks and watching their villages be destroyed," said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW's South Asia director.

"Lawful operations against armed groups do not involve burning the local population out of their homes."

In early September, Rohingya refugees who had fled across the border to Bangladesh told HRW that government security forces had carried out armed attacks on villagers, inflicting bullet and shrapnel injuries, and burned down their homes.

They described the military's use of small arms, mortars, and armed helicopters in the attacks.

Satellite data and images obtained by HRW show widespread burnings in northern Rakhine State. To date, 21 unique locations have been found where heat sensing technology on satellites identified significant, large fires.

Knowledgeable sources in Bangladesh told HRW that they heard the distinctive sounds of heavy and light machine gun fire and mortar shelling in villages just across the border in Myanmar, and spotted smoke arising from these villages shortly afterward.

The government, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has denied security force abuses, claiming that it is engaged in a counterterrorism operation in which nearly 400 people have been killed, most of them suspected militants.

The authorities assert, without substantiating their claims, that militants and Rohingya villagers have burned 6,845 houses across 60 villages in northern Rakhine State. Refugee accounts contradict the claims of government officials.

HRW's initial investigations of the current situation in Rakhine State are indicative of an ethnic cleansing campaign. 

"There is no indication that the horrors we and others are uncovering in Rakhine State are letting up," Ganguly said.

"The United Nations and concerned governments need to press Burma (Myanmar) right now to end these horrific abuses against the Rohingya as a first step toward restoring Rohingya to their homes."