At least 40 more northern Rakhine villages burned since October, says HRW

Lawrence Kim
December 18, 2017

"The Burmese army's destruction of Rohingya villages within days of signing a refugee repatriation agreement with Bangladesh shows that commitments to safe returns were just a public relations stunt", Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams said on Monday.

The New York-based rights group said buildings were destroyed in 40 villages in northern Rakhine state in October and November, increasing the total to 354 villages that have been partially or completely destroyed since Aug 25. The UN rights chief has suggested the operation contains "elements of genocide".

Activists have called for a survey of Rohingya families in India to see if more people are trapped in similar situations and have demanded that India's laws against bonded labour be applied in these cases as well.

"The elements suggest you can not rule out the possibility that acts of genocide have been committed", he said, according to excerpts of his interview provided in advance by the BBC.

But HRW said it was hard to believe this could be carried out responsibly.

Myanmar has in the past blamed fires in villages on insurgents.

He told the BBC he feared extremist groups could form in the huge refugee camps in Bangladesh and even launch attacks in Myanmar, perhaps targeting Buddhist temples there. Myanmar is not a member of the International Criminal Court, so referral to that court could be done only by the U.N. Security Council.

Responding to worldwide pressure, Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government inked an agreement with Bangladesh in late November to start the repatriation of Rohingya refugees within two months.

The State Counsellor's office and Myanmar's armed forces have denied any wrongdoing, instead casting its operations in northern Rakhine as a legitimate counterinsurgency operation in the aftermath of attacks on security posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on August 25. The investigation laid blame for the arson attacks on ARSA militants.

In August, the Burmese military launched a military campaign ostensibly targeting Rohingya armed groups, but which the Rohingya people, rights groups, journalists, foreign states, and the United Nations have said is targeting ordinary civilians.

Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi may not be excluded from possible future proceedings, he said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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