Residents carry the body of an ethnic Rakhine woman for burial in Rathedaung township after fresh fighting in Rakhine State between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army on Feb. 21. (AFP photo)
Myanmar’s military are committing new war crimes and other human rights violations in operations against the Arakan Army, Amnesty International said.
The rights group’s latest report details how the Tatmadaw have killed and injured civilians in indiscriminate attacks since January. They have also carried out extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, torture and enforced disappearances.
Amnesty conducted 81 interviews, including 54 on the ground in Rakhine State, in late March for the report released on May 29.
From interviews and other evidence including satellite imagery, it documented seven unlawful attacks which killed 14 civilians and injured at least 29 more. Most attacks were indiscriminate and some might have been direct attacks on civilians.
The report mentioned one incident in late January when a 7-year-old ethnic Rakhine boy died after a mortar almost certainly fired by the Myanmar military exploded in a village in Rathedaung township.
Nicholas Bequelin, regional director for East and Southeast Asia at Amnesty, said that less than two years since the world outrage over mass atrocities committed against the Rohingya, the Myanmar military are again committing horrific abuses against ethnic groups in Rakhine.
“The new operations in Rakhine State show an unrepentant, unreformed and unaccountable military terrorizing civilians and committing widespread violations as a deliberate tactic,” Bequelin said in a press release on May 29.
The report said the Rohingya have also suffered while Rakhine communities have borne the brunt of violations committed by the military in this campaign.
It cited a military helicopter opening fire on Rohingya laborers cutting bamboo on April 3, killing at least six men and boys and injuring at least 13 others.
The report warned that direct attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks which kill or injure civilians are “war crimes.”
The Arakan Army has also committed abuses against civilians, including abductions, the report said. It has threatened and intimidated village administrators and businesspeople, warning them in letters against interfering with the group’s activities. The letters were each accompanied by a bullet and bore the group’s official seal.
Amnesty is calling on the U.N. Security Council to urgently refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court and to impose a comprehensive arms embargo.
Khin Zaw Win, a director of the Tampadipa Institute, a think tank based in Yangon, said the report showed rights violations committed by the military are ongoing, especially in Rakhine.
Children, women and other civilians are bearing the brunt of fighting, which needs to be ended through political solutions by civilian and military leaders, he said.
More than 30,000 civilians have been displaced by fighting between the military and the Arakan Army near several townships in Rakhine, according to the United Nations.
The Arakan Army is a largely Buddhist militia fighting for greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhine in the state, where there is also a conflict between government forces and Rohingya Muslims.
Ethnically and religiously divided Rakhine captured global headlines after a bloody Myanmar military crackdown in August 2017 forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.
The United Nations Human Rights Office has warned that military attacks directed at civilians in Rakhine “could be considered crimes of war.”