Myanmar security forces have brutally driven out half a million Rohingya from northern Rakhine state, torching their homes, crops and villages to prevent them from returning, the United Nations human rights office said on Wednesday.
In a report, based on 65 interviews with Rohingya who have arrived in Bangladesh in the past month, it said “clearance operations” had begun before insurgent attacks on police posts on August 25 and included killings, torture and rape of children.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein – who had described the government’s operations as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” – said the actions appeared to be “a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without the possibility of return”. “Myanmar security forces purposely destroyed the property of the Rohingya, scorched their dwellings and villages in Rakhine, not only to drive out the population in droves but also to prevent the fleeing Rohingya from returning to their homes,” the report said.
The destruction by security forces, often joined by “mobs” of armed Rakhine Buddhists, of houses, fields, food stocks, crops, and livestock make the possibility of Rohingya returning to normal lives in Rakhine “almost impossible”. Myanmar security forces are believed to have planted landmines along the border in an attempt to prevent Rohingya from returning, the UN report said, adding, “There are indications that violence is still ongoing”.
Myanmar launched on Tuesday its first bid to improve relations between Buddhists and Muslims since the violence erupted, triggering an exodus of some 5,20,000 Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh. It held inter-faith prayers at a stadium in Yangon.
A team of UN human rights officials, who went to Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, met the victims and eyewitnesses and corroborated their accounts. “The victims said Myanmar security forces fired indiscriminately at Rohingya villagers and set houses on fire,” the report documented. “Almost all testimonies indicated that people were shot at close range and in the back while they tried to flee in panic. Witness accounts attest to Rohingya victims, including children and elderly people, burnt to death inside their houses,” it said.
Several interviewees indicated that a “launcher”, probably a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, was used to set houses on fire. Girls, aged just five to seven years, had been raped, often in front of relatives, and sometimes by several men “all dressed in army uniforms”, the UN report said. The Myanmar social welfare, relief and resettlement minister said that “according to the law, the burnt land becomes government-managed land”. This indicates the government has previously used this law to prevent the return of displaced.