Myanmar is militarising Rakhine state at an alarming pace, building security bases and bulldozing Rohingya villages, making the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees an even more distant prospect, Amnesty International reported on Monday.
Myanmar security forces have driven out some 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh since August 25. During the operations, Rohingya villages were burned to the ground, while at least 6,700 of their residents were killed and women raped, says Doctors Without Borders.
The UN has denounced the brutal “security operation” in Rakhine state as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed a deal on Rohingya repatriation, though it has not begun yet.
Against this backdrop, Amnesty in its latest briefing “Remaking Rakhine State”, reported eyewitnesses and satellite imagery showing how the flattening of Rohingya villages and new construction have intensified since January in areas where hundreds of thousands fled the military’s ethnic cleansing.
New roads and structures are being built over burned Rohingya villages and land.
“What we are seeing in Rakhine state is a land grab by the military on a dramatic scale. New bases are being erected to house the very same security forces that have committed crimes against humanity against Rohingya,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s crisis response director.
“This makes the voluntary, safe and dignified return of Rohingya refugees an even more distant prospect. Not only are their homes gone, but the new construction is entrenching the already dehumanising discrimination they have faced in Myanmar.”
The global rights watchdog said that while the violence in Rakhine has subsided, the campaign to drive out Rohingya and ensure they cannot return to their homeland is taking on new forms.
“The bulldozing of entire villages is incredibly worrying. Myanmar’s authorities are erasing evidence of crimes against humanity, making any future attempts to hold those responsible to account extremely difficult,” said Hassan.
Amnesty said Myanmar authorities have launched an operation to rapidly expand security infrastructure across Rakhine, including bases to house the military and Border Guard Police, as well as helipads.
Satellite images reveal how, in just a few months, new bases have been erected over torched Rohingya land, with whole villages and even nearby forests cleared to make room, it said.
The village of Ah Htet Nan Yar was burned to the ground during the early days of the post-25 August violence in 2017. By January, a new road had been built directly over land where Rohingya homes had stood.
Amnesty’s analysis of satellite imagery confirmed that at least three new security bases are being built in northern Rakhine – two in Maungdaw Township and one in Buthidaung Township. Construction appears to have started in January.
The largest of the new bases is in the village of Ah Lel Chaung in Buthidaung Township, where eyewitnesses said that the military forcibly evicted Rohingya people from certain areas to make way for construction. Many of the villagers saw no option but to flee into Bangladesh, Amnesty added.
“People are in a panic. No one wants to stay because they are afraid of more violence against them,” said a 31-year-old man who fled to Bangladesh in January when the military erected a new fence and security post close to his village.
Meanwhile, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, told the Human Rights Council on Monday that events in Rakhine bear the hallmarks of genocide.
Delivering her report to the Council in Geneva, Lee said that accountability for the crimes committed in Rakhine following August 25 last year, and October 9, 2016, must now be the focus of the international community’s efforts to bring long-lasting peace, stability and democratisation to Myanmar.
“This must be aimed at the individuals who gave the orders and carried out violations against individuals and entire ethnic and religious groups,” said Lee. “The government leadership who did nothing to intervene, stop, or condemn these acts must also be held accountable.”
Lee, also the UN independent investigator, called for a thorough, impartial and credible investigation to be conducted without delay and perpetrators to be held responsible.
She called for the establishment of a UN structure, based in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, for a duration of three years to investigate, document, collect, consolidate, map, and analyse evidence of human rights violations and abuses.
“The external review should assess whether the UN and international community could have prevented or managed the situation differently that occurred regarding the Rohingya and in Rakhine state, and make recommendations for accountability if appropriate,” she said.
Lee, who has been barred from visiting Myanmar, also expressed concern that the recent crisis in Rakhine State is deflecting global attention away from escalating violence in Kachin, Shan and other conflict-riven states in the country.
She said against this background, Myanmar’s peace process appeared to be losing its momentum. She said she remained hopeful that the Myanmar government would revisit its decision and grant her access.