Mass graves containing Rohingya villagers has been confirmed by the Associated Press News Agency.
Through interviews with over twenty survivors and relatives along with satellite pictures and verified video evidence gathered from mobile phone footage in the aftermath, AP has been able to uncover five mass graves previously unreported until now.
The attacks took place in the village of Gu Dar Pyin on August 27th 2017. An estimated 400 Rohingya were systematically killed and later buried by the Burmese military. The bodies only remained hidden until heavy rainfall hit the shallow graves. Survivors were then able to take videos of the graves.
Responding to the report, Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said it,
it raises the stakes for the international community to demand accountability from Myanmar. The AP’s report that (soldiers) brought along to Gu Dyar Pin village containers of acid to disfigure the bodies and make identification more difficult is particularly damning because it shows a degree of pre-planning of these atrocities.
The HRW chief also calls for an arms embargo on Myanmar led by the UN along with both the EU and US, ‘identifying and leveling targeted sanctions against the Burmese military commanders and soldiers responsible for these rights crimes.’
Videos given to AP by the survivors show that acid had been used on the bodies in an attempt to cover up the attacks and make identification difficult. One survivor said he found six of his friends among the bodies but they’d been so disfigured he only recognised them from the colour of their shorts.
With the help of refugees from Gu Dar Pyin village in the Bangladesh camps, AP was able to confirm the locations of the mass graves and estimate the number of dead. Interviewees identified three mass graves in the north of Gu Dar Pyin village along with two near a military garrison. They recall the attack starting around noon when over 200 soldiers entered the village attacking the Rohingya. Those unable to escape were herded to the graves, shot, then doused in acid and buried.
Aiding the soldiers were Buddhist villagers who went over the bodies, cutting the throats of injured Rohingya and throwing young children and elderly into fires. It’s argued that AP’s evidence further the claims of genocide committed against the Rohingya. UN Special envoy on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee said that the actions show ‘the hallmarks of a genocide’, but, she refused to declare this genocide until evidence had been gathered by an international tribunal.
This is not the first time that mass graves containing bodies of killed Rohingya have been identified. Last year the Myanmar military publicly admitted killing ten Rohingya ‘fighters’ that were found in a grave in the village of Inn Din. The killings which took place in early September had been denied by the Myanmar military and only acknowledged in December 2017. Myanmar’s commander in chief, Min Aung Hlaing said that confessions were made by soldiers and villagers involved in the killing, but that those who died were terrorists. Accounts from the military say that ‘200 Bengali terrorists’ had attacked them and ten were captured. With no means to take them to the police station, they were killed and buried.
Days following the killing in Gu Dar Pyin, survivors spoke of returning to find what remained of their loved ones. One, a farmer named Mohammed said that,
There were so many bodies in so many different places. They couldn’t hide all the death.
The Myanmar government’s information committee responded the following day saying that 17 of their government officials and Border Guard police visited the village to investigate the claims. In their statement, they conclude that ‘no such things happened’ and that ‘AP’s report is wrong.’
They went on to say that during their ‘clearance operations’, Myanmar security forces were attacked by up to 500 Rohingya ‘terrorists’. The soldiers opened fire in self-defence killing 19 of them. The government statement concludes by affirming that,
The Myanmar government will not deny any human rights violations and will investigate if there is strong evidence. And if there are human rights violations after an investigation, prosecutors will take actions according to the law.
AP has responded to the Myanmar Government’s claims with spokesperson Lauren Easton saying that, ‘AP stands by its reporting,’
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(More Rohingya mass graves found in Myanmar, lending weight to genocide claims; CBC; http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/rohingya-mass-graves-myanmar-rakhine-state-1.4513752)
(AP finds evidence for graves, Rohingya massacre in Myanmar; ABC News; http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/ap-confirms-previously-unreported-myanmar-mass-graves-52754974)
(Beyond comprehension’: Myanmar admits killing Rohingya; Al Jazeera; http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/01/rohingya-crisis-myanmar-military-admits-killings-180111102253768.html)
(Myanmar government denies AP report of Rohingya mass graves; Associated Press; https://www.ap.org/ap-in-the-news/2018/myanmar-government-denies-ap-report-of-rohingya-mass-graves)