US accuses Myanmar military of ‘planned and coordinated’ Rohingya atrocities

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This photo taken on September 12, 2017 shows Rohingya refugees arriving by boat at Shah Parir Dwip on the Bangladesh side of the Naf River after fleeing violence in Myanmar. (AFP)
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Aerial view of a burnt Rohingya village near Maungdaw in Rakhine state, Myanmar, September 20, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 September 2018
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US accuses Myanmar military of ‘planned and coordinated’ Rohingya atrocities

  • More than 700,000 Rohingya took refuge in Bangladesh, fearful of returning to Myanmar despite a repatriation deal between the two countries
  • A declaration of genocide by the US government, which has only gone as far as labeling the crackdown “ethnic cleansing,” could have legal implications of committing Washington to stronger punitive measures against Myanmar

WASHINGTON: A US government investigation has found that Myanmar’s military waged a “well-planned and coordinated” campaign of mass killings, gang rapes and other atrocities against the Southeast Asian nation’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
The US State Department report, which was released on Monday, could be used to justify further US sanctions or other punitive measures against Myanmar authorities, US officials told Reuters.
But it stopped short of describing the crackdown as genocide or crimes against humanity, an issue that other US officials said was the subject of fierce internal debate that delayed the report’s rollout for nearly a month.
The report, which was first reported by Reuters, resulted from more than a thousand interviews of Rohingya men and women in refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh, where almost 700,000 Rohingya have fled after a military campaign last year in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
“The survey reveals that the recent violence in northern Rakhine State was extreme, large-scale, widespread, and seemingly geared toward both terrorizing the population and driving out the Rohingya residents,” according to the 20-page report. “The scope and scale of the military’s operations indicate they were well-planned and coordinated.”
Survivors described in harrowing detail what they had witnessed, including soldiers killing infants and small children, the shooting of unarmed men, and victims buried alive or thrown into pits of mass graves. They told of widespread sexual assault by Myanmar’s military of Rohingya women, often carried out in public.
One witness described four Rohingya girls who were abducted, tied up with ropes and raped for three days. They were left “half dead,” he said, according to the report.
Human rights groups and Rohingya activists have put the death toll in the thousands from the crackdown, which followed attacks by Rohingya insurgents on security forces in Rakhine State in August 2017.

UN REPORT FOUND ‘GENOCIDAL INTENT’
The results of the US investigation were released in low-key fashion — posted on the State Department’s website — nearly a month after UN investigators issued their own report accusing Myanmar’s military of acting with “genocidal intent” and calling for the country’s commander-in-chief and five generals to be prosecuted under international law.
The military in Myanmar, previously known as Burma, where Buddhism is the main religion, has denied accusations of ethnic cleansing and says its actions were part of a fight against terrorism.
US Senior State Department officials said the objective of the investigation was not to determine genocide but to “document the facts” on the atrocities to guide US policy aimed at holding the perpetrators accountable. The report, however, proposes no new steps.
One of the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it would be up to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo whether to make such a “legal” designation in the future and did not rule out the possibility.
A declaration of genocide by the US government, which has only gone as far as labeling the crackdown “ethnic cleansing,” could have legal implications of committing Washington to stronger punitive measures against Myanmar. This has made some in the Trump administration wary of issuing such an assessment.
The International Criminal Court last week said it had begun an examination of whether the alleged forced deportations of Rohingya could constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Asked whether the new US findings could be used to bolster such international prosecution, the State Department official said no decision had been made on seeking “judicial accountability” over the Rohingya crisis.
The Trump administration, which has been criticized by human rights groups and some US lawmakers for a cautious response to Myanmar, could now face added pressure to take a tougher stand.
Sarah Margon, director of the Washington office of Human Right Watch, said: “What’s missing now is a clear indication of whether the US government intends to pursue meaningful accountability and help ensure justice for so many victims.”
The United States on Monday announced it was almost doubling its aid for displaced Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh and Myanmar, with an extra $185 million.
“The stories from some refugees show a pattern of planning and pre-meditation,” the report said, citing the military’s confiscation in advance of knives and other tools that could be used as weapons.
About 80 percent of refugees surveyed said they witnessed a killing, most often by military or police, according to the report.
“Reports of mutilation included the cutting and spreading of entrails, severed limbs or hands/feet, pulling out nails or burning beards and genitals to force a confession, or being burned alive,” the report said.
Later on Monday, the Public International Law and Policy Group, a Washington-based human rights law firm contracted by the State Department to conduct the refugee interviews, issued a companion report saying it provided 15,000 pages of documentation of “atrocity crimes.”
The State Department’s investigation was modeled on a US forensic examination of mass atrocities in Sudan’s Darfur region in 2004, which led to a US declaration of genocide that culminated in sanctions against the Sudanese government.
Any stiffer measures against Myanmar authorities could be tempered, though, by US concerns about complicating relations between civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and the powerful military which might push Myanmar closer to China.
The US government on Aug. 17 imposed sanctions on four military and police commanders and two army units but Myanmar’s military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, was spared. Further targeted sanctions have been under consideration, officials said earlier.
The Rohingya, who regard themselves as native to Rakhine state, are widely considered as interlopers by Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and are denied citizenship. 


Doubts over Rohingya repatriation as none wants to return

Updated 10 min 58 sec ago
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Doubts over Rohingya repatriation as none wants to return

  • ‘None of the 50 families interviewed expressed their willingness to go back under the present circumstances’
  • ‘We cannot force them to go back against their will’
COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh: Doubts over plans to begin repatriating the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled Myanmar last year escalated Thursday as Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner said none wanted to return and that they would not be forced to go.
Terrified refugees, who arrived in Bangladesh with testimony of murder, rape and arson after they escaped a military crackdown last year, went into hiding as authorities insisted they would proceed despite UN warnings.
But Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner cast doubt on whether the plan to send the first batch of 150, from a preliminary 2,260 slated for return, could go ahead as scheduled Thursday.
“According to the UNHCR voluntariness assessment, none of the 50 families interviewed expressed their willingness to go back under the present circumstances. None feels safe to go back now,” Mohammad Abul Kalam said.
Kalam would not say if the planned repatriations for Thursday were canceled.
But he said: “We cannot force them to go back against their will.”
More than 720,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya sought refuge from a Myanmar military crackdown launched from August last year that UN investigators say amounted to ethnic cleansing, joining some 300,000 already in Bangladesh.
Rohingya refugees currently reside in vast camps in southeastern Bangladesh, including a massive settlement in the border district of Cox’s Bazar, where community leaders said most of those marked for repatriation had headed to the hills.
“Ninety-eight percent of the families (on the list) have fled,” community leader Nur Islam said Thursday.
He and other community leaders said that an increase in the number of Bangladeshi soldiers at the camps in recent days had stoked anxiety.
“Everyone is tense, the situation is very bad,” Abdur Rahim, another leader, said in Cox’s Bazar. “There are a lot of army and police inside the camps. They are checking the ID cards of Rohingya.”
A local police chief, Abul Khaer, played down reports of additional security, saying nothing in terms of personnel had changed in recent months.
The UN refugee agency has publicly cautioned against the repatriation going ahead and, in an internal briefing paper seen by AFP, laid out stringent conditions under which it would offer humanitarian assistance to anyone who ends up returning.
In the confidential document dated November 2018, UNHCR said it would only provide aid if returnees were allowed back to the villages they had left or to other locations chosen by them.
Bangladesh authorities have insisted only those who volunteer will be returned but UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Tuesday that many refugees are panicking at the prospect of being sent back against their will.
“With an almost complete lack of accountability – indeed with ongoing violations – returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar at this point effectively means throwing them back into the cycle of human rights violations that this community has been suffering for decades,” Bachelet said.
She said that the violations against the Rohingya “amount to the worst atrocities, including crimes against humanity and possibly even genocide.”
Amnesty International on Wednesday called on Bangladesh and Myanmar authorities to “immediately halt” their plans, saying it was a “reckless move which puts lives at risk.”
“These women, men and children would be sent back into the Myanmar military’s grasp with no protection guarantees, to live alongside those who torched their homes and whose bullets they fled,” said Amnesty’s Nicholas Bequelin.
Human Rights Watch echoed the concern on Thursday, asking Bangladesh to “immediately halt” the planned repatriation.
“The Bangladesh government will be stunned to see how quickly international opinion turns against it if it starts sending unwilling Rohingya refugees back into harm’s way in Myanmar,” said Bill Frelick, HRW refugee rights director.
US Vice President Mike Pence told Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday that the violence against the Rohingya was “without excuse,” adding pressure to Myanmar’s civilian leader.