In August of last year, militants belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) rounded up about 45 men, women and children belonging to a Hindu village in Rakhine state, Myanmar and executed them using guns, swords and knives. The same day another village in a cluster of villages known as Kha Maung Seik in northern Maungdaw Township was also attacked killing another 50 or so men, women and children said Amnesty International in a report looking at Human Rights Violations in Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state.
Based on dozens of interviews conducted there and across the border in Bangladesh, as well as photographic evidence analyzed by forensic pathologists, the organization says it has uncovered how ARSA fighters sowed fear among Hindus and other ethnic communities including Buddhists with these brutal attacks.
“Our latest investigation on the ground sheds much-needed light on the largely under-reported human rights abuses by ARSA during northern Rakhine State’s unspeakably dark recent history,” said Tirana Hassan, Crisis Response Director at Amnesty International.
At around 8am on 25 August 2017, ARSA men dressed in black rounded up dozens of men, women and children belonging to the Hindu community in the village of Ah Nauk Kha Maung Seik. They robbed, bound, and blindfolded them before marching them to the outskirts of the village, where they separated the men from the women and young children. A few hours later, the ARSA fighters killed 53 of the Hindus, execution-style, starting with the men.
Eight Hindu women and eight of their children were abducted and spared, after ARSA fighters forced the women to agree to “convert” to Islam. The survivors were forced to flee with the fighters to Bangladesh several days later, before being repatriated to Myanmar in October 2017 with the support of the Bangladeshi and Myanmar authorities.
Raj Kumari, 18, who witnessed the attack, told Amnesty: “They slaughtered the men. We were told not to look at them. They had knives. They also had some spades and iron rods. We hid ourselves in the shrubs there and were able to see a little. My uncle, my father, my brother – they were all slaughtered.”
All eight survivors interviewed by Amnesty International said they either saw Hindu relatives being killed or heard their screams.
According to a detailed list of the dead, given to Amnesty International, the victims from Ah Nauk Kha Maung Seik include 20 men, 10 women, and 23 children; 14 of whom were under the age of eight. This is consistent with multiple testimonies the organization says it gathered in both Bangladesh and Myanmar, from survivors and witnesses as well as Hindu community leaders. The investigation suggests that a massacre of Hindu men, women, and children in another village called Ye Bauk Kyar happened on the same day, bringing the estimated total number of dead to 99.
Amnesty said the bodies of 45 people from the village were unearthed in four mass graves in late September. The remains of the other victims, as well as 46 from the neighbouring village of Ye Bauk Kyar, have not been found.
The Amnesty report, which it says has been verified through hundreds of witness accounts, is likely to be controversial because it backs up the assertion by Myanmar’s military and government that their crackdown against ARSA which also saw Myanmar’s forces commit Human Rights Violations was in response to the militant fighters’ acts of violence.
Tirana Hassan, crisis response director at Amnesty International, said it was important to stress that justice was needed for those who suffered at the hands of the Myanmar military and ARSA. “Both must be condemned – human rights violations or abuses by one side never justify abuses or violations by the other,” Hassan said. “It’s hard to ignore the sheer brutality of ARSA’s actions, which have left an indelible impression on the survivors we’ve spoken to. Accountability for these atrocities is every bit as crucial as it is for the crimes against humanity carried out by Myanmar’s security forces in northern Rakhine state.”
It was following attacks on the military that Myanmar’s security forces descended on northern Rakhine, attacking, killing and raping Rohingya people in their path. The Myanmar military’s crackdown in the state has led to an exodus of almost 7,00,000 Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh as refugees.
Myanmar does not recognise Rohingya Muslims as natives of the country and its subsequent policies and marginalisation has rendered them stateless. The UN has called the Myanmar military’s actions in Rakhine ‘hallmarks of genocide.’