Northern Rakhine State clashes
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|Ruáingga ရိုဟင်ဂျာ ﺭُﺍَࣺﻳﻨڠَ
|Conflict and Persecution|
A series of violent clashes have been ongoing in the northern part of Myanmar's Rakhine State since October 2016. Armed clashes between government forces and Rohingya insurgents of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) have led to sectarian attacks by Myanmar's military and the local Buddhist population against Rohingya Muslim civilians. The conflict has sparked international outcry and was described as an ethnic cleansing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. In August 2017, the situation worsened and hundreds of thousands of refugees fled Myanmar into Bangladesh, with an estimated 500,000 refugees having arrived by 27 September 2017.
The Muslim Rohingya minority in the region has historically experienced persecution. Laws such as the 1982 Myanmar nationality law ban Rohingya people from obtaining citizenship, and military operations in 1978, 1991 and 1992 against the Rohingya have led to their displacement throughout Rakhine State. Sectarian violence between Buddhist Rakhines and Muslim Rohingyas in 2012 and the 2013 have also caused mass displacements.
The current conflict began on 9 October 2016 when ARSA insurgents attacked Burmese border posts along the Bangladesh–Myanmar border. In response, Burmese authorities launched "clearance operations" between October 2016 to June 2017, which killed more than 1,000 Rohingya civilians, according to UN officials. Following attacks on military outposts by ARSA on 25 August 2017, sectarian violence erupted once again in northern Rakhine State. The Burmese military estimated that 400 people (whom they claimed were insurgents or terrorists) had died in the clashes that followed. However, the UN estimates that at least 1,000 people were killed between 25 August and 8 September. By September, the violence had resulted in 389,000 Rohingyas fleeing their homes.
Foreign leaders, including the United Nations Secretary General and other high UN officials, and the United Nations Security Council—while acknowledging the initial attack by Rohingya insurgents—have strongly criticized the Myanmar government's conduct in the current conflict, calling for the Myanmar government to restrain its forces and factions, and to stop attacking civilians.
- 1 Background
- 2 Timeline
- 3 Humanitarian crisis
- 4 Human rights violations
- 5 Advisory Commission on Rakhine State
- 6 Government restrictions
- 7 Misleading images
- 8 International reactions
- 9 References
The Rohingya people are an ethnic minority that mainly live in the northern region of Rakhine State, Myanmar, and have been described as one of the world's most persecuted minorities. They describe themselves as descendants of Arab traders and other groups who settled in the region many generations ago. After riots in 2012, academic authors used the term Rohingya to refer to the Muslim community in northern Rakhine. For example, Professor Andrew Selth of Griffith University uses "Rohingya" but states "These are Bengali Muslims who live in Arakan State...most Rohingyas arrived with the British colonialists in the 19th and 20th centuries." Among the overseas Rohingya community, the term has been gaining popularity since the 1990s, though a considerable portion of Muslims in northern Rakhine are unfamiliar with the term and prefer to use alternatives. Scholars have stated that they have been present in the region since the 15th century. However, they have been denied citizenship by the government of Myanmar, which describes them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
In modern times, the persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar dates back to the 1970s. Since then, Rohingya people have regularly been made the target of persecution by the government and nationalist Buddhists. The tension between various religious groups in the country had often been exploited by the past military governments of Myanmar. According to Amnesty International, the Rohingya have suffered from human rights violations under past military dictatorships since 1978, and many have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh as a result. In 2005, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had assisted with the repatriation of Rohingyas from Bangladesh, but allegations of human rights abuses in the refugee camps threatened this effort. In 2015, 140,000 Rohingyas remained in IDP camps after communal riots in 2012.
On 9 October, hundreds of unidentified insurgents attacked three Burmese border posts along Myanmar's border with Bangladesh. According to government officials in the majority Rohingya border town of Maungdaw, the attackers brandished knives, machetes and homemade slingshots that fired metal bolts. Nine border officers were killed in the attack, and 48 guns, 6,624 bullets, 47 bayonets and 164 bullet cartridges were looted by the insurgents. Four Burmese soldiers were also killed two days later. Government officials in Rakhine State initially blamed the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO), an Islamist insurgent group mainly active in the 1980s and 1990s, for the attacks, but a group calling itself Harakah al-Yaqin (Faith Movement) later claimed responsibility.
Following the attacks in October, the Myanmar Army began "clearance operations"—widely seen as a military crackdown on the Rohingya—in the villages of northern Rakhine State. In the initial operation, dozens of people were killed and many were arrested. The military enforced a curfew and blocked food aid from the World Food Programme to 80,000 people in Rakhine State. As the crackdown continued, the casualties increased. Arbitrary arrest, extrajudicial killings, gang rapes and looting were reportedly carried out by the military. Hundreds of Rohingya people had been killed by December 2016, and many had fled Myanmar as refugees to take shelter in the nearby areas of Bangladesh.
The chief of police in Rakhine State, Sein Lwin, announced on 2 November that his force had begun recruiting non-Rohingya locals for a new branch of "regional police", which would be trained in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, and then sent back to their villages. The stated purpose of these forces was to defend villages against Rohingya insurgents; however, human rights organizations criticised the move, saying the new branch would likely to be used to further the persecution of Rohingya civilians.
New clashes began on 13 November, resulting in the deaths of one policeman, one soldier and six insurgents. Burmese police later arrested 36 suspected insurgents in connection to the attacks. Fighting continued and on the third day of fighting, the death toll rose to 134 (102 insurgents and 32 security forces). The government later announced that 234 people suspected of being linked to the attackers had been arrested. Some of those arrested were later sentenced to death for their suspected involvement in the attack.
January to August
Clashes between insurgents and the military continued in 2017. Burmese state media reported on 22 June that three insurgents had been killed by security forces in a raid on an insurgent camp supposedly belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), as part of a two-day "area clearance operation" by the government. Authorities confiscated gunpowder, ski masks and wooden rifles suspected to have been used for training.
In February 2017, the United Nations accused Myanmar's military of mass killings and gang rapes, as well as burning down villages over the course of their "clearance operations". It stated that the military's operations had "likely caused hundreds of deaths." Two senior UN officials working in its two separate agencies in Bangladesh stated that more than 1,000 may have died per testimonies gathered from Rohingyas. Meanwhile, Myanmar’s presidential spokesman, Zaw Htay said that per latest reports from military commanders, fewer than 100 people had been killed. The government of Myanmar denied that there was a systematic campaign of rape, though acknowledges it may have been committed by "individual members of the security forces".
A police document obtained by Reuters in March listed 423 Rohingyas detained by the police since 9 October 2016, 13 of whom were children, the youngest being ten years old. Two police captains in Maungdaw verified the document and justified the arrests, with one of them saying, "We the police have to arrest those who collaborated with the attackers, children or not, but the court will decide if they are guilty; we are not the ones who decide." Myanmar police also claimed that the children had confessed to their alleged crimes during interrogations, and that they were not beaten or pressured during questioning. The average age of those detained is 34, the youngest is 10, and the oldest is 75.
Rakhine State police chief Sein Lwin announced on 27 June that security forces were on "high alert" after "masked assailants" killed several local administrators close to the Burmese government in the days prior. A week later on 4 July, a mob of at least a hundred Rakhine Buddhists in Sittwe attacked seven Rohingya men from Dapaing camp for internally displaced persons with bricks, killing one and severely injuring another. The Rohingya men were being escorted by police to Sittwe's docks to purchase boats, but were attacked despite armed guards being present nearby. According to a spokesman for the Burmese Ministry of Home Affairs, an unarmed junior policeman was with the Rohingya men at the time of the attack, but was unable to stop the attackers. One man was arrested in relation to the attacks on 26 July.
Bodies of slain locals have been discovered over the course of the conflict; the government has stated that they were victims of Rohingya insurgents. The bodies of three Rohingya locals who had worked closely with the local administration were found in shallow graves in Maungdaw on 21 January. The government suspected that they were murdered by Rohingya insurgents in a reprisal attack. Three decapitated bodies were found in Rathedaung Township on 31 July. According to a government official, they were murdered by Rohingya insurgents. The bodies of six ethnic Mro farmers, reportedly killed by Rohingya insurgents, were found in Maungdaw Township on 3 August.
In mid-August 2017, Bangladesh security forces had stepped up its border patrols, following reports of 1,100 Rohingya migrating into Bangladesh in the past two weeks amid fresh tensions in Rakhine state. After the October 2016 clashes in Myanmar, the refugee flow had slowed until hundreds of more soldiers were deployed recently.
25 August ARSA attacks
The government announced on 25 August that 71 people (one soldier, one immigration officer, 10 policemen and 59 insurgents) had been killed overnight during coordinated attacks by up to 150 insurgents on 24 police posts and the 552nd Light Infantry Battalion army base in Rakhine State. The Myanmar Army stated that the attack began at around 1:00 AM, when insurgents armed with bombs, light weapons and machetes blew up a bridge. The army further stated that a majority of the attacks occurred around 3:00 AM to 4:00 AM.
ARSA claimed they were taking "defensive actions" in 25 different locations and accused government soldiers of raping and killing civilians. The group also claimed that Rathedaung had been under a blockade for more than two weeks, starving the Rohingya, and that the government forces were preparing to do the same in Maungdaw.
Myanmar's civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, sharply criticized the insurgent Rohingya attacks as an attempt to undermine others' efforts to "build peace and harmony in Rakhine state." The United Nations condemned the attacks, while calling on all sides to refrain from violence.
Post-August aftermath and crisis
Following attacks by ARSA on 25 August, the Burmese military led a crackdown against the Rohingya in Rakhine state. The military has referred to the action as "clearance operations". However, the military is also believed to be targeting Rohingya civilians in an attempt to drive the Rohingya out of Myanmar.
The violence resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people in Myanmar's Rakhine state. At least 1,000 have been killed by 7 September, according to Yanghee Lee, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Myanmar. She added that the figure is "very likely an underestimate". On the same day the Burmese military acknowledged "nearly 400" deaths, but claimed they were mostly "terrorists" or "militants." However, Rohingya accounts indicate that most of the dead were non-combatant civilians, including women and children.
Rohingya refugees quickly began fleeing Myanmar by the thousands, then, within two weeks, by the hundreds of thousands. By 12 September, authorities in Bangladesh and aid agencies were reporting 370,000 refugees had fled Myanmar, mostly Rohingya Muslims (about a third of the estimated Rohingya population in Myanmar), but also hundreds of Hindus and Buddhists.
Rohingya refugees arrived in Bangladesh, many of whom had injuries such as bullet wounds, and reported fleeing indiscriminate shootings, rapes, torture and other violent acts against Rohingya civilians by mobs of Buddhist Rakhine civilians and Myanmar government forces, including upon whole villages, many of which were burnt down (reportedly some with villagers, even children, confined in the burning structures by their attackers).
When Human Rights Watch published satellite photos showing villages on fire, the Burmese government acknowledged that Rohingya houses were burned, but again insisted (as they did in 2012) that the Rohingya insurgents were burning their own villages. However, a group of reporters, on a government-guided tour, allegedly caught Rakhine civilians torching empty Rohingya houses, and one reporter was told by a Rakhine civilian that the police had assisted them.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the violence appeared to be "a textbook example of 'ethnic cleansing.'"
In late August 2017, Bangladesh proposed joint military operations with Myanmar against ARSA. In September 2017, it accused Myanmar of repeatedly violating its airspace and issued a warning stating that any more "provocative acts" could have "unwarranted consequences". Myanmar spokesman, Zaw Htay, stated Myanmar would check any information Bangladesh provided.
Starting on 6 September, reports emerged that the Burmese military had begun laying landmines near the border with Bangladesh. Bangladesh said it had photographic evidence of Myanmar laying mines, and lodged an official complaint. Though Myanmar had laid mines in the area in the 1990s, it denied laying mines recently. (Laying of landmines became illegal under international law in 1997). On 10 September, Amnesty International accused Myanmar of laying mines. The purpose of laying mines is believed to be to prevent the Rohingya refugees from returning. At least three people, including two children, had been injured in landmines as of 10 September.
A one-month unilateral ceasefire was declared by ARSA on 9 September, in an attempt to allow aid groups and humanitarian workers safe access into northern Rakhine State. In a statement, the group urged the government to lay down their arms and agree to their ceasefire, which would have been in effect from 10 September until 9 October (the one-year anniversary of the first attacks on Burmese security forces by ARSA). The government rejected the ceasefire, and Zaw Htay, the spokesperson for the State Counsellor's office, stated, "We have no policy to negotiate with terrorists."
The Myanmar government reported on 17 September that 176 of 471 Rohingya villages had been abandoned. By then it was reported that 430,000 Rohingyas had fled into neighbouring Bangladesh. The government of Bangladesh also announced plans to build shelters for 400,000 refugees and start immunizations, but began restricting the movement of some of the refugees.
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres urged Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to use her planned speech to her nation on 19 September to announce a stop to the military offensive, warning that if she did not, "I don't see how this can be reversed in the future". However, U.S. diplomats—while demanding that "this persecution must stop", attempted to be supportive of Suu Kyi's fragile, new civilian-leader position in a nation still largely ruled by the military. Suu Kyi's speech was later criticized by Amnesty International as "a mix of untruths and victim-blaming". Doubt was also cast on her statement of there being no clashes after 5 September, with satellite imagery examined by Amnesty International appearing to show more than a dozen burned villages and fires since then.
Late September to December
Myanmar's vice president Henry Van Thio told the UN on 20 September that Burmese security forces had been instructed to avoid collateral damage and harm to innocent civilians. He also promised that human rights violations would be dealt with "in accordance with strict norms of justice." Thio added that minority groups other than the Rohingya had also fled the violence and that his government was concerned over Rohingyas fleeing despite there being no armed clashes since 5 September.
Rakhine Chief Minister Nyi Pu and Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Win Myat Aye visited the villages of Nyaung Pin Gyi and Ah Nauk Pyin to deliver aid after reports of Rohingya Muslims being trapped in the latter. An official also stated that those trap were guaranteed safe passage by the two ministers, after local Rakhine Buddhists threatened them. Win Myat Aye stated that he had learned of the situation in the villages from international reports and that he and Nyi Pu had assured the Rohingya that they would take action against those intimidating them.
ARSA stated on 7 October that they would respond to any peace initiatives proposed by Myanmar's government, but added that their one-month unilateral ceasefire was about to end. Despite the ceasefire ending on 9 October, the government stated that there were no signs of any new attacks as it held inter-faith prayers in a stadium in Yangon to curb animosity.
Myanmar's military launched an internal probe into the actions of its soldiers during the August clashes. In November, the military released a report denying all accusations against its security forces. Major General Maung Maung Soe was meanwhile transferred from his post as head of Western Command in Rakhine State in the same month.
The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar stated on 17 November that three trucks were extensively damaged in landmine explosions in Minbya two days earlier. It stated they were allegedly targeting army convoys. It added that another landmine exploded near a village later in the day as seven military trucks passed by, injuring a pedestrian. It also separately stated that 19 people had been arrested over the August attacks and charged under the anti-terrorism law.
While welcoming Pope Francis on 28 November during the second day of his visit to Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi stated that there had been an "erosion of trust and understanding" between the communities of Rakhine State. The International Committee of the Red Cross stated on 13 December that an estimated 300,000 Rohingya Muslims remained in Rakhine State, 180,000 of whom were displaced in the north. Human Rights Watch stated on 18 December that it had identified 40 Rohingya villages which had been destroyed in October and November.
ARSA claimed responsibility for an ambush carried out on a Burmese military convoy on 5 January, in the village of Turaing, claiming they were fighting against "Burmese state-sponsored terrorism" against Rohingya. Six security personnel and a civilian driver were reportedly wounded by gunfire and homemade land mines.
4,000 non-Muslim villagers were evacuated by security forces in late-August amid ongoing clashes. According to estimates by Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh, around 2,000 people crossed into Bangladesh. The number of displaced non-Muslims later rose to 30,000 in early-September. According to the United Nations, at least 270,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in just two weeks following renewed violence that began on 25 August 2017. Prior to which, two refugee camps in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh were already home to nearly 34,000 Rohingya refugees. Some 23,000 others remain internally displaced within Rakhine State. By late October 2017, around 200 had drowned while trying to cross into Bangladesh on boats since late-August.
In February 2017, the government of Bangladesh announced that it planned to relocate the new refugees and another 232,000 Rohingya refugees already in the country to Thengar Char, a sedimentary island in the Bay of Bengal. The island first appeared around 2007, formed from washed down silt from the Meghna River. The nearest inhabited land, Hatiya Island is around 30 kilometres (19 mi) away. News agencies quoted a regional official describing the plan as "terrible". The move has received substantial opposition from a number of quarters. Human rights groups have described the plan as a forced relocation. Bangladesh approved a plan on 28 November 2017 to temporarily shelter 100,000 Rohingya on the island.
Hundreds of Hindus have also migrated to Bangladesh along with Rohingyas and complained of violence on their villages. Ar least 3,000 of estimated 8,000 Hindus living in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Sittwe fled since the start of military operations, including some who were internally displaced and others who fled to Bangladesh. More than 500 returned from Sittwe to Maungdaw in December 2017.
From 25 August 2017, when the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) launched their military operation in response to attacks by Rohingya militants, to 22 September 2017, satellite images showed that Rohingya villages were still being burned and an estimated 429,000 refugees had fled into Bangladesh (creating a larger weekly outflow of refugees than the Rwandan genocide), out of a pre-violence Rohingya population of about 1 million in Rakhine state.
On 2 October 2017, Bangladesh's Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali, after talks with a Myanmar official, stated that both countries had agreed on a "joint working group" for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees who had fled to Bangladesh. On 5 October 2017, the Bangladeshi Minister of Disaster Management and Relief Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya announced that the world's largest refugee camp will be built to house Rohingya refugees. Rohingyas settled across the border in 23 camps were to be transferred to one central camp in Cox's Bazar, with all the other camps being closed after the completion of the transfer. By the end of October 2017, the UN estimated that over 600,000 refugees had fled to Bangladesh since armed clashes resumed two months earlier.
On 23 November 2017, the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Rakhine State. Bangladesh's Foreign Minister stated that a joint working group composed of UNHCR and members of both nations was to be established within three weeks to fix the final terms for the beginning of the process. He also stated that those returning will be kept in temporary camps near their abandoned homes. Under the deal, Myanmar will ensure that they are not kept in the camps for long and are issued identity cards. The foreign secretaries of both nations met on 19 December to finalise the agreement. Bangladesh's foreign ministry issued a statement saying that the group will "ensure commencement of repatriation within two months" by developing a timetable for verification of identities and logistics.
Bangladesh's foreign ministry announced on 15 January that their government and Myanmar's had bilaterally agreed on a repatriation deal for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, which would aim to complete the process of repatriation within two years. Win Myat Aye, Myanmar's Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, also announced that his country would begin repatriating Rohingya refugees beginning on 23 January.
Human rights violations
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) has been accused by the State Counsellor's office of committing arson on Buddhist monasteries and local police outposts, killing innocent civilians and planting landmines. ARSA has meanwhile accused the Myanmar Army of using civilians as human shields.
A number of Rohingya properties were set alight during the violence, with residents blaming security forces while the government blamed Rohingya insurgents, suggesting that they had burnt down their own community's property. According to the State Counsellor's office, insurgents had burnt down 88 homes, more than 100 shops, two mosques and eight religious schools, as well as vehicles in a village.
Human Rights Watch in August 2017 said that satellite images showed widespread burning in 10 areas in northern Rakhine. While the causes of the fires could not be determined, the group said that it "compared the locations of these fires with witness statements it has collected and media reports, and found a correlation with some reported incidents where residences have allegedly been deliberately burned."
Chris Lewa, director of The Arakan Project, has blamed the security forces of burning village after village in a systematic way while also blaming Rohingya arsonists of burning the Buddhist village of Pyu Ma. Amnesty International's crisis response director Tirana Hassan said that evidence points to Myanmar security setting northern Rakhine ablaze. The group also stated that it has credible reports of Rohingya militants burning the homes of ethnic Rakhine and other minorities.
Human Rights Watch stated on 18 December that 354 villages had been completely or partially destroyed since the clashes that began in August.
Violence towards civilians
The Burmese government and Rohingya advocates have both accused the other side of killing civilians. Advocates for the Rohingyas have claimed that many civilians have died in military attacks on villages. The government has accused ARSA of killing civilians, including Hindus and Muslims, some of whom were suspected by ARSA of being government informants. ARSA in a statement has dismissed government allegations against it as baseless, seeking to present its cause as a defense of Rohingya rights.
Bangladesh's Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali has stated that Myanmar's security forces have killed over 3,000 Rohingyas during the 2017 clashes. Myanmar officials meanwhile have stated that 163 people have been killed and 91 have gone missing in ARSA attacks since 2016. A Médecins Sans Frontières survey published in December 2017 claimed that 6,700 Rohingyas had been killed by shooting and other violence between August 25 and September 24. The report was based on interviews in late October and early November with refugees regarding questions on numbers and conditions of deaths of their family members.
Some members of the Hindu community have also fled to Bangladesh, with some blaming soldiers and others blaming Buddhist vigilantes for violence against them while others have accused the Rohingya insurgents of attacking them on suspicion of being government spies. Some of the Hindus who migrated to Bangladesh stated that their villages are also experiencing killings, torture and arson attacks like those of Rohingyas. 86 Hindus were killed by unidentified men in Myanmar according to the refugees and Rana Dasgupta, head of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council.
Accusations against Myanmar's security forces
The Border Guards Bangladesh station chief of the Ghumdum border post in Bangladesh accused Myanmar's military of firing on fleeing Rohingyas on 26 August. An Agence France-Presse reporter counted more than a dozen mortar shells and several heavy machine gun rounds fired by Burmese security forces on fleeing Rohingyas.
Reports of mass killings of Rohingyas by the military and Buddhist vigilantes in Chut Pyin village near Rathedaung emerged in September 2017. Chris Lewa stated that they had received reports of 130 people being killed in the village. A video provided to ABC News by a human rights monitor purportedly shows the village burning and in another clip of freshly dug earth mound, allegedly graves of those killed.
In interviews with The Guardian in the same month, Rohingya villagers of Tula Toli accused Myanmar's armed forces of sweeping through the village and murdering scores of people. Human Rights Watch in December 2017 accused the military of killing several hundred villagers of Tula Toli and burning the bodies of victims in pits to destroy evidence. The report was partly based on interviews with 18 people. HRW also accessed images detailing complete destruction of Tula Toli and nearby Dual Toli while neighboring non-Muslim villages were unharmed.
In interviews with Human Rights Watch in October 2017, 14 villagers of Muang Nu and surrounding villages in the Chin Tha Mar village area blamed Myanmar's army of beating, sexually assaulting and killing Rohingya villagers seeking safety in a residential compound on 27 August. Satellite imagery accessed by the group showed near total destruction of Muang Nu and Hpaung Taw Pyin village. Though the group wasn't able to verify the death toll, some interviewees stated there were 100 or more bodies.
Myanmar's army discovered a mass-grave containing 10 unidentified bodies in Inn Din village, located 50 kilometres (31 mi) north of Rakhine's capital Sittwe on 18 December. The army stated two days later that a senior officer had been appointed to investigate whether security forces were involved in their killing. The commander-in-chief General Min Aung Hlaing stated that a five-member team was involved in the investigation. The attacks on Rohingyas in the mixed village had been documented by Amnesty in August as well as burning of their homes.
The military issued details of the investigation team's findings on 10 January 2018, stating that some of the soldiers were involved in extrajudicial killings of 10 Rohingya, who were among the 200 involved in attacking Buddhist villagers and security forces in Inn Din. The statement added that the ten who were arrested, were killed instead of being handed over to the police. It added that action would be taken against ethnic Rakhine villagers and soldiers involved. AFP meanwhile reported that Rohingya refugees from the village claimed that those killed were civilians and not terrorists. ARSA on 13 January denied that the Rohingyas who were killed were associated with them, claiming they were innocent civilians.
The Associated Press reported on 1 February 2018 that five mass graves of Rohingya civilians had been found around the village of Gu Dar Pyin, and based on the testimonies of survivors and time-stamped cellphone videos, the report claimed they were victims of the Gu Dar Pyin massacre. However, the government of Myanmar denied the report, stating only "terrorists" were killed in self-defense and "carefully buried" by soldiers.
Accusations against ARSA
The mass-graves of 45 Hindus were discovered by Myanmar authorities in late September 2017, which the Myanmar government and relatives of the deceased claim were killed by ARSA insurgents. An ARSA spokesman meanwhile denied the allegation that it was behind the killings and accused Buddhist nationalists of spreading lies to divide Hindus and Muslims. Mass-graves of 28 Hindus were found on 24 September by the military, with 17 more bodies found on the next day. Three relatives of the deceased stated that masked men, whom they identified as Rohingya Muslims, marched 100 Hindus into the area before slitting their throats, although the men spoke several different languages they could not identify besides the dialects spoken by Muslims and Hindus. They added that the attackers objected to official identity cards issued to Hindus but not Muslims, saying Hindus should not have them.
On 9 November, Myint Khyine, the secretary of the Immigration and Population Department, blamed the deaths of 18 village leaders in the past three months in Maungdaw and Buthidaung, on ARSA. The village leaders helped the department to issue national verification cards to Rohingya villagers.
Myanmar security forces have reportedly raped Rohingya women during the violence. In February 2017, the UN's Human Rights Office published a report accused the army and police forces in Myanmar of committing gang rapes against Rohingya women. Systemic rape of Rohingya women has also been reported by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other NGOs. Reuters, IRIN, NPR, and Myanmar Times have all published reports of rape. Myanmar denies that there is a systematic campaign of rape, though acknowledges it may have been committed by "individual members of the security forces".
Reports of rape began in October 2016. On October 27, the Myanmar Times published an article reporting "dozens" of rapes in northern Rakhine state. The journalist who wrote that piece was later fired, allegedly due to government pressure. On October 28, Reuters interviewed eight women who reported being raped by soldiers at gun point. In April 2017, National Public Radio interviewed 12 women from different villages who all reported rape. IRIN reported instances of rape in May 2017.
The Burmese military has been accused of raping civilians before. In 2011, Aung San Suu Kyi herself said "In the areas of the ethnic nationalities, rape is rife. It is used as a weapon by armed forces to intimidate the ethnic nationalities." The United Nations' Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women asked Myanmar on 28 November to provide reports on rapes, sexual violence and deaths of Rohingya women by their security forces and told them that action would be taken against alleged perpetrators.
The military crackdown on Rohingya people drew criticism from various quarters. On 30 December 2016, nearly two dozen prominent human rights activists, including Malala Yousafzai, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Richard Branson, called on the United Nations Security Council to intervene and end the "ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity" being perpetrated in northern Rakhine State.
High officials from the United Nations, and international organizations such as the human rights group Amnesty International, have labeled the military crackdown on the Rohingya minority as "crimes against humanity" and "ethnic cleansing", adding that the military had made the civilians a target of "a systematic campaign of violence". Amnesty International's Regional Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, James Gomez, said on 19 October 2017: "Aung San Suu Kyi today demonstrated that she and her government are still burying their heads in the sand over the horrors unfolding in Rakhine State. At times, her speech amounted to little more than a mix of untruths and victim blaming."
In August 2017, a government-appointed commission rejected allegations of human rights violations and ethnic cleansing, calling them "exaggerations". In September 2017, Desmond Tutu wrote an open letter to Aung San Suu Kyi urging her "to speak out for justice, human rights and the unity of your people".
Nobel Laureates Malala and Bishop Tutu again appealed to Aung San Suu Kyi to intercede on behalf of the Rohingya, and on 6 September 2017 Pope Francis called for an end to "persecution" of the Rohingya. On September 14, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, "I think it is important that the global community speak out in support of what we all know the expectation is for the treatment of people regardless of their ethnicity... This violence must stop, this persecution must stop." Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Theresa May's spokesman announced on 19 September that UK will stop training Myanmar's armed forces until the crisis is resolved.
Maung Maung Soe, who led the operations in Rakhine in 2017, was sanctioned by the United States according to the Treasury Department. It added that the US had "examined credible evidence of Maung Maung Soe's activities, including allegations against Burmese security forces of extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and arbitrary arrest as well as the widespread burning of villages."
Report by the OHCHR
On 11 October 2017, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report titled the Mission report of OHCHR rapid response mission to Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, which detailed the Burmese military's "systematic process" of driving away hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas from Myanmar. The report noted that prior to the attacks on 25 August 2017 and the military crackdown that ensued, the military pursed a strategy to:
- have male Rohingyas between the ages of 15–40 years arrested and/or arbitrarily detained
- have Rohingya political, cultural and religious figures arrested and/or arbitrarily detained
- ensure that access to food, livelihoods and other means of conducting daily activities and life be taken away from Rohingya villagers
- drive out Rohingya villagers en masse through repeated acts of humiliation and violence, such as [the] incitement of [sectarian] hatred, violence and killings
- instill deep and widespread fear and trauma (physical, emotional and psychological) in Rohingyas, through acts of brutality; namely killings, disappearances, torture, and rape (and other forms of sexual violence)
Advisory Commission on Rakhine State
This section needs expansion with: What is in the 2017 report. You can help by adding to it. (September 2017)
In August 2016, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was invited to head the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which was responsible for addressing human rights violations in the region. The complete report was published a year later on 25 August - the same day new clashes erupted in the region - by the Kofi Annan Foundation and accepted by the government of Myanmar in August 2017, in which it cited 10% of the world's stateless people as having originated from Rakhine State. One of Kofi Annan's final statements after completing the commission's mandate was this:
We propose a ministerial-level appointment to be made with the sole function of coordinating policy on Rakhine State and ensuring the effective implementation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission's recommendations. The appointee should be supported by a permanent and well-staffed secretariat, which will be an integral part of the Central Committee on Implementation of Peace and Development in Rakhine State and support its work.
Massive retaliatory Burmese military attacks and Buddhist mob attacks ensued, leading to a further escalation in the regional humanitarian crisis. Following the deaths of over a thousand civilians in the ensuing violence and the exodus of over 350,000 Rohingya refugees, the office of the President of Myanmar announced on 12 September that it had formed a new 15-member committee to implement the recommendations of the Rakhine Commission. The President's Office stated that the Implementation Committee of Rakhine Advisory Committee was formed to adhere to the recommendations set for improving the security, social affairs and economic development of Myanmar's ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority, improving the sustainability of ethnic villages, removing camps for the displaced and accelerating the citizen verification process for Rohingyas under Myanmar's citizenship laws.
Access to Rakhine State by journalists and observers has been restricted by the authorities. Myanmar stated in mid-September that it does not bar aid workers from Rakhine, but authorities on ground might restrict access for security reasons. Doctors Without Borders urged Myanmar on 18 September to grant international humanitarian organisations unrestricted and independent access to the conflict zone. In a statement, the organisation said that its international staff had not been granted authorisation to visit the health facilities since the end of August, while the national staff was afraid to go work in the region, after Myanmar officials accused NGOs of colluding with ARSA. In early October 2017, the United Nations denounced the government's refusal of access to Rakhine State, with Mark Lowcock, the head of UN's humanitarian office, stating, "The access we have in northern Rakhine State is unacceptable."
In June 2017, Myanmar's government refused to grant visas to a UN fact-finding mission appointed in March 2017. In December 2017, Myanmar banned Yanghee Lee, the United Nation's special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, who was due to visit the country in January 2018. The government stated that her ban was because of "biased and unfair" statements made by her during her visit in July 2017. Lee accused Aung San Suu Kyi of behaving similarly to the military juntas that ruled before her, citing her response to the treatment of Rohingya Muslims. Lee also stated that the decision suggested something "something terribly awful" was happening in Rakhine State. The decision by Myanmar was criticised by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
A local newspaper had claimed that three days after two Reuters reporters were arrested on 12 December, five ethnic Rakhine villagers of Inn Din were arrested on suspicion of giving information about what happened in their village to journalists including the two arrested reporters according to some residents. On 21 December, the UN rejected a report by The Irrawaddy which claimed that the two journalists had passed information to them concerning the violence in Rakhine State. Reuters also denied they worked with the UN or any other organisation. The Ministry of Information cited the police as stating that the two were "arrested for possessing important and secret government documents related to Rakhine State and security forces". It added that they "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media". Reuters claimed that they were arrested for investigating a mass grave of Rohingyas near the village of Inn Din.
Misleading images have been used alongside claims of violence in the conflict, both by the Rohingya and against them. The difficulty of checking authenticity of images has proven a challenge for researchers. In 2016, a United Nations Commission on Human Rights report stated that it would not use any photograph or video that it had not taken itself. In August 2017, one of the images shared on Twitter by Mehmet Şimşek, a Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, was of the Rwandan genocide. He later deleted the image and issued a correction.
In September 2017, Myanmar officials shared photos claiming they showed several Rohingyas setting fire to buildings in their own village. However, journalists later recognized two of the arsonists as Hindus from a nearby school building. The arsonists wore what appeared to be tablecloths on their heads to make themselves "appear Muslim". The Eleven Media Group published an article showing burnt Rohingya homes in Ka Nyin Tan, with government spokesman Zaw Htay tweeting a link to it with the caption "Photos of Bengalis setting fire to their houses!". After the story of the misleading images emerged, Zaw Htay said the government was investigating the matter.
International condemnation of government and government-supported civilian attacks on Rohingyas and other minorities in the region led to widespread public protests around the world, in countries such as France and Indonesia.
The State Counsellor of Myanmar, Aung Sun Suu Kyi, has been criticised by the international community for not condemning the violence or the Burmese Army's military response to the crisis. Aung San Suu Kyi was initially backed by the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi; however, the government of India quickly urged "restraint" in the "anti-terrorism" operations.
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