An investigation from the Associated Press has revealed a calculated massacre and cover up in Gu Dar Pyin, a small village in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state. The AP has confirmed at least 5 previously unknown mass graves through interviews and time-stamped videos. The attack on the village occurred in late August of last year and coincides with a string of violence across the Rakhine state reported by Amnesty International.
Massacre and Cover Up
Using survivor’s personal accounts, the Associated Press has compiled the attack’s sequence of events. Soldiers were witnessed buying a dozen containers of acid in a neighboring village two days before the attack. On the day of the attack soldiers did not just bring “rifles, knives, rocket launchers and grenades, but also with shovels to dig pits and acid to burn away faces and hands so that the bodies could not be identified.”
The shooting started around midday on August 27 as at least a couple hundred soldiers approached the village from the South. Those who were fast enough fled to a nearby river or tree groves. The soldiers searched muslim homes and took valuables. A different group of soldiers simultaneously came from the North to encircle the village. The soldiers razed the village and indiscriminately killed anyone who could not run away. Buddhist villagers then came to finish off injured survivors and help soldiers burn bodies. A survivor hiding nearby watched, “for 16 hours as soldiers, police and Buddhist neighbors killed unarmed Rohingya and burned the village.”
In the following days, thousands of Rohingya hid in surrounding jungle. Some survivors went back to the village searching for injured or dead loved ones. Those who returned reported seeing mass graves and over 100 bodies unburied. Though the village was still patrolled by soldiers, some managed to shoot video evidence. In Bangladesh’s refugee camps, dozens of Rohingya corroborate that the mass graves seen in the video are from Gu Dar Pyin.
An Orchestrated Campaign of Attacks
The massacre in Gu Dar Pyin corresponds with a systematic “mass-scale scorched-earth campaign” against Rohingya throughout the Northern Rakhine state last year from August 25 to September 10. The tactics used to kill Rohingya also sound striking similar to those used in Gu Dar Pyin. According to Amnesty International, “Soldiers, police and vigilante groups sometimes encircle a village and fire into the air before entering, but often just storm in and start firing in all directions, with people fleeing in panic.” Using interviews, pictures, and videos, Amnesty International reports extreme violence occurred and that there were at least 80 active fires across the region during this time. Satellite images show the portions of towns inhabited by Rohingya torched while other parts are left untouched.
Almost 400,000 Rohingya fled across the border into Bangladesh in the three short weeks between the start of the violence on August 25 and mid September. Myamnar’s government categorically denies that any massacres have occurred and that there is an ongoing genocide.
Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya
Muslims have lived in Myanmar since the 12th century. However, during British rule of what is present-day Myanmar, labor migration from neighboring Bangladesh and India – including muslim immigrants – prompted a xenophobic response. The military regime established in 1962 used Rohingya as a convenient scapegoat and fueled the myth that the ethnic group – the majority of whom have darker skin and reside in Rakhine – are Bengali. According to Human Rights Watch, the Burmese government considers migration during British rule illegal.
Since 1982 Rohingya muslims have been denied citizenship in Myanmar. As a result, their ability to go to school, work, seek healthcare, and travel are severely restricted. Rohingya have been fleeing to surrounding countries for decades. However, the most recent violent attacks started in 2016 after the deaths of nine border police. Rohingya militants were blamed by the government for the killing, and the resulting crackdown on the ethnic group has resulted in systemic human rights abuse, rape, and massacre – all of which Myanmar’s government denies.
The majority of Rohingya that have fled to Bangladesh are considered by its government to be in the country illegally. There are frequent reports that Bangladeshi border security prevents Rohingya from crossing the border though Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister has called the violence in Myanmar, “a genocide.”
Rohingya are considered one of the world’s most persecuted minority groups, and decades of international condemnation has failed to provide an adequate or lasting solution to the crisis. This leaves an uncertain path forward for an estimated one million stateless people.