Killings, rapes, forced disappearance and other abuses committed against Rohingya Muslims allegedly by Myanmar security forces indicate “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity,” the U.N. said Friday in issuing report based on interviews with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
Attacks against the Rohingya population concentrated in Myanmar’s Rakhine state appeared to be widespread and systematic since Oct. 9, 2016, when nine border guards were killed by suspected insurgents, said the Geneva-based United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Its 43-page “flash report” resulted from interviews conducted by U.N. investigators, between Jan. 12 and Jan. 21, of 220 people who had fled to the southeastern Bangladesh district of Cox’s Bazar from northern Rakhine State (nRS).
“The forcible displacement of persons from an ethnic or religious group as a consequence of acts of violence committed against them such as killings, torture, arbitrary detention, rape and sexual violence and the destruction of houses and places of worship has been described in other contexts as ethnic cleansing,” the report concluded.
An estimated 66,000 Rohingya had fled into Bangladesh from Rakhine, while another 22,000 were internally displaced by the cycle of violence following a military crackdown there dating to early October, OHCHR reported.
“The information gathered by OHCHR raises serious concerns that what is occurring in nRS is the result of a ‘purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic area,’” it added, citing a letter from the U.N. Secretary-General to the Security Council back in May 1994, when the war in Balkans was raging.
In a statement accompanying the report’s release, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein talked about the “devastating cruelty” to which Rohingya children had been subjected in recent months.
“What kind of hatred could make a man stab a baby crying out for his mother’s milk. And for the mother to witness this murder while she is being gang-raped by the very security forces who should be protecting her,” he said.
The U.N. reached a similar conclusion regarding possible crimes against humanity in June 2016, four months before the most recent spate of violence began.
Out of the 204 people were interviewed, 26 personally reported being shot or stabbed; 91 reported that a family member had disappeared; 96 reported that a family member had been killed; 26, including two girls, reported being raped; and 33, including five girls, reported suffering other forms of sexual violence. Of the 101 women and girls interviewed by the U.N., “more than half” reported having been raped or sexually assaulted in other ways, OHCHR said.
“Now is the worst it has ever been. We have heard from our grandparents that there were bad things happening in the past too, but never like this,” an interviewee told the U.N.
Last month, a BenarNews correspondent visited refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar and interviewed scores of Rohingya. These included 54 women, of whom 17 said they had been raped by Myanmar security forces in Rakhine.
The Rohingya who were interviewed by BenarNews included some who described abuses including beatings, seeing their homes torched and loved ones killed. They said the perpetrators were members of the military or the Nadala, a uniformed paramilitary force.
A 24-year-old refugee at the camp in Kutupalong, said security forces snatched her one night and took her to a nearby hill where she and other women were “tortured by turns” – meaning they raped her. She was able to flee, but two other women died.
The ongoing violence led Malaysia to host delegates from the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Jan. 19 in calling for Myanmar to stop attacks against the minority Muslim group. On Friday, a ship set sail from Malaysia to bring food, medical supplies and aid to Rohingya still in Myanmar and those in Bangladesh camps.
Before Zeid, the U.N. human rights chief, released his agency’s report and called for Myanmar to immediately stop human rights violations against the Rohingya, the government in Naypyidaw denied that its forces had committed such alleged abuses.
On Friday, the government was quick to respond to news of the U.N. report.
“These are extremely serious allegations, and we are deeply concerned. We will be immediately investigating these allegations through the investigation commission led by Vice-President U Myint Swe,” Zaw Htay, a spokesman for Myanmar’s president said in Yangon, according to Reuters.
“Where there is clear evidence of abuses and violations, we will take all necessary action.”