Myanmar’s army continues its relentless shelling and burning of homes and villages, resulting in the death and displacement of civilians, said a report released by Amnesty International on Wednesday.
The London-based human rights group said the coronavirus pandemic did not stop the 18-month conflict between Myanmar forces and the rebel Arakan Army (AA) in the western states of Rakhine and Chin.
In the new report, Amnesty International has documented circumstances where civilians have suffered indiscriminate air strikes, arbitrary detentions, and torture.
“While Myanmar authorities were urging people to stay at home to help stop COVID-19, in Rakhine and Chin states its military was burning down homes and killing civilians in indiscriminate attacks that amount to war crimes,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific regional director.
“The atrocities have not stopped — in fact, the Myanmar military’s cruelty is only getting more sophisticated,” Bequelin said.
In November 2019, the ICC authorized an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity perpetrated by Myanmar soldiers in Rakhine state against Rohingya Muslims in 2017 during a crackdown that left thousands dead and drove more than 740,000 others into neighbouring Bangladesh.
In January, the International Court of Justice, a sister court that settles disputes between nations, ordered Myanmar to protect the Rohingya from genocidal acts and refrain from destroying evidence of alleged crimes — a ruling in a case brought by the West African country of The Gambia.
Amnesty’s report is based on remote interviews in May and June with more than two dozen ethnic Rakhines and Chins affected by military operations, including air strikes and shelling.
The report presents new satellite imagery of burned down villages and verifies video footage of rights violations carried out by the Myanmar military.
It also calls attention to the Myanmar military’s arbitrary detention of civilians in northern Rakhine state on perceived connections with the AA, and the use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment during interrogations. RFA has previously reported numerous accounts of such mistreatment.
A yearlong internet service cut-off in the conflict zone, imposed to thwart AA communications, has left residents uninformed about COVID-19, the report said.
The fighting in northern Rakhine and in Paletwa township of adjacent Chin state has killed 266 civilians and injured 576 others between December 2018 and June 29 of this year, according to figures compiled by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Rights groups say as many as 200,000 people have been displaced by the fighting.
Responding to Amnesty’s report, Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said that the government army has acted transparently by issuing announcements whenever civilians are killed during the fighting and whenever it detains civilians for questioning.
“When we conduct military operations, we need to use appropriate force and air strikes, but we have been trying to identify those who are civilians and those who are insurgents,” he told RFA.
Amnesty said it was unable to document operations and abuses by the AA because of COVID-19 travel restrictions and limited access to conflict-affected areas and witnesses.
But the rights group added that reports suggest the AA has continued a pattern of abuses Amnesty previously documented — “endangering the lives of civilians during attacks, intimidation of local communities, and arbitrary deprivation of liberty.”
AA spokesman Khine Thukha said that his force’s soldiers had not committed any abuses against civilians amid the hostilities.
“If an AA member does something like this, then we are ready to conduct an inquiry and take action against him,” he said.
The Amnesty report came in the wake of an announcement by Britain on Monday that it was imposing immediate sanctions on two high-raking Myanmar military officers deemed responsible for “notorious” human rights abuses in recent years, freezing their assets and banning them from traveling to the UK.
Myanmar rights groups praised the UK’s decision to impose sanctions on the military top brass.
“We welcome the sanctions against the Myanmar generals, but it is not enough,” said Tun Khin, president of the London-based Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Monday that the move “will give the UK a powerful new economic tool to promote accountability for human rights abuse on a global scale.”
“The UK’s new powers will complement the efforts of the United States and Canada, further enhancing our ability to act together,” he said. (Source: RFA)