The latest United Nations human rights report suggests that brutal, well-organised, coordinated and systematic attacks were carried out against Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority, aimed at not just forcing them to flee, but also preventing their return to Myanmar.
The report, compiled after conducting on-site interviews in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazar - the site where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have sought refuge, underscores the point that there was a strategy aimed to “instil deep and widespread fear and trauma – physical, emotional and psychological” within the Rohingya community.
In its assessment of the Rohingya situation in Myanmar, the report, released on Oct 11 by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the team of UN human rights experts documented consistent accounts of the Myanmar security forces surrounding or entering villages or settlements, sometimes firing indiscriminately at Rohingya villagers, injuring some and killing other innocent victims, setting houses on fire, and announcing in other villages that the same would befall them if they did not comply with the order to immediately abandon their homes.
The report also quotes - and relies on - testimony from witnesses that security forces committed extrajudicial and summary executions, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture and attacks on places of worship.
The OHCHR reports further suggest that efforts were made to effectively erase all signs of memorable landmarks pertaining to the geography of the Rohingya landscape and memory in such a way as to make a return by the fleeing Rohingya refugees to their lands would “yield nothing but a desolate and unrecognisable terrain”.
Attacks were orchestrated to specifically target the educated elements in the Rohingya society, such as teachers, businesspersons, religious and community leaders - who could be called “people with influence” - in an effort to diminish Rohingya history, culture and knowledge, OHCHR said in a news release announcing the grim findings.
The report noted that “credible information” indicated that the Myanmar security forces purposely destroyed the property of the Rohingyas, targeting their houses, fields, food stocks, crops, livestock and even trees, “to render the possibility of the Rohingya returning to normal lives and livelihoods in the future in northern Rakhine almost impossible”.
Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who had already called the Myanmar government’s operations in northern Rakhine state "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” also urged the Myanmar government to immediately end its “cruel security operation”.
By denying the Rohingya population their political, civil, economic and cultural rights, including the right to citizenship, Zeid Ra’ad said, the government’s actions appeared to be “a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without the possibility of return”.
Meanwhile, the number of Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar keeps rising. More than 500,000 Rohingya have already fled to Bangladesh since Myanmar security forces launched an operation in response to alleged attacks by militants on Aug 25 against 30 police posts and a regimental headquarter.
However, the report suggested that the “clearance operations” had, as a matter of fact, started much before Aug 25 - as early as the beginning of August.
UN agencies are, meanwhile, working to assist the hundreds of thousands in Cox’s Bazar and other locations in Bangladesh where conditions for the refugees are extremely challenging, including little protection against the elements, limited food, water and sanitation facilities, and the risk of an outbreak of disease.
The Cox Bazar site in Bangladesh is being described by UN officials as a “ticking health-hazardous time bomb” with a probability of a cholera outbreak. Consequently, UN agencies have gone on the offensive and launched a massive immunisation programme on Oct 10.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) representative, Dr N Paranietharan, has been warning that the “risk of cholera is clear and present".
The campaign, which is led by Bangladesh Ministry of Health and supported by the WHO and the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef), is being held in Ukhiya and Teknaf, where more than half a million people have arrived from across the border since August, joining vast numbers already residing in a series of settlements and camps.
Some 900,000 doses of the vaccine have been mobilised and are being delivered by more than 200 mobile vaccination teams, making it, as UN sources told Bernama, “the second largest oral cholera vaccination campaign ever”.