Amnesty blasts Myanmar military’s ‘utter disregard’ for civilians in Rakhine

Myanmar’s military has shown an “utter disregard” for civilians caught up in its conflict with the Arakan Army (AA), Amnesty International said on Monday.

Citing witness testimonies, satellite images, and videos obtained from within Rakhine state, the group said in a report it had found “new evidence of indiscriminate attacks on civilians.”

“The Myanmar military’s utter disregard for civilian suffering grows more shocking and brazen by the day,” said Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for campaigns. 

“The UN Security Council must urgently refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court,” she added.

In July the group released evidence of indiscriminate aerial bombings that killed dozens of people in Rakhine state and Paletwa township in neighboring Chin state. Since then, the group says, the situation has gotten worse.

Last month the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, told the Human Rights Council that civilians in Rakhine “appear to have been targeted or attacked indiscriminately” in what may amount to “war crimes or even crimes against humanity.” 

These abuses included “disappearances and extra-judicial killings of civilians; massive civilian displacement; arbitrary arrests, torture and deaths in custody; and the destruction of civilian property,” she said. “Civilian casualties have also been increasing.”

She added: “In some cases, they appear to have been targeted or attacked indiscriminately, which may constitute further war crimes or even crimes against humanity.”

According to figures released by a local civil society group cited in the Amnesty report, at least 289 civilians have been killed in Rakhine and Chin states since December 2018, while another 641 have been injured.

While these numbers could not be confirmed due to a shutdown of mobile internet access in the affected areas and restrictions on reporting by local media, information that has managed to trickle out paints a grim picture.

On September 8, a heavy-artillery attack on the village of Nyaung Kan in Myebon township left five people dead. One witness who lost both his wife and daughter in the attack said that the artillery fire appeared to come from somewhere far from the village. 

“I didn’t see [any soldiers]. The weapon came from very far. And when I tried to run by hugging my daughter’s body, there was more shooting,” said Maung Soe, whose name was changed in the Amnesty report to protect his identity.

In another incident, two Rakhine men were reportedly killed in custody and an entire village was razed after a police vehicle was hit by a bomb remotely detonated by the AA.

Using satellite images, eye-witness testimony, and video footage, the report details how the village of Hpa Yar Paung in Kyauktaw township was burned to the ground on the evening of September 3.

According to witness Kyaw Tin, Tatmadaw troops “started the arson attack around 9pm” after entering the village from two sides earlier in the day and arresting two men suspected of involvement in the bomb attack. The two men were later found dead near a river the next day.

The attack left 500 people homeless, adding to the nearly 90,000 that the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says have been displaced by the conflict since January 2019. Local groups say the real figure is likely much higher.

The report also details cases of rape and the use of “Rohingya children for forced portering in Buthidaung Township, in an area where clashes with the Arakan Army are ongoing.”

It also noted that the AA, like the Tatmadaw, has been planting landmines, resulting in an alarming number of casualties among civilians, including children.The AA has also been accused of abducting civilians.

Neither the Tatmadaw’s True News Team nor President’s Office spokesperson Zaw Htay answered calls seeking comment on Monday. 

The AA has admitted to using landmines but says it does so in a limited way that avoids harming civilians. 

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