Myanmar Rohingya attacks meant to make return "impossible"

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A Rohingya mother and her 10-month-old son at Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh, two of nearly 520,000 people to have fled Myanmar in recent weeks. Photo: UNHCR/Paula Bronstein

Attacks that forced more than half a million people to flee Myanmar's Rakhine state for Bangladesh were "well-organised" by security forces and designed to make returning home next to impossible, a UN probe said on Wednesday.

Compiled by the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), the report also indicates that the Myanmar military began "clearance operations" against Rohingya communities weeks before militants targeted state police posts in late August, which prompted reprisals and the current exodus.

Daniel Johnson has more.

The strategy of the Myanmar military's attacks against the minority Rohingya population – the UN report says – was to "instil deep and widespread fear and trauma – physical, emotional and psychological".

Supporting that assertion are dozens of testimonies of those who've found safety in Bangladesh; among them, one 60-year-old woman from Buthidaung township.

UN investigator Karin Friedrich told journalists in Geneva what the survivor had told her:

"The day of the big attack the Myanmar came and surrounded our house. They started screaming that we do not belong in Myanmar and that it's not our country. Then they started to shoot…Women were raped in front of our eyes, some were even young female children. Sometimes they were hurt by several men in uniform."

Ahead of the release of this report, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said that what was happening to Myanmar's one million strong Rohingya was "textbook … ethnic cleansing".

The victims' accounts explain what that means in practice: entire villages burned to the ground, men shot, animals slaughtered and harvests destroyed.

Even trees were uprooted and other memorable landmarks removed, the UN investigators say, to make it "almost impossible" for the Rohingya to return home and start again.

The UN investigators say it is not possible to estimate how many villages have been razed to the ground so far in northern Rakhine state, where there is "grave concern" for the safety of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya still there.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 1’31″

 

 

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