A new report released last month offers extensive and disturbing details surrounding the systematic killing of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The 160-page report conducted by the human rights organization Fortify Rights provides evidence that suggests the Myanmar military is guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Based on a 21-month investigation that included 254 interviews with survivors, Myanmar police and military members, the report, titled, “They Gave Them Long Swords” casts extreme doubt on the Myanmar government’s claims surrounding the Rohingya crisis.
Focusing on events leading up to the attacks on hundreds of Rohingya villages in Myanmar’s Northern Rakhine state last August, the report explains how government authorities trained local civilians to attack the Rohingya, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority in the predominantly Buddhist country. The violence sparked a mass exodus of over 700,000 refugees to neighboring Bangladesh, a level of forced migration that hasn’t been seen since the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
Dubbed by the United Nations as the world’s most persecuted people, Rohingya Muslims have faced decades of discrimination, impoverishment and violence in the Buddhist-majority country. But persecution has skyrocketed since Aug. 25, 2017, when a Rohingya Muslim militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched a coordinated attack on dozens of police outposts.
Despite the government’s claims that its only actions against the Rohingya were in response the the August attacks, the Fortify Rights report shows that the Myanmar military had been planning it for months.
“The Myanmar authorities for months have been peddling to the diplomatic community and the international community this narrative that they were simply responding spontaneously to terrorist attacks on Aug. 25,” Fortify Rights CEO Matt Smith told The Christian Post. “What we documented was that the authorities were actually making preparations for many months in advance for what amounted to mass atrocity crimes. In piecing it together, it’s a very sinister picture.”
Back in February, Human Rights Watch released stunning satellite images that showed the Burma army bulldozing abandoned Rohingya villages in an apparent attempt to cover up criminal activity and prevent the return of refugees. The government has denied the accusations, claiming they were only trying to rebuild the land.
But the latest Fortify Rights report offers further reasons to believe that Myanmar authorities are guilty of destroying hundreds of Rohingya villages and other atrocities like mass killings, rape and torture.
“The authorities were effectively disarming Rohingya civilians while arming non-Rohingya civilians, basically training those communities to inflict violence on the Rohingya. They activated them on Aug. 25 and there were whole massacres,” Smith said. “We also documented how authorities cut humanitarian aid in the weeks and months before Aug. 25. They cut food aid. There were at the time more than 80,000 children under the age of five who were suffering severe, acute malnutrition.”
Smith added that the Myanmar government had a goal of “weakening” the Rohingya ahead of the “brutal and systematic” attacks. According to the report, military members “systematically collected sharp or blunt objects” from Rohingya civilians and ripped up fencing and other structures that surrounded their homes.
“The authorities also moved a huge number of soldiers. We documented how the Myanmar army deployed 27 battalions,” he said. “A conservative estimate would suggest that about 11,000 soldiers were operational on the ground in addition to about 900 police combat personnel — basically SWAT teams. It was a very brutal and systematic operation.”
Fortify Rights hopes the new report will advance the effort to refer the Rohingya persecution to the International Criminal Court. In order for this to happen, however, the issue would have to be referred to by the United Nations Security Council.
British Ambassador Karen Pierce, the council president for August, said at a news conference Wednesday, ”we are a hundred percent sure there would not be a positive decision.” Pierce explained that China, a permanent council member close to Myanmar’s government, would almost certainly block the referral.
Pierce noted, however, “there’s a lot of collection of evidence going on in Bangladesh in the camps — evidence to a sufficiently high investigative standard against the day when there might be an accountability mechanism, and this might lead to some form of justice.”
Smith is confident that his organization’s report provides the sort of substantial evidence needed to hold Myanmar officials accountable. Speaking to The Christian Post, he said he is calling on the Trump Administration to support Myanmar’s referral to the ICC and to do all that it can ensure that China also backs the referral.
“Right now, American citizens can and should call upon the administration. We know members of the administration care deeply about this issue. They understand the severity of it,” Smith said. “There is a high-level of concern here in Washington, D.C. Our Rohingya colleagues find hope in that but we need to make sure it is followed up with action.”
Later this month the U.N. Security Council will commemorate the one-year anniversary of the violent government crackdown against the Rohingya, Fox News reported.
In the wake of last week’s State Department Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, the State Department released a statement condemning the human rights violations in Myanmar. Although representatives from over 80 countries attended the meeting in Washington, only 10, including the U.S., signed onto the statement condemning the Myanmar government.
“One would imagine in a situation in which there is genocide in Rakhine and crimes against humanity in the Kachin and Shan states that it would illicit more concern from the international community,” Smith said. “It is disappointing, to say the least that only 10 countries would lend their support to that [statement]. It is very disturbing.”
Leaders from Fortify Rights have met with members of the United States State Department and the U.S. National Security Council to communicate the urgency surrounding the Rohingya crisis, which has already claimed thousands of lives.
Please continue to pray for justice for this persecuted group and accountability for their oppressors.