Burma: New evidence of mass graves in Rakhine State

Burma: New evidence of mass graves in Rakhine State

The Associated Press (AP) has reported the presence of at least five mass graves in the village of Gu Dar Pyin in Rakhine State in Burma. AP interviewed Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and examined their reportedly clandestine photos and videos from their experiences. Refugees from the village made claims of an attack by government forces on 27 August 2017, which survivors have described began when soldiers stormed the village and opened fire arbitrarily. The soldiers, allegedly carried weapons, as well as shovels and containers filled with acid. Later, when survivors came back to look for their families, they reportedly found a village burned to the ground with corpses strewn across the area, as well as impromptu mass graves with burned bodies in an assumed attempt by military forces of covering their actions. Mohammad Karim, a Rohingya man from Gu Dar Pyin, also presented AP with a time-stamped video showing the described destruction and killings. The video purportedly shows one corpse with the skin melted away and limbs scattered around it, according to AP reports. Survivors allegedly discovered three mass graves in the north part of the village, including a pond with the capacity for about 80 people. The other mass graves were reportedly smaller and located on former latrine holes. The Burmese government has denied access to Rakhine State, but satellite images of the area have confirmed the destruction of the village. Furthermore, AP’s latest investigation is not the first to assert the presence of mass graves. In December, Burmese authorities confirmed one mass grave in the village of Inn Dinn, but claimed that the bodies within the grave were of terrorists and pledged accountability for the perpetrators.
Since 1982, the government has continued to deny citizenship to the Rohingya, a mostly Muslim minority in the predominantly Buddhist country of Burma. In 2012 and 2016, violent clashes between Buddhist nationals and the Rohingya forced many to flee. However, the situation escalated in mid-August 2017, when members of the resistance group, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), attacked 20 Burmese police post, leaving 71 people dead. The government responded with systematic violent attacks against Rohingya villages, resulting in a massive influx of Rohingya refugees fleeing to Bangladesh. Estimates suggest that at least one-third of the 1.2 million Rohingya people from Burma are now considered refugees.
The Burmese government has denied the mass killings and the burning down of villages in Rakhine State. However, it has not rejected the use of force against Rohingya terrorists. For example, on 14 September 2017, the government reported 40 percent of Rohingya villages are empty, but stated that the people who left were terrorists or were connected to terrorism. Several human rights groups, the United Nations, and the European Union have condemned the treatment of the Rohingya and urged the Burmese government, which includes Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, to act responsibly. They have also requested access for observers and humanitarian aid workers to the area. The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called the situation in Burma a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Still, UN officials are hesitant to call the actions of the Burmese government forces genocide until an international tribunal investigates the facts. However, the UN has warned that all the signs of genocide are present.
In September 2017, the Burmese government created the Rakhine Advisory Commission, led by Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, with a mandate to find solutions to the ethnic conflict in Rakhine State. The Commission concluded with a report carrying 88 recommendations, such as calling for the freedom of movement of the Rohingya and for an end to forced segregation, but also stressed the citizenship issue as a main obstacle. The government said it will comply with the Commission’s recommendations, but no tangible actions have been taken.


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On 31 January, CARE International warned that the wellbeing of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh would deteriorate in the upcoming rainy season. Refugee camps could face floods and landslides. Approximately 900,000 people are estimated to live in the refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar region.

Canada’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae,  outlined in his Interim Report the need for a comprehensive humanitarian and political solution to the plight of the Rohingya. Rae also urged members of the international community to actively improve the conditions of refugee camps in Bangladesh. He further called on the Burmese government to ensure the safety of the Rohingya once repatriated and to allow neutral observers into Rakhine State. Lastly, Rae advocated for accountability, and for those who have committed crimes to be brought to justice.