In a startling confirmation that will have serious ramifications in India and might impact the issue of the settlement of 40,000 Rohingya refugees in the country, Amnesty International said on Tuesday that Rohingya militants had carried out mass massacres of Hindus in Myanmar.
In a report released on 22 May, Amnesty said that the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) killed up to 99 Hindu women, men, and children in at least one or two massacres. The ARSA, founded by Karachi-born Ataullah abu Ammar Jununi, is a terrorist group which the Myanmar government holds responsible for attacks on the country’s military in the northwestern Rakhine state.
The massacres of the Hindus happened in August 2017 in a village called Ah Nauk Kha Maung Seik and Ye Bauk Kyar in northern Maungdaw Township.
According to Amnesty, which conducted a detailed investigation into the human rights crimes committed by the ARSA, the terrorists sowed fear among Hindus and other ethnic communities with these brutal attacks.
“Our latest investigation on the ground sheds much-needed light on the largely under-reported human rights abuses by ARSA during northern Rakhine State’s unspeakably dark recent history,” said Tirana Hassan, Crisis Response Director at Amnesty International.
“It’s hard to ignore the sheer brutality of ARSA’s actions, which have left an indelible impression on the survivors we’ve spoken to. Accountability for these atrocities is every bit as crucial as it is for the crimes against humanity carried out by Myanmar’s security forces in northern Rakhine State.”
Amnesty revealed that ARSA fighters launched their attack on the Hindus at 8 am on 25 August 2017, the same day Myanmar’s state media reported about an attack by ARSA insurgents on at least 20 police outposts and an army base in Rakhine State which left 12 security officers dead.
“Armed men dressed in black and local Rohingya villagers in plain clothes rounded up dozens of Hindu women, men and children. They robbed, bound, and blindfolded them before marching them to the outskirts of the village, where they separated the men from the women and young children. A few hours later, the ARSA fighters killed 53 of the Hindus, execution-style, starting with the men,” reports Amnesty on the attack on Ah Nauk Kha Maung Seik.
Bodies of 45 people from this village were unearthed in four mass graves in late September 2017 and was widely reported in both Myanmar, Indian and international media.
ARSA terrorists spared eight Hindu women and eight of their children on the condition that the women “convert” to Islam and marry some of the insurgents.
“The survivors were forced to flee with the fighters to Bangladesh several days later, before being repatriated to Myanmar in October 2017 with the support of the Bangladeshi and Myanmar authorities,” Amnesty reports.
On 28 August in Bangladesh, the women were threatened and forced to lie that the massacre was carried out by the ethnic Rakhine villagers – who are Buddhists.
“(One of the kidnappers) told us that if anyone asks we should say that the Rakhine and the military attacked us,” recalled Bina Bala. “He said if people come to interview you, you must say this or you will be killed,” said 22-year-old Bina Bala, one of the survivors of the massacre.
Bina told Amnesty International: “(The men) held knives and long iron rods. They tied our hands behind our backs and blindfolded us. I asked what they were doing. One of them replied, ‘You and Rakhine are the same, you have a different religion, you can’t live here. He spoke the (Rohingya) language. They asked what belongings we had, then they beat us. Eventually I gave them my gold and money.”
At the time of the attack, the Hindu villagers lived in close proximity to Rohingya villagers, who are predominantly Muslim. Rakhine villagers also lived in the same area.
Amnesty confirmed that all the eight survivors unanimously confirmed that ARSA killed their relatives, all of who were Hindus.
Raj Kumari, 18, said: “They slaughtered the men. We were told not to look at them … They had knives. They also had some spades and iron rods. … We hid ourselves in the shrubs there and were able to see a little … My uncle, my father, my brother – they were all slaughtered.”
Formila, around 20, told Amnesty International: ““I saw some Muslim men kill Hindu women. I saw men holding the heads and hair (of the women) and others were holding knives. And then they cut their throats.”
According to a detailed list of the dead, given to Amnesty International, the victims from Ah Nauk Kha Maung Seik include 20 men, 10 women, and 23 children, 14 of whom were under the age of eight. Amnesty said that the number is consistent with multiple testimonies of survivors and witnesses gathered in both Bangladesh and Myanmar.
At Ye Bauk Kyar, ARSA is believed to have killed all of the 46 Hindu men, women, and children of the village thus bringing the total death toll to 99.
The remains of the rest of the victims of Ah Nauk Kha Maung Seik and the 46 from Ye Bauk Kyar have not been found to date.
Criticising the massacres, Tirana Hassan demanded that the perpetrators of this heinous crime must be held to account.
“In this brutal and senseless act, members of ARSA captured scores of Hindu women, men, and children and terrorized them before slaughtering them outside their own villages. The perpetrators of this heinous crime must be held to account,” she said.
The two are not isolated incidents of attacks on the Hindus by the ARSA. On 26 August 2017, a day after the massacre, ARSA members killed six Hindus – two women, a man, and three children – and injured another Hindu woman on the outskirts of Maungdaw town, near Myo Thu Gyi village.
Kor Mor La, 25, who was shot but survived the attack, said, “The people who shot us were dressed in black. … I couldn’t see their faces, only their eyes. … They had long guns and swords.” She said that her husband was shot next to her.
Amnesty also reveals that some of the ARSA members fled to Bangladeshi refugee camps with the captive Hindu women when the Myanmar Army began their crackdown. The human rights group also said that the Hindu women were under pressure to accuse Myanmar military and Rakhine even when they were living in a separate refugee camp protected by Bangladeshi security forces.
Witnesses and survivors also identified some of the attackers as Rohingya neighbours. Amnesty International confirmed with a forensic anthropological expert who analysed 31 photographs taken in Kha Maung Seik on 23 and 24 September 2017 that “the appearance of the human remains exhumed from the grave at Kha Maung Seik on 24 September 2017 is entirely consistent with what would be expected had those individuals been killed and buried at that site on 25 August 2017”. The expert also confirmed that the killings were “indicative of homicide in the form of extrajudicial and summary executions.”
Amnesty also confirmed that Myanmar security forces could not have been involved in the attack, as was reported by the media based on the statements of survivors who were under duress, because they were not in control of the region at the time.
“Together, the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that ARSA was responsible for the massacre, and that it has actively tried to cover up the crimes by forcing the surviving women to appear on camera implicating other perpetrators and through more general intimidation aimed at distorting the story,” said Amnesty.
Hindus in Sittwe expressed shock and dismay in their conversations with Amnesty.
“I never imagined this could happen, we had a good relationship (with the Rohingya). Why did they attack us?” asked Shawlyee Shawltee, a displaced woman from Kha Maung Seik who lost “everything” to the violence.
Following 25 August 2017 attack on the military posts, Myanmar Army launched a massive “cleansing” operation in Rakhine which forced over 6,93,000 Rohingya people to flee to Bangladesh, where they still remain.
Rights groups have also criticised the Myanmar Army’s actions calling it “unlawful and grossly disproportionate campaign of violence”.
Amnesty International and others have documented in detail how this campaign was marked by killings, rape and other sexual violence, torture, village burning, forced starvation tactics, and other violations which constitute crimes against humanity under international law.