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Crimes against Rohingyas: Video footage reveals evidence against Myanmar army

  • Published at 05:43 pm September 27th, 2018

South-east Asia-based human rights watch dog Fortify Rights released the footage, which shows a Myanmar army soldier explaining to civilians how the authorities would ‘clear out’ Rohingya villages

A Swiss-American human rights organization has revealed a mobile phone video footage, shot prior to the military crackdown on the Rohingya community in Rakhine, Myanmar on August 25, 2017, that shows the Myanmar army planning to conduct a “clearance operation” in the area to force deportation of the ethnic minority group. 

Fortify Rights, based in South-east Asia and registered in Switzerland and the US, said the recently analyzed footage provides important evidence for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to consider, as it assesses whether the Myanmar authorities are responsible for international crimes against Rohingya civilians in the northern Rakhine state. 

Released on Thursday, the footage shows a Myanmar army soldier explaining to a group of civilians how the authorities would “clear out” Rohingya villages, providing evidence of the crime against humanity of deportation.

“[The] Myanmar authorities consistently claim they didn’t force [the] Rohingya from their homes, but this footage shows a soldier explaining in detail that the authorities would indeed force the Rohingya out of their villages,” Matthew Smith, CEO of Fortify Rights, said in a statement issued on Thursday. 

“We hope this [the footage] will be of use to ICC prosecutors and others pursuing justice for the army’s wanton attacks on civilians.”

The original footage is 8 minutes and 40 seconds, and first appeared online on August 28, 2017 – three days after the Myanmar army-led clearance operations against the Rohingyas began. 

The footage shows an unknown Myanmar army soldier in body armour and uniformed fatigues addressing in Burmese language a group of non-Rohingya residents in a rural location believed to be in northern Rakhine.

The insignia on the soldier’s uniform that would identify his military rank and unit affiliation is not clear due to poor video quality.

In the video, the soldier refers to two villages in northern Rakhine – Kyauk-sar Taing village in Rathedaung Township and Naung Yoe village. 

The solider describes Naung Yoe village as a “Natala” village – a model village. The Myanmar authorities established Natala villages to transplant ethnic Burman Buddhist communities into areas of ethnic and religious minorities. 

Also Read- New UN panel to prepare indictments over Myanmar atrocities

Natala villages are common in northern Rakhine state – home to the Rohingya Muslims.

“We are going to crack down on them severely and fast,” the soldier says in the footage, speaking about the Rohingyas. “No worries about that. We will clear out their villages soon after we leave here.”

He goes on to say: “Our indigenous villages will be protected when clearance actions begin. One group [of soldiers] will protect ethnic villages. One group will make clearance. Security forces will block the escape of Rohingya, so they don’t spill towards our indigenous villages.”

The solider portrays all Rohingyas as posing an existential threat to Myanmar, telling his audience “they will conquer the whole country,” adding: “These guys have a high breeding population rate and high population growth, so they threaten our ethnic minorities here with their population.”

In a 160-page report published in July, Fortify Rights documented how soldiers, police, and local non-Rohingya citizens hacked Rohingya civilians, slit throats, and fatally shot and burned thousands of men, women and children in a matter of weeks beginning on August 25, 2017. 

Soldiers raped masses of Rohingya women and girls, killed infant children, arbitrarily arrested men and boys, and destroyed several hundred villages in arson attacks.

Fortify Rights identified 22 military and police officials who should be investigated and possibly prosecuted for the crime of genocide. 

Fortify Rights also documented human rights violations by Rohingya militants, including killings of and threats against civilians.

During the army-led “clearance operations,” non-Rohingya citizens worked in concert with Myanmar Army soldiers in attacks against Rohingya civilians.

In the footage, the soldier appears to incite local residents, including children, to join attacks against the Rohingyas.

“When we are working like this, people from this village need to cooperate with us,” the soldier tells the audience. “To show our courage, hold swords, hold sticks; even elders or young kids must defeat them.”

Fortify Rights and others have called on the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC to investigate the full spectrum of atrocity crimes in Myanmar, including crimes in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states.

“The international community must act fast and take every approach possible, including by establishing a new mechanism to collect and preserve evidence for prosecutions,” Matthew Smith said. 

“There’s no excuse for Security Council inaction. It should refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC without delay.”

On August 25, 2017, a Rohingya insurgent group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched coordinated attacks on a Myanmar security force in northern Rakhine.

In retaliation, the Myanmar army and Myanmar Border Guard Police, along with other security forces, carried out what the UN calls “ethnic cleansing,” forcing more than 700,000 Rohingyas, mostly children and women, to flee to Bangladesh, joining more than 400,000 others who have already been living in squalid, cramped camps in the border district of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

Amnesty International recently published a 186-page report on the 2017 Rohingya crisis, which identified 13 Myanmar military personnel responsible for the atrocities committed against the Rohingyas. 

On September 6, the ICC granted jurisdiction for the prosecutor to investigate and possibly prosecute the crimes against humanity involving the forced deportation of the Rohingyas from Rakhine into Bangladesh, as well as persecution and other inhumane acts committed against them. 

On September 18, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that her office had opened a preliminary examination into the allegations. 

In a report released on September 18, a United Nations Fact-Finding Mission, mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate human rights violations against the Rohingyas, found evidence of atrocities against the Rohingyas.

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