Rohingya Villages Continued To Be Destroyed.
Satellite images show that dozens of Rohingya villages were burned the week Myanmar signed an agreement with Bangladesh to repatriate hundreds of thousands of refugees, Human Rights Watch has claimed. The evidence that villages were still being damaged as late as 2 December contradicted assurances by the Burmese government that violence had ceased and that the Rohingya could safely return to Myanmar, the watchdog said. Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement on 23 November to begin the process of repatriating some of the estimated 655,000 refugees who fled Myanmar in the past four months.
Burmese soldiers, police and militias have been accused of razing hundreds of villages, gang-raping women and children and killing indiscriminately, in what the US has labelled a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Burmese officials claim the reports of violence are exaggerated, and it was largely perpetrated by Rohingya insurgents. The first repatriations under the agreement are due in January, a timetable that human rights groups say is unrealistic and could expose the Muslim minority group to continued persecution, internment or possible forced resettlement.
HRW said satellite images showing signs of fires and building destruction in 40 villages in October and November were proof that the Rohingya could not yet safely return. “The Burmese army’s destruction of Rohingya villages within days of signing a refugee repatriation agreement with Bangladesh shows that commitments to safe returns were just a public relations stunt,” said Brad Adams, the organisation’s Asia director. “The satellite imagery shows what the Burmese army denies: that Rohingya villages continue to be destroyed. Burmese government pledges to ensure the safety of returning Rohingya cannot be taken seriously.” HRW said its analysis showed that about 354 villages had been partially or completely destroyed since army “clearance operations” commenced in Rakhine state in August after a series of deadly attacks by Rohingya militants. It said at least 118 of those villages were damaged after 5 September, which Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, has identified as the official end of army operations in the state.
Last week, Médecins Sans Frontières estimated that at least 6,700 Rohingya, including 700 children, had been killed since the renewed crackdown in August, which followed similar violence in October 2016. About 870,000 Rohingya are estimated to have fled the country in recent years. The Burmese government’s investigation found 376 Rohingya “terrorists” died in the fighting and found “no deaths of innocent people” – a claim contradicted by hundreds of accounts of brutality shared by refugees in Bangladesh. On Monday, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said he could not “rule out that possibility that acts of genocide have been committed” in Rakhine state in recent months. “It’s very hard to establish because the thresholds are high,” Hussein told the BBC. “But it wouldn’t surprise me in the future if the court were to make such a finding on the basis of what we see.” He said UN investigators had heard the testimony of a “consistent, methodical pattern of killings, torture, rape and arson”. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, has been strongly criticised for her response to the crisis, though it is unclear how much control she has over the military, which ceded control of some ministries to her civilian government in 2015 after decades of army rule. Credit: Michael Safi for The Guardian, 18 December 2017.
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