UN report: Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims face ongoing violence
Burma | Bangladesh plans to resettle thousands of Rohingya refugees to low-lying island
by Anna K. Poole
Posted 2/10/17, 12:14 pm
As Myanmar’s ongoing crisis over the persecution of Rohingya Muslims threatens to spiral into an armed insurgency, new reports of violence by Burmese soldiers are drawing international alarm. Meanwhile, fleeing Rohingya refugees pouring into Bangladesh are prompting an unpopular resettlement plan to a low-lying island that only recently crested sea level.
Though simmering for decades, the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, also known as Burma, escalated to a bloody zenith in October. Islamic militants staged a border attack, killing nine Burmese guards and unleashing retributive violence. In the months since, Myanmar’s military staged a brutal counterassault, driving almost 70,000 Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh and leaving thousands more internally displaced.
As the junta’s crackdown rages on, some say the number of Rohingya casualties could be graver than initial reports suggested. “The talk until now has been of hundreds of deaths,” a United Nations official told The Guardian this week. “This is probably an underestimation—we could be looking at thousands.”
This week, Myanmar’s government announced it would investigate allegations of human rights abuses against Rohingyas in western Rakhine state. “Where there is clear evidence of abuses and violations, the government will take necessary measures,” said Aung San Suu Kyi, foreign minister and leader of the National League for Democracy.
A recently released UN report includes accusations of abuse from interviews with hundreds of Rohingya Muslims who fled Rakhine. The 50-page report details stories of arbitrary torture, invasive body searches, forced disappearances, sexual violence, and mass murder at the hands of Burmese soldiers conducting counterinsurgency operations. Half of the women interviewed said they were raped or sexually assaulted.
“These horrific attacks on Rohingya women and girls by security forces add a new and brutal chapter to the Burmese military’s long and sickening history of sexual violence against women,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, senior emergencies researcher for Human Rights Watch.
UN officials noted Rohingya males are conspicuously absent from the refugee pool landing in Bangladesh camps. Based on interview data, some speculate Myanmar’s military viewed men between 17 and 45 as potential militants and detained or killed them.
But others argue Myanmar’s concern about Islamic militants is valid. According to the International Crisis Group, a freshly forged insurgency group calling itself Harakah al-Yaqin, or the Faith Movement, coordinated the October attack. Controlled by a network of Saudi Arabia–based Rohingyas, the militant group is attracting disillusioned Burmese Muslims, desperate for freedom after years of state-sanctioned persecution.
Last month, the Bangladeshi government announced plans to resettle Rohingya refugees to Thengar Char, a southeastern island that emerged from the sea less than a decade ago.
“The relocation will take place only after the development activities are completed,” said Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali in an appeal for international funding to construct homes, schools and hospitals on the island.
But for Rohingya refugees, options are limited: “We have no other way but to follow [the] Bangladesh government’s order,” said Abu Bakar Siddique, president of the unregistered Rohingya in a Bangladeshi camp. “We have no other choices.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Anna K. Poole
Anna is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course.