With nearly five lakh Rohingya Muslims having fled persecution in Myanmar in the past two months, another human rights group has been accused the Buddhist-majority state of committing crimes against humanity.
Human Rights Watch called for the UN Security Council to impose sanctions and an arms embargo on Myanmar, which has rejected UN accusations that its forces are engaged in ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims.
Myanmar says its forces are fighting terrorists responsible for attacking the police and the army, killing civilians and torching villages.
The military campaign has sent nearly close to 500,000 refugees fleeing to Bangladesh, most of them Rohingya. They have accused the security forces and Buddhist vigilantes of trying to drive Rohingya out of Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
“The Burmese military is brutally expelling the Rohingya from northern Rakhine State,” said James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch.
“The massacres of villagers and mass arson driving people from their homes are all crimes against humanity.”
The International Criminal Court defines crimes against humanity as acts including murder, torture, rape and deportation “when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.”
Human Rights Watch said its research, supported by analysis of satellite imagery, had found crimes of deportation and forced population transfers, murder and attempted murder, rape and other sexual assault and persecution.
“Attaching a legal label to the ghastly crimes … may seem inconsequential,” Ross said. “But global recognition that crimes against humanity are taking place should stir the UN and concerned governments to action.”
The UN Security Council and concerned countries should urgently impose targeted sanctions and an arms embargo on the Myanmar military, the group said.
The violence in Rakhine State and the refugee exodus is the biggest crisis the government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has faced since it came to power last year in a transition from nearly 50 years of harsh military rule.
Myanmar regards the Rohingya Muslims as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and communal violence has flared periodically for decades. Most Rohingya are stateless.
Suu Kyi has faced unprecedented criticism over the violence and calls for her Nobel prize to be withdrawn.
On September 15, rights group Amnesty International had said that security forces and vigilante mobs in Myanmar were carrying out a scorched-earth policy in the majority-Muslim region of Rakhine State, burning down entire Rohingya villages and shooting at people as they try to flee.
According to new satellite imagery, fire-detection data, photographs and videos from the ground, the human rights group said on Thursday that there were at least 80 large-scale fires in inhabited areas across northern Rakhine State since 25 August, Amnesty had said.
“The evidence is irrefutable – the Myanmar security forces are setting northern Rakhine State ablaze in a targeted campaign to push the Rohingya people out of Myanmar,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director.