YANGON — Amnesty International has released new evidence of a “gruesome” massacre of Hindus by Rohingya militants in Rakhine State last year, making it the first international rights group to shed light on what it calls “the largely under-reported human rights abuses” by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
A press release issued by the UK rights group on Wednesday morning says ARSA killed up to 99 Hindu women, men and children and committed additional unlawful killings and abductions of Hindu villagers in August.
The killings and abductions occurred after the armed group — which the government has labeled a terrorist organization — launched a series of attacks on security outposts in northern Rakhine on Aug. 25, killing 12 security personnel. The attacks prompted the Myanmar military to carry out clearance operations in the area that have driven nearly 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. Many of the refugees reported arbitrary killings, rapes and torture by the security forces.
Since then, the Rohingya issue has continued to attract international attention. The EU and US have imposed sanctions against some of Myanmar’s military leaders. Rights groups have called for the military’ s prosecution at the International Criminal Court. Recently, the UN Security Council dispatched a team to Bangladesh and Myanmar to investigate the issue. The delegation urged Naypyitaw to allow the safe return of the Rohingya.
But condemnation of ARSA has been relatively modest. The lack of international opposition to ARSA recently prompted Myanmar’s ambassador to the UN to accuse some members of only listening to one side of the story and failing to acknowledge the group’s abuses.
Amnesty International says its new report is based on dozens of interviews conducted inside Rakhine State and across the border in Bangladesh, as well as photographic evidence analyzed by forensic pathologists.
“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,” Tirana Hassan, Amnesty’s crisis response director, is quoted as saying in the release.
“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,” the director adds. “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’s findings focus on killings and abductions of the Hindu community in Kha Maung Seik village tract and Myo Thu Gyi village in Maungdaw Township. The Irrawaddy reported on the incidents extensively in September.
The rights group’s investigation found that at about 8 a.m. on Aug. 25, ARSA attacked the Hindu community in the village of Ah Nauk Kha Maung Seik, part of the Kha Maung Seik village tract.
“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 8. This is consistent with multiple testimonies the organization gathered in both Bangladesh and Myanmar, from survivors and witnesses as well as Hindu community leaders,” the press release says.
It continues that eight Hindu women and eight of their children were abducted and spared, after ARSA fighters forced the women to agree to “convert” to Islam. The survivors were forced to flee with the fighters to Bangladesh several days later, before being repatriated in October with the aid of Bangladeshi and Myanmar authorities.
Also on Aug. 25, all 46 Hindu men, women and children in the neighboring village of Ye Bauk Kyar disappeared. Members of the Hindu community in northern Rakhine State presume they were killed by the same ARSA fighters.
The total death toll in both villages is believed to be 99.
The bodies of 45 people from Ah Nauk Kha Maung Seik were unearthed in four mass graves in late September. The remains of the other victims from the village, or of the 46 victims from Ye Bauk Kyar, have not been found.
Amnesty calls for independent investigators, including the UN Fact-Finding mission, to be given unrestricted access to Rakhine State in order to have the full extent of the abuses committed by both ARSA and the Myanmar military exposed.
“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,” Tirana Hassan says.
“All the survivors and victims’ families have the right to justice, truth and reparation for the immense harm they have suffered.”