Report accuses Myanmar military of ongoing war crimes in Rakhine State

Myanmar Army top officials Major General Tun Tun Nyi (L), Major General Soe Naing Oo (C) and  Major General Zaw Min Tun (R) attend a rare military press conference at the Defence Service Museum in capital Naypyidaw on January 18, 2019. (Photo by Thet AUNG / AFP)
Myanmar Army top officials Major General Tun Tun Nyi (L), Major General Soe Naing Oo (C) and Major General Zaw Min Tun (R) attend a rare military press conference at the Defence Service Museum in capital Naypyidaw on January 18, 2019. (Photo by Thet AUNG / AFP)

Since receiving orders to “crush” the Arakan Army (AA) in the wake of the armed group’s January attack on four police outposts, Myanmar’s military has been engaged in systematic, ongoing human rights abuses in northern Rakhine State, a new report from Amnesty International alleges.

Released this morning, “No one can protect us: War crimes and abuses in Myanmar’s Rakhine State” argues that the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, has indiscriminately injured and killed civilians, while looting and confiscating private property such as livestock, food, and gold.

“Impunity reigns supreme in Myanmar. Unless there is genuine accountability, these abuses will continue. Moreover, the call for justice is also about being preventative because the Tatmadaw’s campaigns are ongoing,” Myanmar researcher for Amnesty International Laura Haigh told Coconuts Yangon in an interview today.

In an effort to prevent public knowledge of their ongoing rights abuses, the military has effectively barred international journalists and researchers from conflict areas and taken an increasingly intolerant stance against conflict reporting by filing criminal complaints against local journalists. The military has also restricted humanitarian access to civilian areas, further worsening the ongoing shortage of food, medicine, and medical aid, according to interviews conducted with 81 individuals in the affected areas. 

In one instance, Kyaw Kyaw Naing, a 35-year-old ethnic Rakhine man, ran back to his home on Jan. 26 after hearing explosions and gunshots, only to find his 7-year-old son, Maung Naing Soe, unconscious and bleeding from his head.

After waiting 20 minutes for a military doctor to arrive, the doctor told him that his son needed to be hospitalized, something that required permission from their captain. After several hours of waiting, they finally received the permission to transport the boy to Yangon.

On their way to the former capital, the boy succumbed to his head injury.

Shortly after, Kyaw Naing said he was summoned to his township office in Rathedaung township, where he was given 150,000 kyats ($100) in compensation by the military. Although he took the money, he returned it the next day.

“I don’t want to use [the] money I received for losing my son’s life,” he told researchers.

The actions of the past few months serve to show just how little impact widespread international condemnation has had on the Myanmar military and Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD government since the August 2017 initiation of brutal operations in Rakhine that created a flood of refugees into neighboring Bangladesh.

“These new violations bring into sharp focus the consequences of impunity for the Myanmar military, which stands accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. To date, there has been no meaningful accountability for military atrocities against the Rohingya population in Rakhine State, or ethnic minority civilians in Kachin and Shan States in northern Myanmar,” the report states.

This conclusion is further highlighted by the fact that the 22nd and 55th Light Infantry Divisions (LIDs), two of the same LIDs that were implicated in the August 2016 brutal military campaign against the Rohingya minorities, are currently continuing to operate in Northern Rakhine.

And nothing about the military’s current demeanor suggests that will change anytime soon, according to Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia.

“The new operations in Rakhine State show an unrepentant, unreformed and unaccountable military terrorizing civilians and committing widespread violations as a deliberate tactic,” he said in a statement accompanying the report’s release.

That impunity was underscored by this week’s revelation that seven soldiers sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for their involvement in the September 2017 military massacre of 10 Rohingya boys and men were quietly released after spending less than a year behind bars.

Calls to both government spokesperson Zaw Htay and military spokesperson Brigadier General  Zaw Min Tun have not been returned.

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