Rights group Amnesty International (AI) has reported Myanmar security forces killed hundreds of people in a systematic campaign to expel Rohingya Muslims. The government denies reports of atrocities.
In a report published on Wednesday, human rights group Amnesty International (AI) said Myanmar's security forces had surrounded villages, shot fleeing inhabitants, set buildings alight and burned to death the elderly and those unable to flee.
"In this orchestrated campaign, Myanmar's security forces have brutally meted out revenge on the entire Rohingya population of northern Rakhine State, in an apparent attempt to permanently drive them out of the country. These atrocities continue to fuel the region's worst refugee crisis in decades," said Tirana Hassan, Crisis Response Director at Amnesty International.
The Myanmar security forces started a campaign in late August to 'pacify' unrest in the predominantly Muslim northern state of Rakhine. Myanmar's government has said it was responding to attacks by Muslim insurgents. The United Nations has said the response was disproportionate and "textbook ethnic cleansing."
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday the US held Myanmar's military leadership accountable for the Rohingya crisis.
"What's most important to us is that the world can't just stand idly by and be witness to the atrocities that are being reported in the area," he said. "We really hold the military leadership accountable for what's happening."
Amnesty's most detailed study yet of the ongoing crisis reported that over 530,000 Rohingya men, women and children have fled Rakhine State in terror "in a matter of weeks amid the Myanmar security forces' targeted campaign of widespread and systematic murder, rape and burning."
For the report, Amnesty interviewed over 120 Rohingya who fled when Myanmar security forces began a campaign against Rohingya villages on August 25.
Amnesty's Hassan said: "Exposing these heinous crimes is the first step on the long road to justice. Those responsible must be held to account; Myanmar's military can't simply sweep serious violations under the carpet by announcing another sham internal investigation. The Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, must take immediate action to stop his troops from committing atrocities."
The report describes how Myanmar's security forces carried out a "systematic, organized and ruthless campaign of violence against the Rohingya population as a whole in northern Rakhine State, after a Rohingya armed group attacked around 30 security posts on 25 August.”
Amnesty documented events in five villages where at least a dozen people were killed: Chein Kar Li, Koe Tan Kauk, and Chut Pyin, all in Rathedaung Township; and Inn Din and Min Gyi, in Maungdaw Township. In Chut Pyin and Min Gyi, the death toll was particularly high, with at least scores of Rohingya women, men, and children killed by Myanmar security forces, the report noted.
The 33rd Light Infantry Division and border police, who wear a distinctive blue camouflage uniform, were also frequently involved in attacks on villages, along with Buddhist vigilante mobs, witnesses said.
AI researchers also interviewed seven Rohingya survivors of sexual violence committed by Myanmar security forces. Of those, four women and a 15-year-old girl were raped, each in a separate group with between two and five other women and girls who were also raped.
Report and recommendations
Amnesty crisis researcher Matthew Wells spent several weeks at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. He said another report would be published in the coming months examining individual criminal responsibility, including specific commanders and others who may be involved in abuses.
Among its recommendations, Amnesty called on the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Myanmar and financial sanctions against senior officials responsible for violations.
"It is time for the international community to move beyond public outcry and take action to end the campaign of violence that has driven more than half the Rohingya population out of Myanmar," Amnesty International said.