On October 12, Monday, international human rights groups, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, claimed to have gained conclusive evidence about indiscriminate attacks against civilians inside Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The groups have collected testimonies, visual evidence, and analysis of satellite imagery to prove that violence against the persecuted Rohingya community has continued. In the last week, as many as nine Rohingyas lost their lives in separate incidents in Myanmar and Bangladesh, where thousands of Rohingya refugees now live in camps.
On October 6, two minors belonging to the community were killed during a gunfight between the militant group Arakan Army and the Myanmar military (Tatmadaw), northeast of the Pyin Shae village in Rakhine State. According to locals, clashes erupted hours after 15 civilians from the Buthidaung township were conscripted by Tatmadaw to be used as human shields in a terrain believed to be mined by militants. Military spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun categorically denied that the soldiers had fired upon civilians. He blamed the Arakan Army for the casualties, adding that the soldiers had reached the area to investigate, only after hearing the artillery blasts.
A day earlier, on October 5, three Rohingya laborers were allegedly gunned down by patrolling soldiers near a bridge in Minbya township in Rakhine State. The civilians have been identified as Nu Mahmad (40), Noru Salam (50) and Mar Dawlar (45). All three belonged to Latma village and were moving in a boat towards the town market. A statement issued by the military claimed that the civilians were in violation of the curfew-restrictions imposed in the area since April 2019. They were ordered by the soldiers to stop, who fired warning shots in the air. As per the military, their vessel continued to move after which they were fired upon.
Violence against the minority Rohingyas has persisted in Myanmar despite demands to the state authorities to ensure their safety. In its 183-page report titled “An Open Prison Without End”, Human Rights Watch noted that around 130,000 Rohingyas living in different camps in Rakhine State are “denied freedom of movement, dignity, and access to employment and education, without adequate provision of food, water, health care, or sanitation.” After conducting 30 interviews, the rights group concluded in its detailed report that Rohingyas continue to live in squalid and abusive conditions, “beyond the dignity of any people.”
Nearly 600,000 Rohingyas living in Rakhine State were found to be “at risk of further crimes and urgently need protection.” Since 2018, as many as 300 civilians have lost their lives in the State, and over 650 have been injured.
The report also highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed “the extreme vulnerability in which Rohingya live.” According to the report, “Rohingyas face threats from overcrowding, aid blockages, and movement restrictions that increase the risk of transmission, as well as harassment, extortion, and hate speech from authorities.”
Casualties of refugee camps
On October 6, at least four Rohingya refugees were killed and 20 others wounded after two armed groups clashed with each other in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar. Half a dozen houses were burnt in the fighting between the two rival factions in the Kutupalong camp in Ukhiya, the largest refugee camp in the world. The Rapid Action Battalion of the Bangladeshi government forces later told the media that they have “arrested nine Rohingya armed miscreants from different camps” and “recovered four locally made guns and bullets.”
Around 750,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar fearing persecution by the military headed by General Aung Hlaing. As per Amnesty International, nearly one million Rohingya refugees currently live in threadbare camps in Cox’s Bazar, located in southeastern Bangladesh and sharing a border with Myanmar. Ukhiya and Teknaf are the two areas of Cox’s Bazar where currently almost 34 refugee camps are spread over around 6,800 acres of land.
Bangladeshi officials have repeatedly accused the Rohingya refugees of being involved in “drug dealing, human trafficking and robbery,” allegations denied by the Rohingya leaders and activists, who have instead blamed the Sheikh Hasina-led Bangladeshi government of structural violence and blatant discrimination.
Amnesty, in a 27-page-report, revealed that despite four decades of persecution, the ordeal of the Rohingyas is far from over, with the pandemic only adding to their distress. The World Health Organization recently said that nearly 20% of Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh are struggling with mental health issues.