A new report by Amnesty International has revealed that a massacre of Hindu villagers was carried out by an armed group of the Rohingyas during last year’s violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine.
With the Myanmar military accused of carrying out a systematic and ruthless campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya population — which led to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing the country since last August — the southeast nation has remained tense.
However, the report published on 22 May by the human rights watch-dog says the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an armed group, was “responsible for at least one, and potentially a second, massacre of up to 99 Hindu women, men, and children as well as additional unlawful killings and abductions of Hindu villagers in August 2017.”
“The killings came just days after ARSA fighters unleashed a series of attacks on around 30 Myanmar security posts on 25 August 2017, prompting an unlawful and grossly disproportionate campaign of violence by Myanmar’s security forces,” the report says.
But the overwhelming majority of Rohingyas did not take part in the ASRA attacks against the military, says the report.
The report does, however, substantiate the claims made by the military officials in Myanmar of finding a mass grave of Hindus in Rakhine state in September 2017, shedding new light on the convoluted ethnic conflict. At the same time, it describes the experiences of persecution of people who are caught up in the battle between the Muslim minority community and the state security.
The Myanmar military, in an attempt to justify their actions, had blamed the Rohingya insurgents for staging coordinated raids on police posts on 25 August, 2017.
But to what extent does this rationale justify a state’s security forces carrying out atrocities on the people — including systematic murders, rapes and torture of thousands of Rohingya Muslims — is the question that looms large and heavy.
“ARSA’s appalling attacks were followed by the Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya population as a whole. Both must be condemned —human rights violations or abuses by one side never justify abuses or violations by the other,” Tirana Hassan, the Crisis Response Director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
In the past, the Myanmar government has criticised some countries in the United Nations (UN) for only listening to “one side” of the story and failing to acknowledge the abuses committed by the ARSA. At the same time, Myanmar authorities have severely restricted media access to the conflict zone and have barred UN investigators from entering the country.
Several countries, apart from the UN, have condemned the arrest of two Reuters’ journalistsin Myanmar, which has also raised questions regarding press freedom in the region.
According to the UN, the reporters were working on stories about a military crackdown in Rakhine state — from where more than 690,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled since last August and sought refuge mainly in Bangladesh.
“The Myanmar government cannot criticise the international community as being one-sided while at the same time denying access to northern Rakhine State,” said Hassan.