UN: Attacks in Myanmar's Rakhine state could be 'war crimes'

The UN has said it has "credible reports" of recent Rohingya civilian deaths and abductions at the hands of Myanmar's military in the state of Rakhine. The UN said the attacks "may constitute war crimes."

The United Nations human rights agency on Friday condemned recent fighting between Myanmar's army and guerrillas of the Rakhine insurgent group known as the Arakan Army.

Conflicts | 13.01.2017

The spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, said the agency had "credible reports of the killing of civilians, burning of houses, arbitrary arrests, abductions, indiscriminate fire in civilian areas and damage to cultural property."

"We are deeply disturbed by the intensification of the conflict in Rakhine state in recent weeks," Shamdasani told a press conference in Geneva. "The Myanmar military is again carrying out attacks against its own civilians — attacks which may constitute war crimes."

Read more: Rohingya conflict: What constitutes genocide?

Human Rights | 19.09.2018
Now live
01:56 mins.
DW News | 15.11.2018

Concerns for safety of Rohingya returning to Myanmar

Deadly aerial attack

Shamdasani said 4,000 Rohingya had fled villages to the north of the port town of Sittwe in the last week of March.

On April 3, military helicopters flew over one village in this area and opened fire on farmers in their fields, killing at least seven civilians and injuring 18, she added.

Shamdasani also said the civilian victims included Buddhist Rakhines and Rohingya Muslims as well as other ethnicities.

Myanmar's military announced Friday that the aerial attack killed six Rohingya Muslims and wounded several others and that those killed and injured were affiliated with an armed rebel group.

Read more: Rohingya people in Myanmar: What you need to know

Rohingya children: Raped, kidnapped, orphaned

Shot and stabbed

Since August, more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh. "The day the military came, they burnt down the village and shot my mother as she was trying to escape. My father couldn’t walk, so they stabbed him. I saw this with my own eyes," says 10-year-old Mohammed Belal who managed to run away from his village.

Rohingya children: Raped, kidnapped, orphaned

Haunted by the trauma

Mohammed’s sister Nur also watched the slaughter. She and her brother now live in a shelter for unaccompanied children in Bangladesh. She can play there and gets regular meals, a stark contrast to her journey from Myanmar where she and her brother nearly starved. But she is still haunted by the trauma of the recent weeks. "I miss my parents, my home, my country," she says.

Rohingya children: Raped, kidnapped, orphaned

Deep-rooted conflict

The conflict, which has been going on for 70 years and is rooted in the post-World War II social organization of the country, has claimed more than 2,000 victims since 2016, including the mother of 12-year-old Rahman, above. "They set fire to my home, and my mother was ill, so she could not leave," he says.

Rohingya children: Raped, kidnapped, orphaned

Save the children

Dilu-Aara, 5, came to the camp with her sister Rojina after she witnessed her parents being murdered by the military. "I was crying all the time and the bullets were flying over our heads. I escaped somehow." The international aid agency Save the Children is helping minors who come to Kutupalong without parents. Children make up to 60 percent of all Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Rohingya children: Raped, kidnapped, orphaned

Hunted like animals

Jaded Alam is among the hundreds of kids who came to Kutupalong without parents. Fortunately, his aunt cares for him — and very well, he admits. Jaded grew up in a village called Mandi Para where he used to love playing football, but everything changed when the military attacked. "They told us to leave our home. When I was running with my parents, they shot them. They died on the spot," he says.

Rohingya children: Raped, kidnapped, orphaned

Child abductions

Not all families have been separated during their plight, however. Rahman Ali has been scouring the refugee camp for weeks now after his 10-year-old son Zifad disappeared. Rumors of child abductions have swirled around the camp for years, and Rahman fears his son has fallen prey to human traffickers. "I can't eat, I can’t sleep. I’m so upset! It’s like I’ve gone mad."

Rohingya children: Raped, kidnapped, orphaned

"My mind is not normal"

When the shooting started, Sokina Khatun did all she could to protect her children — but she couldn't save Yasmine,15, and Jamalita, 20, who were in a neighboring village at the time. "Their throats were cut in front of their grandparents," she says. "I was numb, I couldn’t feel the pain. Right now my mind is not normal," she says. She managed to rescue nine of her offspring.

Rohingya children: Raped, kidnapped, orphaned

Attacked, raped and robbed

Yasmine thinks she might be 15 but looks considerably younger. In her village, she used to play with marbles and run in the nearby fields, but different memories haunt her now: The attack by Myanmar forces, the beating and murder of her beloved father and brothers, and the rape by a group of Burmese soldiers who also robbed her. "I felt lots of pain in my body," she says.

Recent fighting displaces 20,000

In 2016, the Myanmar army launched a brutal crackdown on the Muslim minority Rohingya in Rakhine state, driving about 730,000 ethnic Rohingya across the border into neighboring Bangladesh. The army operation followed attacks by Rohingya insurgents on police posts.

Shamdasani said recent fighting in Rakhine state had led to the displacement of more than 20,000 civilians.

Read more: Myanmar's Rohingya: A history of forced exoduses

"The impact of the violence on civilians in northern Rakhine has been exacerbated by the government's near-suspension of humanitarian access since January 2019," she said.

The UN has previously accused the army of "genocidal intent" in its crackdown on the Muslim minority.

law/tj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.