Tuesday 25 September 2018 - 09:18

After long silence, US calls Myanmar crimes against Rohingya ‘extreme’

Story Code : 752090
This file photo, taken on October 10, 2017, shows Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar at the Naf River in Whaikyang, on the border with Bangladesh. (By AFP)
This file photo, taken on October 10, 2017, shows Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar at the Naf River in Whaikyang, on the border with Bangladesh. (By AFP)

The US State Department released the findings of what it called a survey of the atrocities on its website on Monday.

“The survey reveals that the recent violence in [Myanmar’s] northern Rakhine State was extreme, large-scale, widespread, and seemingly geared toward both terrorizing the population and driving out the Rohingya residents,” the 20-page report read. “The scope and scale of the military’s operations indicate they were well-planned and coordinated.”

United Nations (UN) investigators said in a report earlier in September that the Rohingya Muslims had faced four of five prohibited acts defined as genocide at the hands of Myanmar’s military in Rakhine State. Another UN report had concluded that the military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya Muslims with “genocidal intent” and called for the prosecution of Myanmar’s military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing and five other generals.

Yet, senior State Department officials were cited in a Reuters report as insisting that the objective of the US “survey” had not been to determine whether genocide had occurred but to “document the facts” on the atrocities to guide Washington’s policy “aimed at holding the perpetrators accountable.”

The official report suggested no new steps toward that end, either.

More than a thousand survivors interviewed in the course of the US probe described in horrific detail what they had witnessed, including government troops killing infants and small children, the shooting of unarmed men, and the burying alive of victims. They also offered accounts of widespread sexual assault by Myanmar’s military against Rohingya women, often carried out in public.

Later on Monday, the Public International Law and Policy Group, a Washington-based human rights law firm contracted by the US State Department to carry out the interviews with the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, issued a companion report declaring that it had provided 15,000 pages of documentation of “atrocity crimes.”

Nearly 80 percent of the refugees 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,” it read.

Government and military
The UN has previously said that Myanmar’s military should be removed from politics and stripped of further influence over the country’s governance. The military has members in the Myanmarese parliament.

Aung Hlaing, the military commander-in-chief, has defiantly hit back at the UN.

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims were killed, injured, arbitrarily arrested, or raped by Myanmarese soldiers and Buddhist mobs mainly between November 2016 and August 2017, when many of the surviving members of the community started fleeing to Bangladesh en masse.

While the UN and Western governments have been blaming the Myanmarese government only, the head of Myanmar’s so-called civilian government, Aung San Suu Kyi, has herself sided with the military in the atrocities against the Rohingya.

The UN’s own former rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, hinted last month that Suu Kyi was complicit in the crimes against the Rohingya.

The developments come amid US reports of increasing American aid to the government of Myanmar.

The administration of US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has been widely censured by human rights institutions and a number of American lawmakers for its guarded response to the harrowing atrocities in Myanmar, and could now encounter further pressure to adopt a tougher position.

“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,” said the head of Human Rights Watch’s Washington office, Sarah Margon.