On October 9th, 2016, the long saga of oppression endured by Myanmar’s Rohingya minority entered a new phase. For the first time in a generation, members of the group staged an armed attack, on this occasion against three Border Guard Police (BGP) posts in Rakhine State, killing nine officers and seizing weapons and ammunition.
According to rights groups, the assault was met with months of widespread and systematic violence perpetrated by Myanmar’s military and police in parts of northern Rakhine state, near the border with Bangladesh.
A “flash report” released by the UN’s Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on February 3 concluded that these operations likely involved crimes against humanity; the paper detailed acts of “devastating cruelty” including systematic rape, torture and killing and “likely” amounted to crimes against humanity.
The conflagration has sent around 75,000 Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh and displaced at least another 20,000 in northern Rakhine. 4 Officials within two UN agencies estimate that more than a thousand may have been killed.
During the crisis, the Rohingya community also suffered from unnecessary assaults on their conditions of life. After the October 9th attacks, part of northern Rakhine State became a locked-off “military operations zone” in which “clearance operations” were being conducted by the Myanmar army. In this area humanitarian aid was all but suspended, endangering the lives of thousands of children with severe acute malnutrition and causing months of severe deprivation for aid-reliant communities. BROUK has been advised that it is likely that deaths occurred as a result.
In addition to this, massive psychological trauma has been imposed on communities subject to sudden night raids, arbitrary harassment, arrest, arson, torture and killings. The legacy of the army’s crackdown is likely measurable in thousands of traumatised vulnerable people, including children. The full toll of the suffering endured by Rohingya communities since the October 9th attacks will probably never be known.
And the crisis is not over; further escalations could occur at any time, not least because of the conditions imposed on the Rohingya by state policy and security forces, encompassing lack of jobs, controls on movement and routine abuse, actively feed resentment and unrest.
The Rohingya insurgent group that initiated the crisis in October, now known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), have told journalists that they are prepared to wage a relentless campaign against their perceived oppressor until their rights are restored. Given the hardline stance of the military with regard to basic Rohingya rights, let alone Rohingya militancy, the stage has been set for the possibility of a drawn-out conflict in which civilians will likely pay the dearest price.
The only antidote to this state of affairs is accountability and justice. With this in mind, BROUK has compiled this report which is intended to add crucial new material to a body of evidence that demonstrates massive crimes were visited on innocent and long-suffering communities in the aftermath of the October 9th attacks. This has been undertaken with a view to furthering the case that action must be taken against all parties that committed crimes during the recent crisis, without fear of favour.
It is with regret that BROUK notes that virtual impunity for these crimes looks set to be the order of the day. The government of Myanmar has strongly indicated that it will defy the will of the international community as expressed by a consensus resolution at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in which a fact-finding mission was to be dispatched to investigate credible allegations of atrocity crimes against the Rohingya.
Myanmar has “disassociated” itself from the resolution and has said it will not cooperate with the fact-finding team, which may mean that their access to the area where abuses are believed to have taken place will be blocked.
The present situation looks set to be one in which Myanmar’s security forces enjoy impunity for grave human rights violations, a state of affairs which the civilian government in Naypyidaw will become complicit in unless it can guarantee impartial and independent investigations.
BROUK shares the view of rights groups and international analysts regarding the profound inadequacy of government-commissioned probes that have been announced since the crisis began, and believes that only the United Nations can undertake a truly credible investigation.
The international community must not allow the possible obstruction of the Fact-Finding Mission by the government of Burma to lead to further impunity. If obstructed by the government, the Mission must collect evidence by other means.
For the past 20 years, the international community has failed to act when the government of Burma has ignored recommendations regarding the Rohingya made in UN General Assembly Resolutions, UN Human Rights Council Resolutions, and by Special Rapporteurs.
This must not be allowed to happen again after the Fact Finding Mission reports.