Myanmar authorities made 'systematic preparations' for genocide against Rohingya: Report

BANGKOK: "They gave them long swords," said "Mohammed Rafiq".

The 25-year-old Rohingya (his real name is withheld for security reason) accused Myanmar authorities of handing out weapons to non-Rohingya civilians in Rakhine State to commit genocide against his long-oppressed community in the Southeast Asian country.

"I could see it. (The soldiers) handed (Rakhine civilians) swords. Even young Rakhine boys were given long swords and they were moving around with the swords hanging on their backs," he said in interviews with human rights organisation, Fortify Rights.

On Aug 30 last year, he witnessed a Myanmar Army-led massacre in Tula Toli (also known as Min Gyi) in Maungdaw township.

His account, contained in Fortify Rights' recently-released 160-pages report titled They Gave Them Long Swords: Preparations for Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity Against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.

In another interview, "Abdul Hussein" accused Myanmar soldiers of not only handing out weapons to Rakhine civilians but also trained them to use firearms.

"I could see (Myanmar soldiers) training them. They taught them how to fire guns," said the father of three who survived mass killings in Khun Thi Pyin village (Kuan Si Paun) also in Maungdaw township on Aug 29, 2017.

Fortify Rights' authored report was based on a 21-month-long investigation and included 254 interviews with various individuals in Myanmar and Bangladesh, like genocide survivors "Mohammed Rafiq" and "Abdul Hussein".

In the report, the human right organisation found Myanmar authorities had made "extensive and systematic preparations" for attacks against Rohingya civilians months before Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked police outposts in Maungdaw, Rathedaung and Buthidaung on Aug 25, 2017.

According to its chief executive officer Matthew Smiths, the report found there were reasonable grounds to believe that the crimes perpetrated by the Myanmar Army, Police and civilians against the Rohingya in all three townships in northern Rakhine constituted a genocide.

"Genocide doesn't happen spontaneously," he said when revealing contents of the report at Foreign Correspondent Club of Thailand (FCCT) here recently.

The report, among others, noted that between October 2016 and August 2017, Myanmar authorities systematically "disarmed" Rohingya civilians, confiscating household items that might be used as weapons or in self-defence and the arming of non-Rohingya civilians in northern Rakhine State.

The authorities said the report, also tore down fencing and other structures around Rohingya homes, suspended humanitarian aid and access to Rohingya, enforced a discriminatory Muslim-only curfew and built up an usually sizeable military presence.

These deliberate action according to Fortify Rights, fit within the United Nations' Framework for Analysis of Atrocity Crimes as "preparatory actions" for genocide and crimes against humanity.

"Impunity for these crimes will pave the path for many violations and attacks in the future. The world can't sit idly by and watch another genocide unfold, but right now, that's exactly what's happening," according to Smiths.

The report called on the United Nations Security Council to urgently refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.

Fortify Rights in the report also documented how soldiers, police and local non-Rohingya civilians hacked, slit throats and fatally shot and burned thousands of Rohingya men, women and children in a matter of weeks.

In the report, "Rashida", 50, said she watched Myanmar Army and "Lon Htein" (riot police) drag her two adult sons from her home in Kha Maung Seik (also known as Fora Bazaar) in Maungdaw on August 27 last year.

"I was watching the whole time. The soldiers made them lay down on the ground and then they cut their necks. We were shouting and crying," according to her interview in the report.

Fortify Rights also identified 22 military and police officials with command responsibility for the "clearance operations" in northern Rakhine State, including Commander-in-Chief Gen Min Aung Hlaing, his deputy Gen Soe Win and Joint Chief of Staff Gen Mya Tun Oo.

"These officials should be criminally investigated and potentially prosecuted for genocide and crimes against humanity," it said. — Bernama