Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Maung Zarni: Myanmar feels like a big cage for Rohingyas

Sorce DhakaTribune, 19 Feb
Maung Zarni: Myanmar feels like a big cage for Rohingyas
Maung Zarni at the Oxford Union Genocide Panel on January 29, 2018Courtesy

Maung Zarni is a Myanmarese academic exiled in the UK who is an activist, commentator and expert on Myanmar. He is currently a scholar with the Documentation Centre of Cambodia at the Sleuk Rith Institute. In an exclusive interview with the Dhaka Tribune, he talks about the Rohingya repatriation to Myanmar which, he says, from the Myanmar army's perspective is a tactical retreat in the face of heavy artillery of international condemnations, criticisms and reimposition of sanctions, and it might take around 10-20 years to complete

Over 688,000 Rohingya entered Bangladesh between August 25, 2017 and February 11, 2018, after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown against the mainly Muslim minority – following militant attacks on border outposts and an army base by insurgents.

As agreed between Bangladesh and Myanmar on November 23, the Rohingya repatriation process was supposed to start on January 23. However, it was delayed, and on Friday (February 16), Bangladesh handed over its first list of 1,673 Rohingya families (8,032 individuals) to Myanmar to start the first phase of repatriation to their homeland.

Do you think the Rohingya repatriation ever will take place?

Yes, the repatriation will take place because both Dhaka and Naypyidaw wants it. Dhaka wants it to take place because the pressure of 688,000 (in addition to the pre-existing Rohingya refugees from the previous waves since 1991) needs to be relieved and wants to set the new process of reducing the number of Rohingyas from its soil. Myanmar wants repatriation because it wants to show the world that its intention is not genocide or ethnic cleansing, and it has this mistaken belief that taking back the Rohingyas who survived the Myanmar troops' mass-slaughter will make it difficult for the world to press charges of ethnic cleansing or genocide. As the former Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson, the veteran US envoy and diplomat, said it openly: "Repatriation is a big whitewash," of Myanmar's international state crimes against Rohingya. From the Myanmar military's perspective repatriation is a tactical retreat in the face of heavy artillery of international condemnations, criticisms and reimposition of sanctions.

How long do you think it might take?

Well, there are estimated one million Rohingyas who fit the textbook example of refugees – although Dhaka chose to invent its own term "displaced people of Myanmar," even under the most conducive circumstances it will take 10-20 years, especially at the rate Myanmar side wants to receive.

Do you think the Rohingya people's return will be "safe, voluntary and dignified"?

Absolutely not. I actually avoid that international mantra coming from INGOs, UN agencies and governments following Kofi Annan's phraseology. How can the return ever be "safe, voluntary and dignified" for a million people whose physical, cultural, economic, social and intellectual existence, as a minority community has been completely and intentionally destroyed from its very foundations? Myanmar military burned nearly 350 villages systematically in a region stretching 100 kilometres within several months. Myanmar's Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing viewed – and officially told the nation of anti-Rohingya racists – that the army is engaged in completing the "unfinished business" from the WWII. I will say the "finished business" is charred villages where any physical traces of Rohingyas are being bulldozed. Those thousands of Rohingya who still remain inside Myanmar today just told the Canadian Special Envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae, last week that they feel like they are "in a big cage" where they have absolutely no freedom of movements for accessing food, medicine, jobs, etc. I want to ask those politicians and officials who spit out this mind-numbing delusional phrase, why they are knowingly pussyfooting around Myanmar's blatant violations of the Genocide Convention – an inter-state treaty, and focusing on sending the Rohingya survivors back to what really is a vast complex of past and future concentration camps inside Myanmar.

What role can the UNHCR play?

UNHCR is primarily mandated to protect Rohingyas. Its leadership has been doing a good job, telling the Security Council – and the world at large – the unpalatable truth being that the conditions inside Myanmar are absolutely non-conducive to any form of return of Rohingyas. It should continue to discharge its main mission of protecting and promoting the well-being of the one million Rohingyas on Bangladeshi soil. It should persuade Dhaka to accept Rohingyas as legally defined refugees and genocide survivors – not simply "forcibly displaced persons from Myanmar."

How much power does the military still have over the state and how much power does the government have to address this crisis?

The military has all the power to end the persecution of Rohingya. But the military will not cease the genocide because it has since late 1960's institutionalized the eradication of Rohingyas from the group's very foundations on the false, racist and paranoid ground that they are Bangladesh's "proxy" Muslim population inside the strategic Western region. Suu Kyi's civilian leadership shares these paranoid and anti-Muslim racist policies as well. The difference between the Myanmar generals and Suu Kyi government, particularly Suu Kyi herself, is not in kind, but in degree. This is the racist woman who cannot bring herself to respect the right of Rohingya to self-identify as Rohingya or cannot embrace the truth that Rohingyas are a part of Myanmarese society at large, despite her Oxford education and decades of life in liberal western societies. It's no longer about whether if Suu Kyi had more power would she have been able to end it. The fact is whatever limited power the civilian government has it uses it to deny, dismiss and cover up the military's crimes against humanity and genocide against Rohingyas. Remember, Suu Kyi has consistently praised the ethnic cleansing and Myanmar army for "doing a good job."

How effective do you think are the recommendations made by the Advisory Commission?

Absolutely zero effect, despite the loud chorus of support from UN and government quarters for its recommendations. To start with, the military did not welcome Kofi Annan's involvement from day one at all. It attempted to derail, block or otherwise mitigate the commission's influence on policy and public opinion. As a matter of fact, it was Myanmar military that was determined to kill the final report upon delivery in August 2017: Annan's recommendations stand in the way of the military's attempt to complete its "unfinished business." One has to be absolutely delusional and stupid not to see how this report plays right into the hands of the Myanmar generals. The military strategists simply honey-trapped the young, primitively armed angry Rohingya militants to attack a few military and police outposts as they wanted the pretext to launch the large scale genocidal campaign of terror within a few days of Kofi Annan's report.

My reading of the turn of events since August 26, 2017 stands in sharp contrast with the mainstreamed but patently false view that ARSA triggered these military operations by Myanmar that led to the displacement of 688,000 Rohingyas, burning of nearly 350 villages. ARSA is no Hamas in terms of its capacity or strength. Not even Israel has inflicted this level of genocidal destruction of its target. Myanmar is worse than Israel.

Lt General Kyaw Swe, the home affairs minister, who was in Dhaka on an official visit mentioned that Myanmar was keen to implement a few Annan Commission recommendations. It is a complete act of deception. When the military failed to derail Kofi Annan commission's work, it attempted to use Annan as its outermost shield internationally. The ex-major and Myanmar spokesperson Zaw Htay said this openly.

What should be done to ensure the security and basic rights of the Rohingya people?

In the short run, the world needs to monitor the Rohingya's plight very closely. Four types of large Rohingya populations exist today: 307,500 pre-existing Rohingya refugees and 688,000 new arrivals in Bangladesh; nearly half a million inside Myanmar among whom 120,000 are in IDP camps where they are languishing in inhuman conditions; then there are Rohingyas in vast open prisons in areas that are not yet attacked or destroyed by Myanmar military and its Rakhine local militia and vigilantes. Dhaka needs massive infusion of humanitarian assistance both in cash and in kind so that no public health epidemics break out in these large refugee areas of Cox's Bazaar and Chittagong. 100,000 Rohingyas who are apprised as the most vulnerable as soon as the monsoon season begins, need urgent assistance with relocation, and material support.

In the long run, the only viable safeguard for Rohingyas against Myanmar's evidently genocidal national policies is to help establish North Arakan sub-region – which has been predominantly Rohingya since Myanmar's independence – and historically, as UN-protected self-administered Rohingya home. Of course, Myanmar will resist any attempt to help put Rohingyas back on their own ancestral soil. But no genocides ever end without the intervention of some sort from outside power. The Security Council will never authorize intervention although it is tasked with the principal duty of promoting peace and protecting world's population. Just remember how Bangladesh was liberated from the nasty genocidal attacks by West Pakistan in 1971. Bangladesh had 12 million Bengali or East Pakistani refugees back then. Now you are a nation with a vibrant economy.

Rohingya people deserve and need a piece of earth they can call home, where they can be Rohingya, where they go to school, access medical services, have proper villages, tend to their farms and look after their families – without having to fear being locked in this cycle of large scale terror and violence, forced repatriation, living in "big cages" inside Myanmar – until the next waves of killing and destruction comes.


Monday, 12 February 2018

Special Report: How Myanmar forces burned, looted and killed in a remote village

Source Reuters, 8 Feb
Wa Lone ,  Kyaw Soe Oo ,  Simon Lewis ,  Antoni Slodkowski 

INN DIN, Myanmar (Reuters) - Bound together, the 10 Rohingya Muslim captives watched their Buddhist neighbors dig a shallow grave. Soon afterwards, on the morning of Sept. 2, all 10 lay dead. At least two were hacked to death by Buddhist villagers. The rest were shot by Myanmar troops, two of the gravediggers said.

 Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel in Inn Din village September 1, 2017. Handout via REUTERS

"One grave for 10 people," said Soe Chay, 55, a retired soldier from Inn Din's Rakhine Buddhist community who said he helped dig the pit and saw the killings. The soldiers shot each man two or three times, he said. "When they were being buried, some were still making noises. Others were already dead."

The killings in the coastal village of Inn Din marked another bloody episode in the ethnic violence sweeping northern Rakhine state, on Myanmar's western fringe. Nearly 690,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled their villages and crossed the border into Bangladesh since August. None of Inn Din's 6,000 Rohingya remained in the village as of October.

The Rohingya accuse the army of arson, rapes and killings aimed at rubbing them out of existence in this mainly Buddhist nation of 53 million. The United Nations has said the army may have committed genocide; the United States has called the action ethnic cleansing. Myanmar says its "clearance operation" is a legitimate response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.

Rohingya trace their presence in Rakhine back centuries. But most Burmese consider them to be unwanted immigrants from Bangladesh; the army refers to the Rohingya as "Bengalis." In recent years, sectarian tensions have risen and the government has confined more than 100,000 Rohingya in camps where they have limited access to food, medicine and education.

Reuters has pieced together what happened in Inn Din in the days leading up to the killing of the 10 Rohingya – eight men and two high school students in their late teens.

Until now, accounts of the violence against the Rohingya in Rakhine state have been provided only by its victims. The Reuters reconstruction draws for the first time on interviews with Buddhist villagers who confessed to torching Rohingya homes, burying bodies and killing Muslims.

This account also marks the first time soldiers and paramilitary police have been implicated by testimony from security personnel themselves. Members of the paramilitary police gave Reuters insider descriptions of the operation to drive out the Rohingya from Inn Din, confirming that the military played the lead role in the campaign.

PHOTOGRAPHS FROM A MASSACRE

The slain men's families, now sheltering in Bangladesh refugee camps, identified the victims through photographs shown to them by Reuters. The dead men were fishermen, shopkeepers, the two teenage students and an Islamic teacher.

Three photographs, provided to Reuters by a Buddhist village elder, capture key moments in the massacre at Inn Din, from the Rohingya men's detention by soldiers in the early evening of Sept. 1 to their execution shortly after 10 a.m. on Sept. 2. Two photos – one taken the first day, the other on the day of the killings – show the 10 captives lined up in a row, kneeling. The final photograph shows the men's bloodied bodies piled in the shallow grave.

The Reuters investigation of the Inn Din massacre was what prompted Myanmar police authorities to arrest two of the news agency's reporters. The reporters, Burmese citizens Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were detained on Dec. 12 for allegedly obtaining confidential documents relating to Rakhine.

Then, on Jan. 10, the military issued a statement that confirmed portions of what Wa Lone, Kyaw Soe Oo and their colleagues were preparing to report, acknowledging that 10 Rohingya men were massacred in the village. It confirmed that Buddhist villagers attacked some of the men with swords and soldiers shot the others dead.

The statement coincided with an application to the court by prosecutors to charge Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under Myanmar's Official Secrets Act, which dates back to the time of colonial British rule. The charges carry a maximum 14-year prison sentence.

But the military's version of events is contradicted in important respects by accounts given to Reuters by Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim witnesses. The military said the 10 men belonged to a group of 200 "terrorists" that attacked security forces. Soldiers decided to kill the men, the army said, because intense fighting in the area made it impossible to transfer them to police custody. The army said it would take action against those involved.

Buddhist villagers interviewed for this article reported no attack by a large number of insurgents on security forces in Inn Din. And Rohingya witnesses told Reuters that soldiers plucked the 10 from among hundreds of men, women and children who had sought safety on a nearby beach.

Scores of interviews with Rakhine Buddhist villagers, soldiers, paramilitary police, Rohingya Muslims and local administrators further revealed:

- The military and paramilitary police organized Buddhist residents of Inn Din and at least two other villages to torch Rohingya homes, more than a dozen Buddhist villagers said. Eleven Buddhist villagers said Buddhists committed acts of violence, including killings. The government and army have repeatedly blamed Rohingya insurgents for burning villages and homes.

- An order to "clear" Inn Din's Rohingya hamlets was passed down the command chain from the military, said three paramilitary police officers speaking on condition of anonymity and a fourth police officer at an intelligence unit in the regional capital Sittwe. Security forces wore civilian clothes to avoid detection during raids, one of the paramilitary police officers said.

- Some members of the paramilitary police looted Rohingya property, including cows and motorcycles, in order to sell it, according to village administrator Maung Thein Chay and one of the paramilitary police officers.

- Operations in Inn Din were led by the army's 33rd Light Infantry Division, supported by the paramilitary 8th Security Police Battalion, according to four police officers, all of them members of the battalion.

POTENTIAL CRIMINAL CASES

Michael G. Karnavas, a U.S. lawyer based in The Hague who has worked on cases at international criminal tribunals, said evidence that the military had organized Buddhist civilians to commit violence against Rohingya "would be the closest thing to a smoking gun in establishing not just intent, but even specific genocidal intent, since the attacks seem designed to destroy the Rohingya or at least a significant part of them."

Evidence of the execution of men in government custody also could be used to build a case of crimes against humanity against military commanders, Karnavas said, if it could be shown that it was part of a "widespread or systematic" campaign targeting the Rohingya population.

Kevin Jon Heller, a University of London law professor who served as a legal associate for convicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, said an order to clear villages by military command was "unequivocally the crime against humanity of forcible transfer."

In December, the United States imposed sanctions on the army officer who had been in charge of Western Command troops in Rakhine, Major General Maung Maung Soe. So far, however, Myanmar has not faced international sanctions over the violence.

Myanmar's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has disappointed many former supporters in the West by not speaking out against the army's actions. They had hoped the election of her National League for Democracy party in 2015 would bring democratic reform and an opening of the country. Instead, critics say, Suu Kyi is in thrall to the generals who freed her from house arrest in 2010.

Asked about the evidence Reuters has uncovered about the massacre, government spokesman Zaw Htay said, "We are not denying the allegations about violations of human rights. And we are not giving blanket denials." If there was "strong and reliable primary evidence" of abuses, the government would investigate, he said. "And then if we found the evidence is true and the violations are there, we will take the necessary action according to our existing law."

When told that paramilitary police officers had said they received orders to "clear" Inn Din's Rohingya hamlets, he replied, "We have to verify. We have to ask the Ministry of Home Affairs and Myanmar police forces." Asked about the allegations of looting by paramilitary police officers, he said the police would investigate.

He expressed surprise when told that Buddhist villagers had confessed to burning Rohingya homes, then added, "We recognize that many, many different allegations are there, but we need to verify who did it. It is very difficult in the current situation."

Zaw Htay defended the military operation in Rakhine. "The international community needs to understand who did the first terrorist attacks. If that kind of terrorist attack took place in European countries, in the United States, in London, New York, Washington, what would the media say?"

NEIGHBOR TURNS ON NEIGHBOR

Inn Din lies between the Mayu mountain range and the Bay of Bengal, about 50 km (30 miles) north of Rakhine's state capital Sittwe. The settlement is made up of a scattering of hamlets around a school, clinic and Buddhist monastery. Buddhist homes cluster in the northern part of the village. For many years there had been tensions between the Buddhists and their Muslim neighbors, who accounted for almost 90 percent of the roughly 7,000 people in the village. But the two communities had managed to co-exist, fishing the coastal waters and cultivating rice in the paddies.

In October 2016, Rohingya militants attacked three police posts in northern Rakhine – the beginning of a new insurgency. After the attacks, Rohingya in Inn Din said many Buddhists stopped hiring them as farmhands and home help. The Buddhists said the Rohingya stopped showing up for work.

On Aug. 25 last year, the rebels struck again, hitting 30 police posts and an army base. The closest attack was just 4 km to the north. In Inn Din, several hundred fearful Buddhists took refuge in the monastery in the center of the village, more than a dozen of their number said. Inn Din's Buddhist night watchman San Thein, 36, said Buddhist villagers feared being "swallowed up" by their Muslim neighbors. A Buddhist elder said all Rohingya, "including children," were part of the insurgency and therefore "terrorists."

On Aug. 27, about 80 troops from Myanmar's 33rd Light Infantry Division arrived in Inn Din, nine Buddhist villagers said. Two paramilitary police officers and Soe Chay, the retired soldier, said the troops belonged to the 11th infantry regiment of this division. The army officer in charge told villagers they must cook for the soldiers and act as lookouts at night, Soe Chay said. The officer promised his troops would protect Buddhist villagers from their Rohingya neighbors. Five Buddhist villagers said the officer told them they could volunteer to join security operations. Young volunteers would need their parents' permission to join the troops, however.

The army found willing participants among Inn Din's Buddhist "security group," nine members of the organization and two other villagers said. This informal militia was formed after violence broke out in 2012 between Rakhine's Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, sparked by reports of the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by three Muslim men. Myanmar media reported at the time that the three were sentenced to death by a district court.

Inn Din's security group built watch huts around the Buddhist part of the village, and its members took turns to stand guard. Its ranks included Buddhist firefighters, school teachers, students and unemployed young men. They were useful to the military because they knew the local geography, said Inn Din's Buddhist administrator, Maung Thein Chay.

Most of the group's 80 to 100 men armed themselves with machetes and sticks. They also had a handful of guns, according to one member. Some wore green fatigue-style clothing they called "militia suits."

ORGANIZING THE ARSON ATTACKS

In the days that followed the 33rd Light Infantry's arrival, soldiers, police and Buddhist villagers burned most of the homes of Inn Din's Rohingya Muslims, a dozen Buddhist residents said.

Two of the paramilitary police officers, both members of the 8th Security Police Battalion, said their battalion raided Rohingya hamlets with soldiers from the newly arrived 33rd Light Infantry. One of the police officers said he received verbal orders from his commander to "go and clear" areas where Rohingya lived, which he took to mean to burn them.

The second police officer described taking part in several raids on villages north of Inn Din. The raids involved at least 20 soldiers and between five and seven police, he said. A military captain or major led the soldiers, while a police captain oversaw the police team. The purpose of the raids was to deter the Rohingya from returning.

"If they have a place to live, if they have food to eat, they can carry out more attacks," he said. "That's why we burned their houses, mainly for security reasons."

Soldiers and paramilitary police wore civilian shirts and shorts to blend in with the villagers, according to the second police officer and Inn Din's Buddhist administrator, Maung Thein Chay. If the media identified the involvement of security personnel, the police officer explained, "we would have very big problems."

A police spokesman, Colonel Myo Thu Soe, said he knew of no instances of security forces torching villages or wearing civilian clothing. Nor was there any order to "go and clear" or "set fire" to villages. "This is very much impossible," he told Reuters. "If there are things like that, it should be reported officially, and it has to be investigated officially."

"As you've told me about these matters now, we will scrutinize and check back," he added. "What I want to say for now is that as for the security forces, there are orders and instructions and step-by-step management, and they have to follow them. So, I don't think these things happened."

The army did not respond to a request for comment.

A medical assistant at the Inn Din village clinic, Aung Myat Tun, 20, said he took part in several raids. "Muslim houses were easy to burn because of the thatched roofs. You just light the edge of the roof," he said. "The village elders put monks' robes on the end of sticks to make the torches and soaked them with kerosene. We couldn't bring phones. The police said they will shoot and kill us if they see any of us taking photos."


Human bones, including a spinal colomn, are seen in a shallow grave in Inn Din December 8, 2017. REUTERS

The night watchman San Thein, a leading member of the village security group, said troops first swept through the Muslim hamlets. Then, he said, the military sent in Buddhist villagers to burn the houses.

"We got the kerosene for free from the village market after the kalars ran away," he said, using a Burmese slur for people from South Asia.

A Rakhine Buddhist youth said he thought he heard the sound of a child inside one Rohingya home that was burned. A second villager said he participated in burning a Rohingya home that was occupied.

"I STARTED HACKING HIM WITH A SWORD"

Soe Chay, the retired soldier who was to dig the grave for the 10 Rohingya men, said he participated in one killing. He told Reuters that troops discovered three Rohingya men and a woman hiding beside a haystack in Inn Din on Aug. 28. One of the men had a smartphone that could be used to take incriminating pictures.

The soldiers told Soe Chay to "do whatever you want to them," he said. They pointed out the man with the phone and told him to stand up. "I started hacking him with a sword, and a soldier shot him when he fell down."

Similar violence was playing out across a large part of northern Rakhine, dozens of Buddhist and Rohingya residents said.

Data from the U.N. Operational Satellite Applications Programme shows scores of Rohingya villages in Rakhine state burned in an area stretching 110 km. New York-based Human Rights Watch says more than 350 villages were torched over the three months from Aug. 25, according to an analysis of satellite imagery.

In the village of Laungdon, some 65 km north of Inn Din, Thar Nge, 38, said he was asked by police and local officials to join a Buddhist security group. "The army invited us to burn the kalar village at Hpaw Ti Kaung," he said, adding that four villagers and nearly 20 soldiers and police were involved in the operation. "Police shot inside the village so all the villagers fled and then we set fire to it. Their village was burned because police believed the villagers supported Rohingya militants – that's why they cleaned it with fire."

A Buddhist student from Ta Man Tha village, 15 km north of Laungdon, said he too participated in the burning of Rohingya homes. An army officer sought 30 volunteers to burn "kalar" villages, said the student. Nearly 50 volunteered and gathered fuel from motorbikes and from a market.

"They separated us into several groups. We were not allowed to enter the village directly. We had to surround it and approach the village that way. The army would shoot gunfire ahead of us and then the army asked us to enter," he said.

After the Rohingya had fled Inn Din, Buddhist villagers took their property, including chickens and goats, Buddhist residents told Reuters. But the most valuable goods, mostly motorcycles and cattle, were collected by members of the 8th Security Police Battalion and sold, said the first police officer and Inn Din village administrator Maung Thein Chay. Maung Thein Chay said the commander of the 8th Battalion, Thant Zin Oo, struck a deal with Buddhist businessmen from other parts of Rakhine state and sold them cattle. The police officer said he had stolen four cows from Rohingya villagers, only for Thant Zin Oo to snatch them away.

Reached by phone, Thant Zin Oo did not comment. Colonel Myo Thu Soe, the police spokesman, said the police would investigate the allegations of looting.

THE VICTIMS ARE CHOSEN

By Sept. 1, several hundred Rohingya from Inn Din were sheltering at a makeshift camp on a nearby beach. They erected tarpaulin shelters to shield themselves from heavy rain.

Among this group were the 10 Rohingya men who would be killed the next morning. Reuters has identified all of the 10 by speaking to witnesses among Inn Din's Buddhist community and Rohingya relatives and witnesses tracked down in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

 Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel as members of the Myanmar security forces stand guard in Inn Din village September 2, 2017. Picture taken September 2, 2017. Handout via REUTERSRahama Khatun, 35, whose husband Shaker Ahmed was among 10 Rohingya men killed by Myanmar security forces and Buddhist villagers on September 2, 2017, cries while describing the incident at Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, January 19, 2018. Picture taken January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain  Shuna Khatu, 30, whose husband Habizu was among 10 Rohingya men killed by Myanmar security forces and Buddhist villagers on September 2, 2017, poses for a picture at Balukhali camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018 REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain A human skull is seen in a shallow grave in Inn Din, Myanmar October 26, 2017. Picture taken October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Wa Lone

Hasina Khatun, 24, whose husband Abdul Hashim was among 10 Rohingya men killed by Myanmar security forces and Buddhist villagers on September 2, 2017, cooks a meal at Thayingkhali camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, January 19, 2018. Picture taken January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir HossainAbdu Shakur, whose son Rashid Ahmed was among 10 Rohingya men killed by Myanmar security forces and Buddhist villagers on September 2, 2017, holds a family picture at Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, January 19, 2018. Picture taken January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir HossainA scrap of fabric is seen in a shallow grave in Inn Din December 8, 2017. Picture taken December 8, 2017. REUTERSRehana Khatun, whose husband Mohammed Nur was among 10 Rohingya men killed by Myanmar security forces and Buddhist villagers on September 2, 2017, poses for a picture with her child at Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, January 19, 2018. Picture taken January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Five of the men, Dil Mohammed, 35, Nur Mohammed, 29, Shoket Ullah, 35, Habizu, 40, and Shaker Ahmed, 45, were fishermen or fish sellers. The wealthiest of the group, Abul Hashim, 25, ran a store selling nets and machine parts to fishermen and farmers. Abdul Majid, a 45-year-old father of eight, ran a small shop selling areca nut wrapped in betel leaves, commonly chewed like tobacco. Abulu, 17, and Rashid Ahmed, 18, were high school students. Abdul Malik, 30, was an Islamic teacher.

According to the statement released by the army on Jan. 10, security forces had gone to a coastal area where they "were attacked by about 200 Bengalis with sticks and swords." The statement said that "as the security forces opened fire into the sky, the Bengalis dispersed and ran away. Ten of them were arrested."

Three Buddhist and more than a dozen Rohingya witnesses contradict this version of events. Their accounts differ from one another in some details. The Buddhists spoke of a confrontation between a small group of Rohingya men and some soldiers near the beach. But there is unanimity on a crucial point: None said the military had come under a large-scale attack in Inn Din.

Government spokesman Zaw Htay referred Reuters to the army's statement of Jan. 10 and declined to elaborate further. The army did not respond to a request for comment.

The Rohingya witnesses, who were on or near the beach, said Islamic teacher Abdul Malik had gone back to his hamlet with his sons to collect food and bamboo for shelter. When he returned, a group of at least seven soldiers and armed Buddhist villagers were following him, these witnesses said. Abdul Malik walked towards the watching Rohingya Muslims unsteadily, with blood dripping from his head. Some witnesses said they had seen one of the armed men strike the back of Abdul Malik's head with a knife.

Then the military beckoned with their guns to the crowd of roughly 300 Rohingya to assemble in the paddies, these witnesses said. The soldiers and the Rohingya, hailing from different parts of Myanmar, spoke different languages. Educated villagers translated for their fellow Rohingya.

"I could not hear much, but they pointed toward my husband and some other men to get up and come forward," said Rehana Khatun, 22, the wife of Nur Mohammed, one of the 10 who were later slain. "We heard they wanted the men for a meeting. The military asked the rest of us to return to the beach."

FRESH CLOTHES AND A LAST MEAL

Soldiers held and questioned the 10 men in a building at Inn Din's school for a night, the military said. Rashid Ahmed and Abulu had studied there alongside Rakhine Buddhist students until the attacks by Rohingya rebels in October 2016. Schools were shut temporarily, disrupting the pair's final year.

"I just remember him sitting there and studying, and it was always amazing to me because I am not educated," said Rashid Ahmed's father, farmer Abdu Shakur, 50. "I would look at him reading. He would be the first one in the family to be educated."

A photograph, taken on the evening the men were detained, shows the two Rohingya students and the eight older men kneeling on a path beside the village clinic, most of them shirtless. They were stripped when first detained, a dozen Rohingya witnesses said. It isn't clear why. That evening, Buddhist villagers said, the men were "treated" to a last meal of beef. They were provided with fresh clothing.

On Sept. 2, the men were taken to scrubland north of the village, near a graveyard for Buddhist residents, six Buddhist villagers said. The spot is backed by a hill crested with trees. There, on their knees, the 10 were photographed again and questioned by security personnel about the disappearance of a local Buddhist farmer named Maung Ni, according to a Rakhine elder who said he witnessed the interrogation.

Reuters was not able to establish what happened to Maung Ni. According to Buddhist neighbors, the farmer went missing after leaving home early on Aug. 25 to tend his cattle. Several Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya villagers told Reuters they believed he had been killed, but they knew of no evidence connecting any of the 10 men to his disappearance. The army said in its Jan. 10 statement that "Bengali terrorists" had killed Maung Ni, but did not identify the perpetrators.

Two of the men pictured behind the Rohingya prisoners in the photograph taken on the morning of Sept. 2 belong to the 8th Security Police Battalion. Reuters confirmed the identities of the two men from their Facebook pages and by visiting them in person.

One of the two officers, Aung Min, a police recruit from Yangon, stands directly behind the captives. He looks at the camera as he holds a weapon. The other officer, police Captain Moe Yan Naing, is the figure on the top right. He walks with his rifle over his shoulder.

The day after the two Reuters reporters were arrested in December, Myanmar's government also announced that Moe Yan Naing had been arrested and was being investigated under the 1923 Official Secrets Act.

Aung Min, who is not facing legal action, declined to speak to Reuters.

VENGEANCE FOR A MISSING FARMER

Three Buddhist youths said they watched from a hut as the 10 Rohingya captives were led up a hill by soldiers towards the site of their deaths.

One of the gravediggers, retired soldier Soe Chay, said Maung Ni's sons were invited by the army officer in charge of the squad to strike the first blows.

The first son beheaded the Islamic teacher, Abdul Malik, according to Soe Chay. The second son hacked another of the men in the neck.

"After the brothers sliced them both with swords, the squad fired with guns. Two to three shots to one person," said Soe Chay. A second gravedigger, who declined to be identified, confirmed that soldiers had shot some of the men.

In its Jan. 10 statement, the military said the two brothers and a third villager had "cut the Bengali terrorists" with swords and then, in the chaos, four members of the security forces had shot the captives. "Action will be taken against the villagers who participated in the case and the members of security forces who broke the Rules of Engagement under the law," the statement said. It didn't spell out those rules.

Tun Aye, one of the sons of Maung Ni, has been detained on murder charges, his lawyer said on Jan. 13. Contacted by Reuters on Feb. 8, the lawyer declined to comment further. Reuters was unable to reach the other brother.

In October, Inn Din locals pointed two Reuters reporters towards an area of brush behind the hill where they said the killings took place. The reporters discovered a newly cut trail leading to soft, recently disturbed earth littered with bones. Some of the bones were entangled with scraps of clothing and string that appeared to match the cord that is seen binding the captives' wrists in the photographs. The immediate area was marked by the smell of death.

Reuters showed photographs of the site to three forensic experts: Homer Venters, director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights; Derrick Pounder, a pathologist who has consulted for Amnesty International and the United Nations; and Luis Fondebrider, president of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, who investigated the graves of those killed under Argentina's military junta in the 1970s and 1980s. All observed human remains, including the thoracic part of a spinal column, ribs, scapula, femur and tibia. Pounder said he couldn't rule out the presence of animal bones as well.

The Rakhine Buddhist elder provided Reuters reporters with a photograph which shows the aftermath of the execution. In it, the 10 Rohingya men are wearing the same clothing as in the previous photo and are tied to each other with the same yellow cord, piled into a small hole in the earth, blood pooling around them. Abdul Malik, the Islamic teacher, appears to have been beheaded. Abulu, the student, has a gaping wound in his neck. Both injuries appear consistent with Soe Chay's account.

Forensic pathologist Fondebrider reviewed this picture. He said injuries visible on two of the bodies were consistent with "the action of a machete or something sharp that was applied on the throat."

Some family members did not know for sure that the men had been killed until Reuters returned to their shelters in Bangladesh in January.

"I can't explain what I feel inside. My husband is dead," said Rehana Khatun, wife of Nur Mohammed. "My husband is gone forever. I don't want anything else, but I want justice for his death."

In Inn Din, the Buddhist elder explained why he chose to share evidence of the killings with Reuters. "I want to be transparent on this case. I don't want it to happen like that in future."

(GRAPHIC - Burned to the ground: tmsnrt.rs/2lFeOFi)

(GRAPHIC - Massacre in Myanmar: tmsnrt.rs/2sjHHNC)

Reporting by Wa Lone, Kyaw Soe Oo, Simon Lewis and Antoni Slodkowski; editing by Janet McBride, Martin Howell and Alex Richardson.



Reuters pieced together what happened in Inn Din in the days leading up to the killing of the 10 Rohingya - eight men and two high school students in their late teens.

Source Reuters,

Reuters pieced together what happened in Inn Din in the days leading up to the killing of the 10 Rohingya - eight men and two high school students in their late teens. Read the investigation: http://reut.rs/2EfekgQ

 

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Truck Carrying 21 Rohingya Intercepted in Nyaungdon

Source Irrawaddy, 5 Feb

Yangon – A truck carrying 21 Rohingya from camps in Rakhine State was intercepted by police at Sarmalauk in Nyaungdon Township in Ayeyawaddy Region yesterday afternoon.

According to the initial investigation, the drivers of the six-wheel truck, Tin Tun Aung and Tun Tun Naing, were taking the Rohingya to Yangon, Myanmar's commercial center, when they were stopped by police just before entering the capital.

"They were transporting 21 Rohingya hidden under a tarpaulin. We have detained the drivers as well as the Rohingya at the police station. The drivers said they picked them up in Gwa, but some of the Rohingya who can speak Burmese said they were from camps in Kyaukphyu. Investigations are still underway," a duty officer at the police station said.

The Rohingya included 12 men, six women, one boy and two girls. The police also seized the truck.

The case is still under investigation and legal action will be taken against the suspects in line with the law, the police said.

On Oct. 18 last year, police intercepted a truck leaving Minbya in Rakhine State at the Oakpon Check-point in Kyangin Township and found seven Rohingya hidden among paddy bags. The drivers and the Rohingya in that instance were also prosecuted.


Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Star Trek's Yeoh: Rohingya plight 'despicable'

Source Aljazeera, 29 Jan

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since August 2017 in what the UN has described as ethnic cleansing.

Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh visited sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar on Saturday [Photo/Manish Swarup/AP]Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh visited sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar on Saturday [Photo/Manish Swarup/AP]

more on Rohingya

Hollywood star Michelle Yeoh says she's appalled by the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence in Myanmar intoBangladesh.

Yeoh, a goodwill ambassador for the UN Development Programme, visited sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar on Saturday, as part of a Malaysian delegation led by the Southeast Asian nation's military chief. The team visited a hospital set up by Malaysia and distributed relief goods in another camp.

"It is very important that we're here, because what the Rohingya people are going through is despicable and it's very, very tragic. It should not be allowed," she said. "Every single one of them deserves to have the human rights that should be given to them."

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since August, in what the UN has described as ethnic cleansing. Myanmar's military has denied the charges, saying they were conducting "clearance operations" following attacks by Rohingya fighters on police posts.

Yeoh was most recently seen in sci-fi TV series "Star Trek: Discovery". She also played Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi in "The Lady", a 2011 biopic about the Nobel Peace laureate's struggle to bring democracy to her country.

Aung San Suu Kyi has faced widespread international criticism for not speaking out in defence of the Rohingya. Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson resigned from an advisory panel on the crisis this past week, calling it a "whitewash and a cheerleading operation" for Aung San Suu Kyi.

SOURCE: AP news agency

Monday, 29 January 2018

The Slow-Burning Genocide in Myanmar Continues. We Cannot Be Passive

Source Rightsinfo, 26 Jan

As we commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day (27 January) and remember the millions of people murdered by the Nazi regime, we must also pause and reflect.

When we say never again, what we really mean is: hopefully, it won't happen again. We hoped and hoped, and, in the meantime, theCambodian genocide happened, Rwanda happened, Bosnia happened, and Darfur happened. We repeatedly failed to prevent mass atrocities and let down those who have relied on us, both on our voices and our actions.

Not that long ago we were presented with another challenge, "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing" as the situation in Myanmar was referred to by the UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein. On one hand, we saw Myanmar rejecting all allegations of ethnic cleansing or genocide, on the other hand, many academics,  have clearly labelled the situation as "genocide".

Slow-Burning Genocide

                                Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar in 2014. Image Credit: United Against Genocide / Flickr
Speaking at a panel last weekDr Maung Zarni, a British-Burmese scholar and human rights activist, spoke wholeheartedly about how those who made it from Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh were "survivors". By labelling them merely as "displaced people", we automaticallydiminish the horrors and suffering the Rohingya have been subjected to.

This choice of language may seem insignificant to some, but as Dr Zarni explained, this "slow-burning genocide" is the first many of will have watched in real-time, whether it be through Facebook or Twitter, or on our TV screens. It's therefore vital that we don't numb ourselves into inertia.

Long-Term Policy of Extermination

Image Credit: DFID / Wikimedia
When questioned about the history of the Rohingya, Dr Zarni explained to the audience at SOAS and STAND UK that: "What the Rohingya people have been subjected to is nothing less than full-scale genocide since 1978. There is no communal conflict that has to put Rohingya in this situation. The Rohingyas are not fighting back, they are not trying to secede from Burma and become part of Bangladesh or they are not trying to establish a new Muslim country just for themselves."
"What the Rogingya people have been subjected to is nothing less than full-scale genocide since 1978. It is very similar to that of the Jewish community across Nazi-occupied Europe."
Drawing a stark parallel, he added: "The situation of Rohingya is very similar to the situation that the Jewish community across the Nazi-occupied Europe faced in late 1930s and early 1940s. They are being persecuted because of their identity, because of who they are. The Burmese military has misframed them as a threat to national security. They have adopted an essentially long-term policy of extermination against these people. This is a genocide that has been in slow-motion for 40 years."

Proven Long-Term Roots

                                           Image Credit: United Against Genocide / Flickr
Prof Michael Charney, a military and imperial historian specialising in South East Asia, also spoke at the Lawyers Without Borders event, highlighting how British colonial rule had uniquely impacted the Rakhine state differently to other areas of Myanmar. According to Prof Charney, and maybe surprisingly to many, there is even considerable evidence that Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar had been getting along considerably well in the past.
"Rohingya have long-term roots in the area – and we can support that with documentation."
When asked about the biggest thing people should know about the Rohingya, Prof Charney said that:

"Rohingya have long-term roots in the area and they aren't the foreigners that the Burmese government pretends they are – and we can support that with documentation. It's the same documentation that people often deny just because of their political beliefs, not because of any other legitimate reasons." Prof Charney also called for more academic research into the region but warned that this must be done with an open mind.

A Complex and Multilayered Situation

Image Credit: John Owens / Wikimedia
According to Dr Mandy Satan, a lecturer at SOAS, there are currently more than 120,000 internally-displaced people in the north of Myanmar, yet there has been very limited, if any, coverage of the situation.

"Is there a scale? And if there is, where is the tipping point?" she asked the audience. Whether it be the Rohingya, or the internally-placed people in the Kachin state in the north of Myanmar, or the Burmese refugee camps in Thailand, which have been there for more than 20 years – Dr Sadan sees a rather common structural issue, which is the Burmese army.

According to Dr Sadan, racism is deeply rooted and runs through many sectors of the Burmese society, hinting at the complexity and multilayeredness of the situation. Dr Sadan also called for important changes in education, which could transform Burmese education to reflect its multi-cultural society and allows students to study different kinds of history.

Questioning Our Humanity

                                              Image Credit: European Commission / Flickr
Towards the end of the panel discussion, Dr Zarni raised the most poignant issue – our own failures. He explained that all the atrocities post-WWII are not just failures of the international community, but that we must also call into question our shared humanity.

In order to truly make sure genocides never happen again, we can't just echo empty sentiments or dispassionately soul search. Instead, we must do everything we can to act and to make our voices heard.