Updated at 6:06 p.m. ET on 2017-09-11
Myanmar is committing genocide against Rohingya Muslims, Bangladeshi government officials said while the U.N.’s human rights chief warned Monday that the violence driving an unprecedented influx of refugees into southeastern Bangladesh appeared to be a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
As many as 313,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25, according to the U.N.’s latest estimates, and at least 90 have died while trying to cross over from Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
Most of them drown, but some were killed when landmines allegedly planted by Myanmar security forces along the border between the two countries exploded, Bangladeshi officials and witnesses said.
“Genocide has been taking place in Rakhine state in Myanmar. The Burmese army seems to be out to obliterate the Rohingya. They should be tried at the International Court [of Justice],” Kazi Reazul Haque, chairman of Bangladesh’s National Human Rights Commission, told BenarNews on Monday.
“All types of human rights abuses such as killing, arson, torture and rape have been going on. This is unprecedented,” he said in a phone interview from Cox’s Bazar, one of the southeastern districts where many of Rohingya refugees have arrived in recent weeks.
His comments echoed remarks a day earlier from Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood after briefing diplomats from Western and Arab countries about the crisis that has strained humanitarian resources in the southeast.
“The international community is saying it is a genocide. We also say it is a genocide,” Ali said, according to reports.
The number of Rohingya refugees sheltering in camps and settlements in southeastern Bangladesh has now topped 700,000 people, including refugees who fled earlier cycles of violence in neighboring Rakhine state.
On Monday, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told parliament that she would bring up the Rohingya issue during the upcoming session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Separately, Malaysian Minister Najib Razak was to broach the topic during his scheduled meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday, the New Straits Times newspaper reported.
On the eve of Najib's visit to Washington, the White House condemned reports of surging violence in Myanmar, including attacks on police posts by suspected Rohingya insurgents.
“The United States is deeply troubled by the ongoing crisis in Burma where at least 300,000 people have fled their homes in the wake of attacks on a Burmese security post on August 25th. We reiterate our condemnation of those attacks and ensuing violence,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told a press briefing Monday.
In Dhaka, Hasina called on Myanmar to take back the uprooted Rohingya population and to recognize members of the Muslim minority as citizens, according to state-run news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS). The Rohingya are a stateless minority concentrated in Rakhine, where the Buddhist majority looks down on them as “Bengalis.”
“If required Bangladesh would provide all support to Myanmar to overcome the crisis and rehabilitate the displaced people in their homeland,” Hasina told lawmakers.
And in a response to U.N. requests that land be made available to house refugee arrivals, Mohammed Shahriar Alam, a Bangladeshi junior minister of foreign affairs, said Monday in a Facebook post that the government offered to free up about 2,000 acres of state-owned land in Cox’s Bazar for temporary shelters.
Myanmar in ‘complete denial of reality’
In Geneva meanwhile, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, painted a dire picture of the situation in Rakhine state and along the Myanmar-Bangladesh frontier.
His agency had received reports and satellite imagery “of security forces and local militia burning Rohingya villages, and consistent accounts of extrajudicial killings, including shooting fleeing civilians,” as well as reports that Myanmar authorities were laying landmines along the border, Zeid told a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council.
“Last year I warned that the pattern of gross violations of the human rights of the Rohingya suggested a widespread or systematic attack against the community, possibly amounting to crimes against humanity, if so established by a court of law,” Zeid said, according to a transcript. “Because Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators, the current situation cannot yet be fully assessed, but the situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.
“The Myanmar government should stop claiming that the Rohingyas are setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their own villages. This complete denial of reality is doing great damage to the international standing of a government which, until recently, benefited from immense good will.”
ARSA: ‘Woefully under-armed’
In Myanmar, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has faced widespread criticism for not speaking out for the Rohingya people. Worldwide outrage over the violence in Rakhine and allegations that Myanmar’s security forces were targeting Rohingya civilians resulted from “an iceberg of misinformation,” the Nobel Peace Prize laureate said last week.
Since the latest wave of violence broke out in Rakhine late last month, Myanmar authorities have accused an insurgent group, the Arakan Rohingya Salavation Army (ASRA), of being behind burnings of Rohingya villages and neighborhoods.
Over the weekend, ARSA declared a ceasefire, but the Myanmar government rejected a truce, saying it would not “negotiate with terrorists,” according to reports.
“The 10 September declaration of a unilateral cease fire was really smart. It keeps the attention of the international community on the egregious human rights abuses of the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] and their ‘clearing operations,’ which can only be described as ethnic cleansing,” Zachary Abuza, a Washington-based security analyst and BenarNews columnist, said Monday.
“People who once eschewed ARSA’s violence or tactics, now have nothing to lose. And for the 700,000 people living in squalid refugee camps, where violent gangs prey on people, there is an incentive to join militants like ARSA because it accords them and their families a degree of security,” he told BenarNews.
Abuza said it is important to remember ARSA is weak militarily.
“While the raids in October 2016 and August 2017 did net them some weapons and ammunition, this is still a woefully under-armed insurgency,” he said, referring to attacks mounted by ARSA insurgents on Myanmar police posts in Rakhine.
“Insurgents are inherently cautious, and strike when they have high-chances for success. It is inconceivable that they would take on the most battle-hardened divisions of the Tatmadaw while they are undergoing such a robust campaign,” Abuza said.
Muslim organizations in Kolkata, India, stage a protest rally against Rohingya abuse in Myanmar, Sept. 11, 2017. [BenarNews]
Protests in India
Apart from Myanmar, India’s Hindu Nationalist-led government has faced criticism for its plan to expel an estimated 40,000 Rohingya refugees who have been in India for years.
Over the weekend and on Monday, protests occurred in New Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Hyderabad, Kolkata and West Bengal.
“It is unfortunate that the Indian government is paying no heed to the violence and persecution Rohingya are facing in Rakhine. We are demanding that the Indian government raise its voice against the continuing genocide,” Mohammad Nooruddin, president of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, a Muslim group based in New Delhi, told BenarNews, adding, “The government should not go ahead with this plan.”
Shakir Ahmad, 28, a Rohingya refugee who works as a scrap dealer and lives with 100 other Rohingya families in a camp on the outskirts of Delhi, said deporting his community members to Myanmar would be like signing their death sentence.
“I would rather the Indian government kill us here than send us back to Myanmar, where government forces will most definitely torture us to death,” Ahmad told BenarNews.
Paritosh Kanti Paul in Kolkata and Akash Vashishtha in New Delhi contributed to this report.