Myanmar destroying crucial evidence of torture on Rohingya Muslims: Human Rights Watch

26 February, 2018, 09:54 | Author: Ann Santiago
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Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday said that it has new satellite images showing 55 abandoned villages being burned to the ground in Rakhine State, home to some 1 million Rohingya, a Muslim minority subjected to a horrific campaign of violence in the country since August.

"Bulldozing these areas threatens to erase both the memory and the legal claims of the Rohingya who lived there", he said.

Free speech will be a key issue for those concerned about human rights this year, the report said.

The group analysed a series of satellite images recorded between 11 November 2017, and 19 February 2018. Since late a year ago, some of those villages - and at least two previously intact settlements - had been flattened, it said. Between January 9 and February 13 they were destroyed and smoothed over by heavy machinery.

Richard Weir, a Myanmar expert with Human Rights Watch, said: "There's no more landmarks, there's no trees, there's no vegetation". The imagery suggests the demolitions are ongoing. This was followed by a pause of approximately one month.

A total of 362 villages have been destroyed either completely or partially since Myanmar's military began a campaign against the Rohingya in August past year, according to HRW.

Analysts have also sounded the alarm over the government's rehabilitation projects, calling the sweeping destruction of villages, mosques and property only the latest move to erase the Rohingya's ties to their ancestral lands, and prevent them returning.

The government has spoken of plans to rebuild the region for months, and it has been busily expanding roads, repairing bridges, and constructing shelters, including dozens at a large transit camp at Taungpyo, near the Bangladesh border. HRW calls on the government to allow United Nations fact-finding team in to Rakhine state.

Asked about the return of refugees to Myanmar, Dujarric said, they only should return to the sites of their former homes voluntarily, when they feel safe.

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Government development efforts are being led by the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development (UEHRD), which was formally established in October 2017, and is chaired by Burma's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Almost 700,000 Rohingya fled northern Rakhine State to Bangladesh after Myanmar launched security operations dogged by accusations of significant human rights abuses.

The two had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men who were buried in a mass grave in Rakhine State after being hacked to death or shot by ethnic Rakhine Buddhist neighbours and soldiers.

Earlier this month the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, urged caution on a controversial plan to repatriate the Rohingya refugess, which was put on hold due to logistical concerns last month.

Global law provides that refugees and internally displaced persons who were arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived of their homes, lands, properties, or places of habitual residence have the right to return to their place of residence or choice, and the return of their property. "There's been no credible investigation of these crimes".

Yanghee Lee, the UN's human rights envoy to Myanmar, was barred from returning to the country in December after the civilian government and the military accused her of biased reporting on the crisis in Rakhine State in favor of the Rohingya.

"It also reflects the ethnic cleansing mentality of the Burmese authority", he said. Myanmar bars independent media access to Rakhine state.

Myanmar's government is bulldozing Rohingya villages and destroying precious evidence, according to a rights groups.

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