By Habib Siddiqui
The situation inside the Rohingya villages in north-western Arakan (Rakhine) state of Myanmar, bordering Bangladesh, is dire. Another genocidal campaign has been launched by the government. As we have seen before with the previous military regimes, the new government of Aung San Suu Kyi has its version of justification for its heavy handed treatment of the minority Muslims.
According to government reports in the state media, armed men believed to be from the long-oppressed Rohingya Muslim minority launched a coordinated assault on predawn hours of October 9, killing nine police, injuring five and making off with 48 weapons of various types and 6624 rounds of assorted ammunition, 47 bayonets, and 164 magazines.
A statement from the office of Myanmar’s President Htin Kyaw blamed the little-known “Aqamul Mujahidin” for the attacks around Maungdaw Township, a mainly Muslim area near the frontier with Bangladesh. “They persuade the young people using religious extremism, and they have financial support from outside,” said the Burmese language statement.
Shortly after the attack, military moved in and cordoned off the towns and started its cleansing of one village after another. Activists claim the military is using the search for the attackers as a pretext for a crackdown on the Rohingya, whom rights groups describe as one of the world’s most persecuted peoples.
Reports of the latest attacks against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar may signal a new phase in the “genocidal situation”, researchers at London’s Queen Mary University have said.
Credible reports are emerging of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and raids on Rohingya homes by Myanmar security forces, researchers at the college’s International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) said.
As of Saturday, October 15, at least 92 Rohingyas were shot dead and at least 100 Rohingyas were wounded very badly and more than 150 Rohingya peoples were arbitrary arrested including men and women by the Military and police forces; at least 84 Rohingyas were missing; more than 700 Rohingya homes set on fire by the military. As we have seen many times in the past, the military also raped three Rohingya women inside their homes using rape as a weapon of its ethnic cleansing drive. At least five villages have been completely burnt down by the Myanmar military, making their residents homeless. Afraid of being shot dead by the feared army, many Rohingyas are also fleeing their homes. Many shops have been looted and gutted, and at least one mosque burnt down on 11 October, 2016 in Maungdaw by the military, police forces and the 969 Buddhist fascist group. An estimated 10,000 Rohingyas have been internally displaced as a result of this latest pogrom causing great humanitarian disaster. Due to curfew order and blockade, there is an acute shortage of food, medicine, and other essentials. The situation is exponentially worsening.
On October 14, after 12:00 a.m., some military personnel along with some Rakhine Buddhist civilians raided the market in the Ngakura village tract. They looted all the goods that they found. In the early morning, the military personnel called all the shopkeepers and asked them to shift their goods from their shops to other places wherever they wanted. As the shopkeepers came to their shops to shift their goods, they found no goods inside their shops and all the doors were broken.
At about 10 a.m., military personnel entered the village tract of Kyet Yoe Pyin and set fire to the whole hamlet, Lu Pann Pyin. Then they set fire to another hamlet called Ywar Ma. Some of the women from there who couldn’t find a way to escape were shot dead while they were hiding inside their houses. They were left in homes and the military later set fire to them. It is estimated that nearly 500 houses are said to have been burnt down in both of these above mentioned hamlets.
At 11 a.m., some military personnel entered Zedi Pyin hamlet of Laung Don Village tract where they broke walls and other properties of the home of Sayid Amin. They ordered the nearby villagers to pack their belongings, their homes and move someplace else. Whilst on their way back they arrested Anam Ullah, a mentally disabled nephew of Sayid Amin. They took him to the Rakhine village of Laung Don Village tract where he was severely tortured and then was released as he was recognized as having mental problems at the end. As the military personnel ordered they moved to nearby villages but they think that their village will be burnt down as well in their absence.
In Laung Don Village tract, the military personnel were still said to have been roaming as of at 1 a.m., October the 15th.
On October 14, at 10 a.m., some military personnel raided Aung Sit Pyin village tract and arrested 6 Rohingyas. Days earlier on October 11, 5 Rohingyas from the Say Tha Ma Gyi village were asked to report to Pan Lin Pyin military outpost. Upon arrival, they were then beaten by forces from Battalion 263, led by Lt. Col. Hlaing Min Htet.
The military arrested 15 innocent Rohingya civilians including five children from Pha Wet Chaung village and they were later killed. “The military raids our village [Pha Wet Chaung]. They arrested 15 villagers including 5 children. Military took them with a truck to NaTaLa village. Later they all were slaughtered.” a Rohingya told RB News over the phone.
Kyet Yoe Pyin village has been under attack by the military since Wednesday. As of Thursday, 162 houses have been burnt down into ashes and a market where more than 150 Rohingya shops run businesses have also been burnt to the ground.
Pyaung Pyaik hamlet located in Nga Sa Kyu village was raided by the military. Before torching the houses, the military and NaTaLa villagers looted valuable things and cattle. They then torched 40 houses. Later in the evening more than 100 houses were burnt down. The military shot dead an elderly woman while torching the houses and they threw her into the fire.
Some children and elderly were blocked inside their houses before they were set ablaze. They couldn’t escape from fire and many have reportedly died inside the houses.
According to the RB News, on Thursday at 2 p.m. the military entered Tha Wun Chaung village and checked the household registration and count the heads house by house. They found a man who isn’t from that village. The man was taken by the military and later at 6 p.m. released. After 6 p.m. the military entered into Sabai Gone and Laung Dun Rohingya villages and set the houses on fire. An elder said “Many elderly, pregnant women, children are where the military are torching the houses. I am worried for them. I don’t know whether they are dead or alive. Now what I am seeing is this government is implementing the plan of the then president Thein Sein which Rohingyas will be kept in the camps and sent to third countries.”
According to the villagers, five helicopters were flying over villages for long hours. They said the military used launchers to kill innocent civilians.
Reports of killings and mass arrests have spread like wildfire on social media, stoking fear amongst the Rohingya, who remain the most persecuted people in our planet.
One local teacher, who did not give her name, said she had been hiding in a house along with some 20 other school staff and students in a village near one of Sunday’s attacks, too scared to come out because of the sound of gunfire. “We haven’t eaten for two days. The situation is not so good,” she told AFP from Ngakhura, around 42 kilometers (26 miles) from Maungdaw. “We heard fighting here and there. We do not dare to go out.”
Authorities have extended a regional curfew to between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m., while local education chief Khin Aung said about 400 schools have been closed for the next two weeks.
“Villagers tell us they are scared. Some witnessed killings by the army yesterday,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive of Fortify Rights, a non-profit human rights organization.
Fortify Rights has received reports of possible extrajudicial killings of Rohingya men in Maungdaw Township by Myanmar Army soldiers following the attacks on the police and called on the government, state security forces, and all parties in Rakhine State to respect human rights and uphold the responsibility to protect civilians.
According to information received by Fortify Rights, scores of Myanmar Army soldiers arrived in Myothugyi village, Maungdaw Township at approximately 6:30 a.m. on October 10. Fortify Rights received information of at least three killings of unarmed Rohingya men [Nagu (50), Noor Allam (55) and Noor Bashar (25)] in Myothugyi village on October 10 by military men.
“They took three men…and killed them,” a Rohingya man in Myothugyi said. “They did not arrest the people, they just killed them.”
The New York Times and Reuters reported allegations of seven deaths in Myothugyi village on October 10. Both outlets reported witnesses alleging that army soldiers shot at Rohingya as they ran away.
It is worth noting here that the use of lethal force by state security forces against a civilian is only lawful when necessary to prevent loss of life and serious injury and when proportionate to the threat at hand. The U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials stipulates that the “intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.” The U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials requires officials to “use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.”
In situations of armed conflict, Article 42 of the Third Geneva Convention stipulates that the use of force “against those who are escaping or attempting to escape, shall constitute an extreme measure, which shall always be preceded by warnings appropriate to the circumstances.”
In all situations, under international humanitarian and human rights law, the authorities have a responsibility to protect civilians.
There are more than a million Rohingya in northern Rakhine State, nearly all of whom are denied citizenship and are stateless. For decades, the Government of Myanmar has strictly restricted Rohingya freedom of movement, preventing movement between villages, village tracts, and beyond.
The sudden escalation of violence in Rakhine state poses a serious challenge to the six-month-old government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who was swept to power in an election last year but has faced harsh criticism abroad for failing to tackle rights abuses against the Rohingya and other Muslims.
In June, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights reported to the Human Rights Council that there was a “pattern of gross human rights violations” against Rohingya in Rakhine State that “would suggest a widespread or systematic attack against the Rohingya, in turn suggesting the possible commission of crimes against humanity.”
“Since the attack, we have documented several videos showing armed men – some had guns, some had sticks and swords – speaking the Rohingya language and encouraging volunteers to come and engage in armed conflict in Rakhine State,” Matthew Smith from Fortify Rights told Radio France International (RFI).
“This is a very serious situation unfolding there. The government of Myanmar has commenced with what appears to be a very brutal crackdown, we’re documenting allegations of extrajudicial killings.” “Essentially the Myanmar Army is moving into villages, suspecting all of the men and boys of being involved with this rather small group of armed men and committing a variety of human rights violations,” Smith added.
Northern Rakhine state is “in effect an information black hole, and in situations where allegations of human rights violations are difficult or impossible to independently verify – because of state restrictive practices – the onus must be on the state to investigate or disprove those allegations”, Penny Green, Professor of Law at Queen Mary University of London and Director of ISCI, said.
“We sounded the alarm in 2015 that what we saw amounted to the early stages of a genocidal process,” Green said.
“Local sources now report a ramped up security and military presence, additional restrictions on freedom of movement, and a further limiting of access to food and healthcare. We are concerned that these latest developments may represent a new chapter in the persecution of the Rohingya, and a potentially more deadly phase of genocide. The fact that it’s practically impossible to verify or confirm any of these reports underlines the intensity of Rakhine state’s isolation from international view.”
Myanmar government consistently denies international journalists and human rights organizations access to Northern Rakhine, ISCI said.
Green added that the merging evidence of indiscriminate violence by security forces mark a “disturbing yet entirely predictable escalation in the genocidal process”.
Lately the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, concluded his three-day mission to Myanmar. His trip took place shortly after the outbreak of violence in the northern part of Rakhine State and at a time of escalating armed clashes in Kachin. “The recent violence in Rakhine State is deeply troubling and the immediate priority must be to prevent further violence and to ensure the protection of all civilians. The situation is affecting all communities in Rakhine and has further disrupted the provision of health, education, and other essential services for some of the most vulnerable, particularly the Muslim communities who are not allowed to move freely.”
“When I was in Rakhine State, I talked to people about their suffering and their inadequate access to essential services including health and education. All people in Rakhine State, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or citizenship status, must have safe access to their nearest hospital or medical center, to regular schools and to livelihoods.”
Around 140,000 Rohingyas are still living in displacement camps, four years after the outbreak.
Interestingly, while Suu Kyi’s government finger points young Rohingyas to be the perpetrators, a senior police officer in Rakhine State’s capital Sittwe (Akyab) has claimed that the attacks had been planned by drug traffickers. “They want the areas to be unstable so that they can do their business easily,” the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he has no authority to speak to media, told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.
Did the Tadmadaw had a hand in those attacks and then put the blame on the Rohingya as part of a sinister ploy for a ‘final solution’ of the Rohingya problem? I won’t be surprised if the answer is – ‘yes’.
What is also so atypical is that the attacks came at a time when former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan is leading a commission that is looking into the conflict between the Rohingya and the Buddhists in the Rakhine state, which has seen more than several hundred thousand Muslims displaced by Buddhist violence since 2012. As we have seen, Annan’s commission was unwelcome by the racist Rakhines and many Buddhists that are affiliated with the fascist Ma Ba Tha. If we are looking for a beneficiary, it is these latter elements within the Buddhist society that benefit from the latest unrests inside the restive area, and not the Rohingyas.
Knowing the past tactics and strategy employed by the previous regimes, the new government’s charges of terrorism against the Rohingya youths has to be taken with a grain of salt. As Myanmar dissident activist Dr. Maung Zarni has rightly pointed out in his blog: “Revving up the ‘terrorism’ allegations is killing three birds with a single stone: 1) it enables the military to scale up the slow genocide of the Rohingya in Northern Rakhine; 2) it diverts racist Burmese public’s attention away from the military attacks on the Kachin and halted the anti-war protest momentum; 3) it forces Aung San Suu Kyi to relinquish her Kofi Annan Commission initiative as the military is in due course going to take over the Rakhine administration, partial or wholly, from the NLD puppets.”
“In that light, the Statement issued by Htin Kyaw Office is not really credible or verifiable – beyond what it says,” says Dr. Zarni. “First, all governments lie, and Myanmar Government lies typically and most frequently. Second, routinely Myanmar Military Intelligence fabricates stories and evidence. Ask ex-Major Aung Lin Htut in Marilyn, who was chief of counterintelligence at Myanmar Embassy in Washington. He KNOWS. Dating back to 1950’s in the midst of growing armed Communist movement, Myanmar Military Intelligence has a long history of fabricating “facts”, manufacturing and planting “evidence”, and extracting false confessions through torture. In the 1950’s the Army’s Psychological Warfare Publication called Myawaddy routinely published anti-Communist propaganda. It would publish pictures of beheaded Buddha images and damaged temples saying the Communists were responsible for these anti-Buddhist activities – whereas in fact the military would destroy them for photo-ops.
It is like USA’s Pentagon spending $480 million, to create anti-Muslim propaganda video-clips of terrorist groups that operate in the name of Islam such as Al Qaeda.”
What’s needed is a real investigation that focuses on facts and not propaganda. “The biggest problem is that Myanmar fails time and time again to do real investigations,” Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said in an email sent to Anadolu Agency on Friday. Thein Sein government had failed to do a credible investigation after violence in the area in 2012. “And it looks like they are going down the same failed path again,” Robertson said.
If the Rohingya youths have attacked the police barracks, a reasonable question is: why? Is it because they see no hope? Is it because of the daily dehumanization that they face in Suu Kyi’s Myanmar? Days before the attacks, several Rohingya women were reportedly raped by the police and border security forces from the northern townships. Could such appalling events trigger these attacks from the Rohingya youths who until this event had avoided any armed conflict with the government forces? Being abandoned by the rest of the world, do they feel that they are being pushed into the corner to embrace armed struggle?
If the answer is – yes, it should be a wake-up call for the government of Aung San Suu Kyi. After all, when other ethnic minorities chose armed struggle, the Rohingya – who were the worst persecuted – had resorted to entirely peaceful means in their claims for recognition as a legitimate part of Myanmar’s society. [The exception was in the 1980s when the militant Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) was set up to fight for self-determination of its people. Small and largely ineffective, it had disappeared by 1994. So the Myanmar government’s current accusation against the RSO is bizarre, to say the least.]
Suu Kyi can stop this bleeding process by immediately stopping all military offensives against the Rohingya and recognizing the legitimate rights of the Rohingya people as Myanmar citizens. This basic citizenship right cannot be denied on the false premise that their community had been brought to the country from the Indian subcontinent by the British Raj.
Her government must restore all basic freedoms, including freedom of movement, marriage, education, healthcare and peaceful-living, and to lift all aid restrictions in the Rakhine/Arakan State. Her government must end all forms of persecution and ghettoization of the Rohingya people and immediately rehabilitate and reintegrate all IDPs in their original places and properties. It must compensate the victims who had lost their homes and business. They must be empowered with a sense of belonging and not bewildered with a sense of utter hopelessness.
Following the footsteps of the previous regimes would be suicidal for Suu Kyi’s government.