The ethnic cleansing of Rohingya from Myanmar since Aug. 25, 2017, was intentional and systematic, not accidental or beyond the control of the military’s command structure, argues Amnesty International in a sweeping new report released today.
“The explosion of violence – including murder, rape, torture, burning and forced starvation – perpetrated by Myanmar’s security forces in villages across northern Rakhine State was not the action of rogue soldiers or units. There is a mountain of evidence that this was part of a highly orchestrated, systematic attack on the Rohingya population,” said Matthew Wells, Amnesty’s senior crisis advisor, upon the report’s release.
The report argues that even without being able to analyze any direct orders or communications between the Office of the Commander-in-Chief (War Office) and its commanders in the field, confidential military documents prove that in operations such as those carried out against Rohingya communities in northern Rakhine State, ground troops operate under the tight control of their superiors.
“The internal reporting requirements for military units together with the public reporting on where and when specific atrocities occurred means that senior military officials knew or should have known which specific units were credibly alleged to have been involved in crimes under international law and other human rights violations,” says the report.
Given their implicit knowledge of the abuses their subordinates committed against Rohingya civilians, Amnesty has listed 13 military and police officials who should be investigated and prosecuted for crimes against humanity:
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services
According to Amnesty’s research, Myanmar’s military chief appears to have been involved in the decision to deploy combat units to northern Rakhine State in the days before the mass displacement of Rohingya began. He also visited the area in late September and “gave [commanders] instructions on getting timely information” and “honoured” the military’s “brilliant efforts to restore regional peace,” according to his own Facebook posts.
Moreover, even if Min Aung Hlaing did not order atrocities, he failed to exert control that could have prevented or halted them, and he has resisted calls to discipline those responsible.
Vice Senior General Soe Win, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services and Commander-in-Chief (Army)
Under Myanmar military doctrine, the Commander-in-Chief (Army) has direct command authority over the army’s combat divisions. The position is “heavily involved in formulating and managing major operations, including command decisions about whether to deploy combat divisions, and in what strength, the designation of key strategic objectives, and in some cases key tactical objectives.”
According to the report, at least some of the crimes committed were due to the failure of Vice Senior General Soe Win to properly exercise his control to prevent, stop, and punish crimes by those under his command.
Lieutenant General Aung Kyaw Zaw, former Commander of the No. 3 Bureau of Special Operations (BSO)
Lt. Gen. Aung Kyaw Zaw was physically present in northern Rakhine State during, at minimum, key periods before and during the 2017 operations marked by crimes against humanity. In early Aug. 2017, he accompanied the Western Commander to Rathedaung Township, including Zay Di Pyin village, in response to “recent terrorist attacks,” according to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s Facebook page. A blockade was instituted against the Rohingya community in Zay Di Pyin around that time. When Senior General Min Aung Hlaing visited Rakhine State in mid-September, Lt. Gen. Aung Kyaw Zaw and Western Commander welcomed him at the Sittwe airport and briefed him on the operations, further suggesting that Lt. Gen. Aung Kyaw Zaw played a critical role in coordinating the military’s actions.
Major General Maung Maung Soe, former Commander of Western Command
Western Command units carried out the massacre in Maung Nu; participated in other unlawful killings in at least several dozen other villages; raped and committed other sexual violence against women and girls; and burned villages across northern Rakhine State in a consistent, systematic way. Across Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung townships, they were also involved in tactics which starved many of the Rohingya who remained in their villages after the initial, acute violence, forcing them out of their villages and country.
Maj. Gen. Maung Maung Soe appears to have been in Rakhine State during these operations.
Brigadier General Khin Maung Soe, Commander of Military Operation Command (MOC) 15, a combat division under Western Command
MOC 15 is the main combat division based in northern Rakhine State, with its headquarters in Buthidaung Township. During the operations, Brig. Gen. Khin Maung Soe was based in Da Pyu Chaung village, just east of Buthidaung town. The 564th LIB, one of 10 battalions under his MOC 15 command, carried out the Maung Nu massacre on Aug. 27. Two other MOC 15 battalions, the 536th and 537th, carried out operations in Rathedaung and Maungdaw townships, where villages were burned and other Rohingya were unlawfully killed, according to Rohingya witnesses as well as villagers from other ethnic and religious communities where those units operated. The 552nd LIB, based in Thin Ga Net village tract, was likewise involved in operations in northern Buthidaung Township that caused the deportation of the Rohingya population, including through the systematic burning of villages.
Major Thant Zaw Win, 564th Light Infantry Battalion (LIB), commanded by MOC 15
Maj. Thant Zaw Win was separately described by five witnesses as the highest-ranking officer present for the Maung Nu massacre on Aug. 27, 2017. Prior to the massacre, he was seen speaking on the phone in the courtyard where the vast majority of murders occurred, then was heard giving an order to begin. Soldiers under his command then proceeded to carry out scores of extrajudicial executions of Rohingya men and boys, often in front of Rohingya women and girls who were being held in nearby houses. Maj. Thant Zaw Win had previously summoned to meetings Rohingya leaders from villages in and around Chin Tha Mar village tract and was known to witnesses and other Chin Tha Mar residents at the time of the massacre.
Staff Sergeant Ba Kyaw, 564th LIB
Staff Sergeant Ba Kyaw appears to have been one of several key perpetrators of the Maung Nu massacre on Aug. 27. He was well known to Rohingya living in the area, as he spoke the
Rohingya dialect and had often interacted with Rohingya leaders and villagers in Chin Tha Mar village tract. That background positioned him to play a determinative role in the massacre’s scale. Witnesses interviewed by Amnesty International consistently said they saw and heard Staff Sergeant Ba Kyaw force Rohingya to open their houses under threat of burning them down with people inside; arrest and shepherd people to the compound where the massacre occurred; force men out into the courtyard for extrajudicial execution; and then personally carry out some of the murders.
Brigadier General Aung Aung, Commander of the 33rd Light Infantry Division (LID)
Units under his command carried out the massacre, torture, and rape and other sexual violence in Chut Pyin on Aug. 27. They also carried out unlawful killings in Inn Din, Koe Tan Kauk, and Chein Kar Li, and burned Rohingya villages in Rathedaung Township and southern Maungdaw Township. The threats made by Maj. Aung Tho Myu to Rohingya leaders in Chut Pyin, as well as the systematic, consistent nature of the crimes in villages across northern Rakhine State where the 33rd LID operated, including extrajudicial executions and targeted burning, strongly suggest higher order and planning.
Major Aung Myo Thu, field unit commander under the 33rd LID
Maj. Aung Myo Thu was a field commander of either a battalion or company of the 33rd LID. He and his unit were based in Chut Pyin in late Aug. 2017. On Aug. 27, soldiers under his command, together with the Border Guard Police (BGP) and local vigilantes, murdered more than 200 Rohingya men, women, and children; raped and committed other sexual violence against Rohingya women; and burned down the Rohingya village. Maj. Aung Myo Thu appears to have been physically present in Chut Pyin when these crimes were committed. Around Aug. 20, Maj. Aung Myo Thu led a meeting in Chut Pyin with Rohingya leaders from surrounding villages.
Amnesty International interviewed seven people at the meeting, each of who described Maj. Aung Myo Thu as threatening the Rohingya with dire consequences if they failed to accept the National Verification Card (NVC) or if there was any ARSA-related activity. Following an ARSA attack in the village, soldiers under his command followed through on that threat.
Brigadier General Than Oo, Commander of the 99th LID during the material period
A unit under his command carried out the massacre, torture, and rape and other sexual violence in Min Gyi on Aug. 30. They burned other Rohingya villages in northern Maungdaw
Brigadier General Thura San Lwin, former Commander of the Border Guard Police
Brig. Gen. Thura San Lwin commanded the BGP from Oct. 2016 to Oct. 3, 2017, a period marked by two “clearance operations” in which BGP officers under his command committed murder; torture; rape and other sexual violence; imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty; and other inhumane acts, including forced starvation. They also carried out other actions that caused the deportation of the Rohingya population, including village burning.
Brig. Gen. Thura San Lwin was based in the BGP headquarters in Kyee Kan Pyin, in northern Maungdaw Township, a region where dozens of Rohingya villages were burned by security forces during the material period. In Oct. 2016, the New York Times reported that Rohingya from a village in Kyee Kan Pyin village tract were forced out of their homes, allegedly under order by Brig. Gen. Thura San Lwin and backed by threat of violence if they did not leave. He appears to have actively undermined investigations into his police officers’ involvement in crimes. In July 2017, he told Reuters that claims of burning and rape during the post-Oct. 2016 operations were “wrong information” and that the police had charged and jailed Rohingya villagers for bringing what Brig. Gen. Thura San Lwin said were false claims of abuse.
BGP Officer Tun Naing, Commanding officer of the BGP base in Taung Bazar
Torture survivors and other witnesses from villages in northern Buthidaung Township identified Tun Naing as directly involved in ordering and in perpetrating torture at the BGP base in Taung Bazar, which oversees at least seven BGP posts in northern Buthidaung Township. Five Rohingya survivors interviewed by Amnesty International identified Tun Naing as ordering and/or perpetrating their torture in the Taung Bazar BGP base in the months before the Aug. 25 attacks. In particular, they said that he severely beat them, burned at least one man’s beard, and, for some of them, ordered that they be waterboarded. In addition, a man who acted as an informant and interpreter for the BGP in northern Buthidaung Township told Amnesty that he had directly witnessed Tun Naing order and be physically present during the torture of Rohingya men in the Taung Bazar BGP base.
BGP Corporal Kyaw Chay
Survivors and other witnesses from Chut Pyin and surrounding villages consistently identified Cpl. Kyaw Chay as directly involved in crimes under international law. Nine Rohingya survivors of torture or other ill-treatment said that Kyaw Chay was among those who had tortured them or subjected them to other forms of ill treatment during their arrest and/or while they were detained at the Zay Di Pyin BGP base. In particular, Rohingya survivors implicated Kyaw Chay in severe beatings, in forcing them into stress positions, in hanging them from the ceiling, and in burning them—including burning of their genitalia. In addition, at least 11 Rohingya witnesses from Chut Pyin said that Cpl. Kyaw Chay was among the security forces who carried out the Aug. 27 attack during which Rohingya were murdered and raped, and the village was burned.