The world has failed to hold Myanmar accountable for atrocities committed against the stateless Rohingya minority, a global rights group said ahead of the first anniversary of a military campaign that drove more than 700,000 people to flee to Bangladesh.
Waves of Rohingya women, men and children began leaving their homes in northern Rakhine state after Aug. 25, 2017, when Myanmar security forces and Buddhist vigilante groups launched a crackdown that the United Nations has called “ethnic cleansing.”
“This anniversary marks a shameful milestone,” Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s crisis response director, said in a statement.
“By its continued failure to hold to account those responsible for crimes against humanity, the international community risks sending the message that Myanmar’s military will not only enjoy impunity but will be allowed to commit such atrocities again," she said. "We must not let this happen.”
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees are still in limbo in refugee camps in Bangladesh, Hassan said.
“As long as their tormentors in Myanmar’s security forces remain at large, any notion that Rohingya refugees can have a safe, dignified and voluntary return home is farcical,” she said. “Lack of political will, not a lack of evidence, is at the root of the international community’s inaction.”
In June, Amnesty accused 13 people, including Myanmar’s commander-in-chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, of playing key roles in atrocities against the Rohingya. During the past year Myanmar has remained staunchly unapologetic even as the U.N., U.S. and others described the military operations as ethnic cleansing.
The rights watchdog’s scathing statement came a week after Washington imposed sanctions on four Myanmar military and police commanders and two army units.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s sanctions did not touch Min Aung and also stopped short of labeling the military counterstrikes as genocide or crimes against humanity.
The sanctions targeted Myanmar military commanders Aung Kyaw Zaw, Khin Maung Soe and Khin Hlaing, as well as Thura San Lwin, a Border Guard Police commander. The sanctions freeze U.S. assets owned by the individuals, prohibit Americans from doing business with them, and bars their entry into the United States.
On Thursday, more than 130 lawmakers from across Southeast Asia issued a statement urging U.N. Security Council members to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“One year has passed since the Myanmar military launched its murderous operation in Rakhine State, yet we are no closer to seeing those responsible brought to justice,” said Charles Santiago, a Malaysian lawmaker and chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.
“As Myanmar is clearly both unwilling and unable to investigate itself, we are now at a stage where the international community must step in to ensure accountability,” Santiago said.
‘Continued mark of shame’
Fortify Rights, an NGO, issued a report last month saying that Myanmar authorities had made “extensive and systematic” plans for attacks on Rohingya civilians in Rakhine months before Rohingya insurgents carried out deadly assaults on police outposts in August 2017.
The report detailed a campaign of violence by Myanmar forces targeting the Rohingya, including killings, torture, rape, and village burnings in three northern townships, in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on Aug. 25, 2017.
The report identified 22 Myanmar military and police officials responsible for ordering the “clearance operations,” whom Fortify Rights said should be criminally investigated and potentially prosecuted by the ICC for genocide and crimes against humanity.
In the aftermath of the violence against the Rohingya, the world saw the most concentrated movement of refugees since the Rwandan genocide, Eric Paul of Fortify Rights said in a statement released Friday. He explained that more than a million Rohingya now eke out a marginal existence and living in abject poverty in southeastern Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district.
“Despite all this, and the increasing demands for international action against the Myanmar military for genocide and crimes against humanity – the likelihood of a durable solution and justice for the Rohingya remain as remote as ever,” Paul said.
“The inability of the United Nations and the international community to protect the Rohingya is a continued mark of shame that will almost certainly have repercussions further down the line.”
Repatriation in doubt
Buddhist-ruled Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as an indigenous ethnic group, denying them citizenship and work opportunities and has pejoratively described them as “illegal Bengali immigrants.”
In April this year, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the World Bank Group’s president, Jim Yong Kim, visited Bangladesh and Myanmar. At the end of their trip, they urged Myanmar to ensure the safe, voluntary and dignified return of the refugees to Rakhine.
Last November, Myanmar and Bangladesh reached an agreement on the repatriation of the Rohingya, but despite a series of discussions among diplomats and agencies, there are few signs that the refugees will go home anytime soon, officials and diplomats said.
But on Tuesday, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleged that Myanmar authorities had tortured six Rohingya who returned to Rakhine from refugee camps in Bangladesh.
“The torture of Rohingya returnees puts the lie to Myanmar government promises that refugees who return will be safe and protected,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director. “Despite Myanmar’s rhetoric guaranteeing a safe and dignified return, the reality is that Rohingya who go back still face the persecution and abuses they were forced to flee.”
‘We would ask them to kill us’
Meanwhile, on the eve of the anniversary of the start of the unprecedented Rohingya exodus, BenarNews interviewed some 50 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, many of whom expressed morbid reluctance over the prospect of being sent back to Rakhine.
“Are we going back with all our rights? We hope Bangladesh won’t repatriate us without assurances from the Myanmar government. If Bangladesh forces us to go back before that, we would ask them to kill us in Bangladesh,” Rohingya refugee Mohammad Foyezu Arakani told BenarNews.
Fellow refugee Mohammad Hossain echoed that sentiment.
“If we don’t get justice, we would rather die here in Bangladesh,” he said. “If required, we would commit suicide."