Scores of Rohingya Refugees Victimized by Extrajudicial Killings in Bangladesh, Amnesty Alleges

A global human rights group has claimed that more than 100 Rohingya refugees were victims of extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh since 2017, but a senior government official told BenarNews that all Rohingya slain in “crossfire” incidents were drug traffickers. A statement issued Tuesday by Amnesty International gave the tally of slain Rohingya refugees, citing information from a local human rights group. Neither organization responded to BenarNews requests for more information about these claims. However, a police superintendent in Cox’s Bazar gave BenarNews an even higher figure of 104 Rohingya killed by security forces since May 4, 2018. The southeastern district is where about a million Rohingya Muslims are sheltering in refugee camps after more than 740,000 people fled violence against members of the stateless minority group in neighboring Myanmar three years ago. “More than 100 Rohingya refugees were victims of alleged extrajudicial executions between August 2017 and July 2020, according to Bangladeshi human rights organization Odhikar,” the London-based rights watchdog said in a statement on Tuesday, in which it called for a full and thorough investigation of the allegations. “Yet none of these cases have been investigated and no suspected perpetrators have been brought to justice.” Bangladesh officials continue to state that extra-judicial killings do not take place in their country while asserting that suspected criminals are shot dead by security forces during exchanges of gunfire, or “crossfire.” “None of the Rohingya killed in the crossfire with the border guards and law enforcement agencies were the victims of extrajudicial killings. They were armed narcotics smugglers coming from the Myanmar side of the border,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, when asked about Amnesty International’s allegations. “The duty of our border guards is to foil infiltration into Bangladesh from the other side of the border. Our border guards come under fire from the ‘yaba’ [narcotic] pill smugglers when they attempt to stop intrusions, and when the guards retaliate with fire some smugglers are killed,” he said. Similar incidents take place when law enforcement officials conduct anti-narcotics drives, Khan said. “Again, our law enforcers came under fire from the Rohingya drug peddlers and smugglers. During the exchange of fire, drug peddlers are killed. Our forces have the right to fire in self-defense,” the home minister said, adding, “We investigate all incidents of crossfire. Departmental action follows if law enforcers are found to have violated the law.” Higher Death Tally Meanwhile, police in Cox’s Bazar said 104 Rohingya were killed in alleged crossfire incidents between March 4, 2018 and July 31, 2020. By comparison, Amnesty International’s statement had a similar tally but over a longer period. Here, too, the Rohingya deaths were due to gunfights or conflicts within the refugee community, said Iqbal Hossain, an additional superintendent of police in Cox’s Bazar district. “Those who were killed in gunfights had been involved robbery, criminal activities, and smuggling of ‘yaba’ pills. There were several cases of robbery, criminal activities, and drug smuggling against all of the slain Rohingya,” Hossain told BenarNews. “Many Rohingya also died in the internecine conflicts among different Rohingya criminal groups.” Hossain also referred to a 2019 incident, which led to the deaths of five Rohingya refugees. Violence broke out in Cox’s Bazar on Aug. 22, 2019, when gunmen, suspected to be Rohingya, gunned down a youth wing official of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party. The killing of Omar Faruk triggered protests the next day, with participants blocking highways and vandalizing shops and houses inside a Rohingya camp, local media reported at the time. In follow-up operations, five refugees were killed, at least two of them by police who described them as suspects in Faruk’s killing. “The Rohingya robbers whisked away Jubu League leader Omar Faruk and killed him,” Hossain said. ‘They killed my son’ Some relatives of Rohingya refugees who were allegedly killed by Bangladeshi authorities claimed that their loved ones were not involved in criminal activities. Md. Shafi, a Rohingya refugee living at the Leda camp in Teknaf, a sub-district of Cox’s Bazar, said police killed his 28-year-old son, Rashid Ullah, in July. “The police took away my innocent son from a shop. Then they killed my son saying he’s an armed thief,” Shafi told BenarNews. “The police put me in jail too for 40 days.” Amnesty International said in its Tuesday statement that it had spoken to family members of five Rohingya refugees who were victims of alleged extrajudicial executions in Cox’s Bazar. “Every incident has a strikingly similar narrative where the victims were killed during a ‘gunfight’ with members of law enforcement agencies who claimed that they only opened fire in retaliation,” Amnesty said. “Three of the five Rohingya men were reportedly picked up from their homes by the police and were then found dead, said their family members.” Nur Khan, a former executive director of rights group Ain-O-Shalish Kendra, a local human rights group, said all the incidents of crossfire were “actually extrajudicial killings.” “Maybe some Rohingya were involved in drug peddling and smuggling. But this does not justify their extrajudicial killings. They can be tried. We have a judicial system in place.” Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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Myanmar Denies Destroying Rohingya Expulsion Evidence From 2017

Myanmar on Tuesday rejected concerns raised by the top U.N. human rights official about recent government actions in Rakhine state, saying there had been no effort to destroy evidence of the military campaign that drove 740,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh in 2017. Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday that Myanmar had made little progress in investigating and achieving accountability for the “terrible human rights crisis” created three years ago by military operations in Rakhine. “The situation of many hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees and internally displaced people remains unresolved,” she said. Bachelet had presented a report to the Council that detailed “conduct which may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Bachelet pointed out reports that government administrators have reclassified areas in Rakhine state where Rohingyas once lived, removing the village names from maps — raising concern that evidence from the 2017 military operations is being destroyed. “This should end immediately, and the prior situation should be restored,” she said, warning that the policy “could prevent Rohingyas from returning to their homes.” “I am also concerned that they risk destroying evidence relevant to determining legal responsibility for acts committed during military operations both before and after 2017,” said Bachelet. Chan Aye, director general of the International Organizations and Economic Department at Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, rejected the allegations Tuesday. “Even if there have been crimes committed, those who changed the village names and built new structures did not do it intentionally as they have been accused of doing,” he said. “They didn’t intend to destroy the evidence and prevent them [the Rohingya] from returning.” The report Bachelet presented to the Council on Monday cast doubt about Myanmar’s pledges to hold military personnel accountable for their actions in Rakhine, noting that there has been little movement beyond the sentencing of a few soldiers and officers found guilty of atrocities during courts-martial. While a U.N.-backed Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Myanmar found signs of genocidal intent in the 2017 mass expulsions, Myanmar’s domestic Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) said that war crimes and serious human rights violations had occurred in Rakhine but did not have genocidal intent. “The available findings of the national commission either deny or reject responsibility, calling into question both the willingness of authorities to ensure genuine accountability and the independence of the national commission,” the latest UN report said. Military tribunal Following the announcement of a court-martial for some 2017 killings in Rakhine, Myanmar military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said Monday that investigations are being conducted in line with recommendations from the ICOE report, produced by the panel the Myanmar government set up in 2017. “We are now releasing this statement to announce which organization is doing what kinds of investigations following our announcement in July,” he said. “I cannot give any details on how far the investigation has progressed,” he added. “We are trying to hold a trial before a military tribunal before the end of 2020.” The military issued a statement in the military-run Myawady Daily newspaper on Monday that the findings of a court of inquiry it set up in July will result in a court-martial, expected to be begin before the end of the year. A court headed by led by Major General Myat Kyaw examined alleged violations against the Rohingya in Chut Pyin and Maung Nu villages in Rakhine’s Maungdaw township during the crackdown in 2017. The ICOE’s report issued in January cited killings that had taken place in the two villages, where about 300 civilians are believed to have died at the hands of soldiers during “clearance operations.” The Office of the Judge Advocate General now will investigate “possible wider patterns of violations” in northern Rakhine in 2016-2017 based on the findings in the ICOE’s report, the statement in Myawady Daily said. Allegations regarding Taung Bazar village in neighboring Buthidaung township are included in the scope of the Maung Nu investigation, it said The military expects to hold the court-martial before the end of the year. Two Myanmar Army deserters confessed to killing Rohingya women, men, and children, and committing rape in Taung Bazar village and surrounding communities in September 2017, according to a statement issued by Fortify Rights last week. The two soldiers’ confessions had been recorded by the rebel Arakan Army and obtained by Fortify Rights. ‘No one will say anything’ Maungdaw township residents said no one has been summoned for questioning by the military yet, but if they are, it would be difficult for them to testify about what happened in the communities. “Even if they asked the civilians here to come for interrogations, no one would dare say anything against the government. They all fear it,” said one local who declined to be identified out of fear for his safety. “No one will say anything that will upset the government,” he added. Other residents indicated that they would feel comfortable speaking freely only if an independent investigative commission led by international organizations probed the allegations. “The investigations need to gain the trust of the people and credibility from the international community,” said Nickey Diamond, an activist with Fortify Rights. “If the military is conducting the investigation exclusively, it will not have international credibility,” he said. “It needs to work with independent human rights groups and domestic and international media to gain credibility.” Nandar Hla Myint, a spokesman for the opposition Union Solidarity and Development (USDP) said the government is handling the Rohingya issue the wrong way and that it should not bow to international pressure. “We need to tell the truth to the world about what’s happening on the ground,” he said. “We have to tell them firmly. We should not be weak on an issue like this.” Reported by Waiyan Moe Myint and Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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UN Human Rights Chief Sees Possible War Crimes in Myanmar Army Actions in Rakhine

The U.N. human rights chief on Monday said the Myanmar military’s brutal tactics in its 21-month-long war in Rakhine state were producing possible war crimes, and said Naypyidaw had made no progress in resolving an earlier crisis sparked by the army’s expulsion of Rohingya Muslims. Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that hostilities since between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) had led to disappearances, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, deaths in custody, and the destruction of property. “Civilian casualties have also been increasing,” she said. “In some cases, they appear to have been targeted or attacked indiscriminately, which may constitute further war crimes or even crimes against humanity.” Bachelet made the comments as she presented a report to the 47-member Council that provided detailed accounts of military actions in Rakhine state — “conduct which may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] in Chin and Rakhine states,” she said. “Tatmadaw units have undertaken widespread arbitrary arrests and detention of civilians. Use of torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment against detainees has also been alleged,” said the report, using the Burmese name for the powerful military. Following Bachelet’s statement, Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s permanent representative to the U.N., said in prerecorded remarks that the Rakhine issue is “complex and delicate” and that the government has placed priority on finding a sustainable solution to it. He went on to say that “terrorist attacks” in Rakhine were to blame for the current humanitarian crisis there, which has been complicated by fighting between the government army and the AA. Kyaw Moe Tun also said that Myanmar is willing and able to address the issue of accountability” and that the government has been taking necessary action based on the recommendations of the Myanmar government-appointed  Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) set up to probe the military-led crackdown on the Rohingya in 2017. The ICOE said it its final report, which it submitted to Myanmar President Win Myint, that war crimes and serious human rights violations had occurred in Rakhine but did not have “genocidal intent.” Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar's permanent ambassador to the United Nations, address the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in prerecorded remarks, Sept. 14, 2020. Credit: UN Web TV screenshot ‘A terrible human rights crisis’ The new U.N. report noted that since last year “a significant increase in incidents of airstrikes by fighter jets, and helicopter and heavy artillery attacks, and in ground battles in more densely populated civilian areas.” “For the most part, however, it appears that the Arakan Army was not active or present in the areas where these attacks took place and no armed clashes were reported to have been ongoing at that time,” it said. “The destruction of villages and civilian homes has caused suffering for civilians. Directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law,” said the report, a follow-on to the U.N.-backed Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Myanmar, set up after the 2017 military campaign expelled Rohingya to Bangladesh. Myanmar has made limited progress on the FFM’s recommendations to conduct independent and impartial investigations and to hold perpetrators accountable for human rights crimes committed not only in Rakhine but also in other parts of the country, Bachelet said. “Three years have passed since the military operations in Rakhine created a terrible human rights crisis,” she said. “The situation of many hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees and internally displaced people remains unresolved.” A September 2019 report by a U.N.-backed Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Myanmar found signs of genocidal intent in the 2017 crackdown and presented critical evidence that government security forces committed atrocities and serious crimes under international law. The FFM report also found that the state was responsible for other violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Though the Council and the U.N. General Assembly have called for accountability, “no concrete measures have been taken,” Bachelet said. National initiatives, including secretive and selective courts-martial and the national Commission of Enquiry, have been inadequate and fallen short of international standards,” she said. A number of satellite images and eyewitness accounts indicate that areas in northern Rakhine have been burned in recent months, she said, while noting that the Myanmar government has contested the reports. “This only underscores the need for independent, on-the-ground investigation,” added Bachelet. Lack of accountability processes In the meantime, government administrators have reclassified areas where Rohingya villages once stood, removing the communities’ names from maps and potentially altering how the land may be used, Bachelet said. She expressed concern that evidence relevant to determining legal responsibility for acts committed during military operations in Rohingya communities before and after 2017 may be destroyed. The report cast doubt about Myanmar’s pledges to hold military personnel accountable. “So far, the steps taken through its national commission and military justice processes appear to have been insufficient and to have replicated past patterns of delaying effective accountability processes and maintaining impunity,” it said. “The available findings of the national commission either deny or reject responsibility, calling into question both the willingness of authorities to ensure genuine accountability and the independence of the national commission,” the report said.

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Bangladesh Protests Movement of Myanmar Troops Near its Border

Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Myanmar’s ambassador to protest unusual troop movements near its southeastern borders, where refugee camps house close to 1 million Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar, authorities said Monday. Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and foreign ministry officials said authorities in the region had noted unusual numbers of Myanmar security forces since early Friday, at several points near the border, including in civilian ships. “Large ships can be seen in Myanmar waters. Law enforcers are on high alert in this island,” Nur Ahmed, chairman of St. Martin’s Union Council, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, by telephone. St. Martin’s island in the Bay of Bengal is a top tourist attraction in the Cox’s Bazar region. The unusual troop movements without any prior notice have caused Bangladesh border guards to go on alert. “We have confirmed that there was suspicious movement and presence of Myanmar troops in their area,” Lt Col. Ali Haider Azad Ahmed, commander of the BGB unit in Cox’s Bazar, told BenarNews. “So we have intensified all activities including patrolling. Everyone has been kept on alert at the border. If anything happens, including new infiltrations, it will be prevented,” he said. A Bangladesh foreign ministry official, meanwhile, reached out to his Myanmar counterpart. “We called in the Myanmar envoy and expressed our concerns. He was asked to convey our message to the appropriate authorities,” Md Delwar Hossain, director-general of the Myanmar cell at Bangladesh’s foreign ministry, told BenarNews. Increased traffic at the border A Rohingya camp leader in Teknaf district – the southernmost tip of Bangladesh, which lies across the Naf River from Myanmar’s Rakhine state – told BenarNews that camp residents noticed Myanmar troops setting up seven or eight tents. “There has been an increase in traffic at the border for two days. It could not be confirmed whether they were police or army members, but the residents of the Rohingya camp are afraid of this,” Mohammad Nur, a camp leader, told BenarNews, In southeastern Bangladesh, refugee camps house about 1 million Rohingya, including more than 740,000 who fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine state amid a brutal military crackdown that began on Aug. 25, 2017, in the wake of attacks by Rohingya insurgents on police outposts that killed 9. Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s state minister for foreign affairs, told the BBC on Monday that Myanmar officials had not informed their Bangladesh counterparts about the troop mobilizations, despite an agreement to do so. “[T]he Myanmar army has increased the number of troops in several places near the border with Bangladesh using civilian boats,” he told the British media. “Whatever happens in these cases, there is a rule for neighboring states to notify the other side if they take action against any internal insurgency. “But they did it without informing us. That’s why we informed the embassy here.” A professor at Jahangirnagar University in Dhaka said the troop movements could be part of an effort to keep Rohingya out of Myanmar. “Myanmar has been trying to totally eradicate the Rohingya from Rakhine state from the beginning. The new army deployment may be a part of that effort,” Dr. Tareque Shamsur Rehman told BenarNews. “They are adamant they will not take back the Rohingya despite directives of the International Court of Justice and the pressure from the United Nations. They will continue to do so, as long as the Western world does not impose economic sanctions on Myanmar,” he said. Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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Indonesia Urged to Ensure Adequate Aid to Rohingya After Three Die

Indonesia should ensure that nearly 300 Rohingya migrants who landed in Aceh province this week are given adequate health care and aid, Amnesty International said Friday, as officials announced three of the new arrivals had died after suffering lung infections. The officials confirmed two women and a man had died in the town of Lhokseumawe since local fishermen helped them come ashore on Monday. “The government must move more quickly to ensure that the refugees’ health care needs are met,” Usman Hamid, Amnesty International director in Indonesia, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. Usman said his group sent a letter to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo urging him to provide more support to the local government to make sure that the minority Muslim refugees’ basic needs are met in line with international human rights standards. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi this week said the government would ensure that the Rohingya arrivals got the help they need including health care while their status as refugees was being verified by the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR. Achsanul Habib, director of human rights and humanitarian affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the local government was caring for the Rohingya. “As far as I know, everything is being handled by the task force in Lhokseumawe,” Achsanul told BenarNews. Early Friday, Senuwara Begum, 19, died while being treated for a lung infection at the state-run hospital in the town of Lhokseumawe, said Marzuki, spokesman for a local task force tasked with aiding the refugees. Two other Rohingya – aged 22 and 21 – died on Tuesday and Thursday after suffering from similar complaints, officials said. Rapid COVID-19 tests for the 181 women, 102 men, and 14 children who arrived on Monday were all negative, Marzuki said, adding that a swab sample had been taken from the woman who died Friday in order to perform a more accurate test. The Rohingya group was the largest to arrive in Indonesia since 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Call for leadership Meanwhile, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), a Jakarta-based think tank, issued a report on the Rohingya in Aceh calling on Jokowi to show leadership by revising a presidential decree on refugees. The report filed on Wednesday called on the administration to take some of the financial burden off local governments and provide more active support. “The Acehnese have been wonderfully supportive of the refugees, but this is a problem that can’t be solved by a sympathetic local community," IPAC researcher Deka Anwar said in a news release issued with the report. “We need a collective regional response, with less focus on repatriation when repatriation is not a viable alternative, more willingness to work out regional resettlement options and more prosecutions of anyone found to be profiting from smuggling networks,” he said. Following their rescue, some of the Rohingya told U.N. officials they agreed to pay thousands of dollars to smugglers to reach Malaysia and ended up spending more than half a year at sea, adding at least 30 people had died. The refugees were being sheltered in the same building that housed the 99 Rohingya who were rescued from another boat in June. Officials have said they believe the two groups were linked. “We are extremely concerned about the health of the refugees who arrived earlier this week in poor condition,” Mitra Suryono, UNHCR spokeswoman in Indonesia, told BenarNews. “The authorities are running additional health screenings in the field and UNHCR is trying to make sure that refugees can get what they need, including nutrition,” she said. ASEAN request During an Association of Southeast Asian Nations ministerial meeting on Wednesday, Retno urged member countries to address the plight of the Rohingya. “We know that we need to work together and this cooperation, among others, is to address transnational crimes including the issue of people smuggling and trafficking in persons,” Retno said. Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said a prolonged conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, home to the Rohingya, “jeopardizes the security and the stability of the ASEAN region.” Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya live in Rakhine under the “threat of genocide” according to a United Nations-mandated Fact-Finding Mission report from September 2019. Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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