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UN Details ‘Disturbing’ New Atrocities Against Myanmar’s Rohingya

The U.N.’s human rights office says that tens of thousands have been forcibly displaced in what one expert described as a “hate-driven unnatural disaster.”


The United Nations says that it has received “frightening and disturbing” reports from Rakhine State in western Myanmar, where Muslim Rohingya communities have once again come under attack.


In a press briefing in Geneva on Friday, Elizabeth Throssell, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that her office had received reports of widespread burning of homes and the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians, mostly Muslim Rohingyas, in Buthidaung and Maungdaw, Rakhine State’s two northernmost townships.


“Some of the most serious allegations concern incidents of killing of Rohingya civilians and the burning of their property,” Throssell said, putting the number of displaced civilians in the two townships in the “tens of thousands.” She added that an estimated 45,000 Rohingya “have reportedly fled to an area on the Naf River near the border with Bangladesh, seeking protection.”


Reports of arson attacks and the mass displacement of civilians, mostly Rohingyas, emerged in mid-May, after the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic Rakhine armed group that has been locked in a fierce struggle with the military in Rakhine State since November, captured Buthidaung town.


She said that information gathered in testimony from victims, eyewitnesses, satellite images, and online video and pictures over the last week indicate that the town “has been largely burned.”

“We have received information indicating that the burning started on 17 May, two days after the military had retreated from the town and the Arakan Army claimed to have taken full control,” she said.


These reports bear a close resemblance to the massive “clearance operation” that the Myanmar military launched against Rohingya villages in August 2017. The campaign, which led to the expulsion of more than 740,000 people from Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships into Bangladesh, has been described by both the United States government and the United Nations as an act of genocide.


While OHCHR said that it was “corroborating information received about who is responsible” for the burning of Buthidaung, Rohingya eyewitness reports cited by the U.N. and other sources suggest that it is not the military, but the AA, that has been behind the recent attacks.


Throssell reported that “at least four cases of beheadings by the Arakan Army had been confirmed, as well as multiple enforced disappearances of individuals.” She said that other Rohingya survivors “spoke of being blocked from leaving [Buthidaung] by the Arakan Army, thus having to choose more perilous exit routes. The Arakan Army had reportedly abused the survivors and taken money from them.” The AA has denied any involvement in the attacks on Rohingya.


While the balance of evidence so far points to AA responsibility, the military is hardly blameless. Over the past few months, the junta has sought to conscript Rohingya, the very group that it sought to extirpate from Myanmar, in order to stave off its rapid loss of territory to the AA. In so doing, it has likely hoped to capitalize on the sectarian tensions between the Rakhine and Rohingya communities – something that was widely predicted to worsen these tensions.


As the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) noted in its latest conflict update, as many as 5,000 Rohingya could now be fighting for the regime in Rakhine. Unsurprisingly, IISS noted, the AA “has reacted with inflammatory rhetoric and violence directed at the Rohingya.”


There is a depressing familiarity to the unfolding crisis in western Myanmar. The OHCHR statement came a day after Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, called for urgent action to resolve the situation in western Myanmar – exactly the sort of action that was not forthcoming in 2017.


“Once again,” he said in a statement, “the world seems to be failing a desperate people in their hour of peril while a hate-driven unnatural disaster unfolds in real time in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.”


 

(c) 2024, The Diplomat

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