According to testimony from witnesses, the Burma’s military and allied paramilitary forces have committed actions that amount to genocide in Rakhine state, located in the western part of the country. New reports have emerged of children being beheaded and civilians burned alive.
One man told local charity workers that he saw soldiers rounding people up into a hut, then setting it on fire. Another witness reports that paramilitaries made up of armed civilians from a neighboring village were going on a killing spree and that he had to hide in his house as people were being beheaded on the streets.
Satellite imagery obtained by Human Rights Watch shows that Burmese authorities may be engaging in complete destruction of Muslim villages, as 700 buildings have been burned down so far. Media coverage of the situation in Burma has been spotty, as the government has barred both journalists and independent observers from regions where the violence has taken place.
The region has seen clashes between Burmese forces and Rohingya militants. The recent escalation of violence is believed to have resulted in over 60,000 people fleeing across the border with Bangladesh to seek refuge. According to a statement from the Burmese military, 400 militants have been killed in the recent clashes. Rohingya militants are also accused of making the situation worse by preventing residents from leaving their villages before attacking government forces. International observers believe that as the fighting continues, the situation could turn into a humanitarian crisis as numbers of displaced Rohingya rise.
Bangladesh has already offered refuge to more than 400,000 displaced people and is reluctant to allow this number to rise even further, despite an offer of financial assistance from Turkey if it welcomed more Rohingya refugees.
The Muslim Rohingya minority in Burma has dealt with decades of official mistreatment. The government refuses to recognize them as citizens and continues to spread the myth that they’re illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. There are close to a million Rohingya currently living in Burma. Many of them had left the country in previous years as they faced hostility and discrimination not only from the government, but also the Buddhist majority population.
Many human rights groups around the world have been critical of local authorities for failing to do their duty and protect civilians, calling for other countries to take action by putting pressure on Burma.
Britain has responded to the news of civilian killings in Burma through its Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who has appealed for an end to the violence and called upon the local government to act now to save lives. He also stated that the ongoing violence and reports of serious mistreatment of the Rohingya was having a very damaging effect on Burma’s reputation at the international level.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, has been even more vocal in his criticism of Burma. He accused the government of using its military to commit acts of genocide and said that anyone who is aware of such acts and does nothing to stop them becomes complicit.