analysis of satellite imagery from Rakhine State shows the near total destruction of 214 villages, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.
The world leaders meeting at the United Nations should urgently adopt a General Assembly resolution condemning the Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing while the UN Security Council should impose targeted sanctions and an arms embargo, it said in a statement.
The rights body said the detailed satellite images, made possible due to a clearing of monsoon cloud on September 16, revealed the destruction from burning much greater than previously known.
They show the destruction of tens of thousands of homes across Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships, part of the Myanmar security forces’ campaign of ethnic cleansing that has forced over 400,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh.
“These images provide shocking evidence of massive destruction in an apparent attempt by Myanmar security forces to prevent the Rohingya from returning to their villages,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“World leaders meeting at the UN should act to end this mounting crisis and show Burma’s military leaders they will pay a price for such atrocities,” he said.
New maps of the damage show near-total destruction of the 214 villages seen in satellite imagery analysed by Human Rights Watch, with over 90 percent of the structures in each village damaged. The images corroborate accounts gathered by Human Right Watch from refugees who have described arson, killing, and looting by the Myanmar military, police, and ethnic Rakhine mobs.
The Myanmar military has rejected credible accounts of widespread abuses and said it is conducting operations against the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a militant group that attacked about 30 police posts and an army base on August 25, killing about a dozen members of the security forces.
The Myanmar military alleged that ARSA militants and Rohingya villagers have burned down their own homes but has provided no evidence to substantiate this claim. The scale, scope, and timing of the burnings, many of which occurred after hundreds of thousands of Rohingya had already fled, are inconsistent with this claim.
Myanmar army commander Sr Gen Min Aung Hlaing recently linked Rohingya demands to be recognised as an ethnic group under Burmese law with the army’s actions. Using “Bengali,” a Myanmar ethnic slur for Rohingya, he stated in a Facebook post that, “They have demanded recognition as Rohingya, which has never been an ethnic group in Myanmar. [The] Bengali issue is a national cause and we need to be united in establishing the truth.”
On September 15, the Burmese Government Information Committee stated that, “Those who fled the villages made their way to the other country for fear of being arrested as they got involved in the violent attacks” – implying that the hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children who fled to Burma were responsible for militant attacks against the government.
Ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar security forces in Burma’s Rakhine State have described killings, shelling, and arson in their villages that have all the hallmarks of a campaign of “ethnic cleansing.”