(YANGON, October 12, 2016)—The government of Myanmar should protect civilians and respect human rights in responding to recent deadly attacks against police by unknown assailants near the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, Fortify Rights said today. According to eyewitnesses, Myanmar Army soldiers allegedly killed several unarmed ethnic-Rohingya men on October 10, a day after deadly attacks on three police stations in Rakhine State’s Maungdaw Township.
Fears of a military offensive and potential indiscriminate killings and other abuses, particularly targeting the Rohingya Muslim population, are mounting in Rakhine State.
“The army has a responsibility to protect civilians regardless of religion or ethnicity,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Fortify Rights. “The authorities can diffuse this situation by upholding law and order while also protecting the rights of Rohingya.”
According to Myanmar authorities, a group of Rohingya men attacked three police posts on October 9, killing nine policemen and wounding five before fleeing with police weapons and ammunition.
Fortify Rights obtained two amateur videos—one minute and 21 seconds in length and another lasting two minutes and 51 seconds—showing a group of men armed with military-grade assault rifles and handguns, speaking the Rohingya language and calling for volunteers to engage in armed conflict in Rakhine State. “The fighting can start now, today,” a Rohingya speaker, flanked by young armed men, says into the camera in one of the films. “The Myanmar Army tried to search for us by helicopter yesterday. They searched for us by helicopters in every part of Rakhine. We do not care about helicopters.”
The reference to helicopters suggests the film was created on or around October 9, when, according to state media, the Myanmar Army used helicopters to move troops into the area where the attacks on the police occurred. On the same day, the authorities also banned gatherings of five or more people and imposed a curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. in Maungdaw Township.
Fortify Rights has received reports of possible extrajudicial killings of Rohingya men in Maungdaw Township by Myanmar Army soldiers following the attacks on the police and called on the government, state security forces, and all parties in Rakhine State to respect human rights and uphold the responsibility to protect civilians.
According to information received by Fortify Rights, scores of Myanmar Army soldiers arrived in Myothugyi village, Maungdaw Township at approximately 6:30 a.m. on October 10.
“Ishmael M.,” 23, told Fortify Rights that he witnessed a Myanmar Army soldier fatally shoot an unarmed local Rohingya man named Nagu, believed to be around 50 years old, in Myothugyi village at approximately 8 a.m. on October 10. Ishmael looked on from a nearby home as four Myanmar Army soldiers apprehended Nagu, who was reportedly unarmed.
“I was watching from the window,” Ishmael told Fortify Rights. “The military man was talking on the phone. After that, he shot him. I saw them shoot him in the bottom of the face and head.”
Following the fatal shooting, Myanmar Army soldiers left the body behind.
Fortify Rights received photographs and a short video of the victim’s body, showing what appeared to be a gunshot wound to the head, matching descriptions received from two eyewitnesses. At time of writing, the victim’s body has not been buried and is located in a local home.
Ishmael also told Fortify Rights that another man, Noor Allam—believed to be approximately 55 years old—was also fatally shot at approximately 10 a.m., nearby Ishmael’s location. “We could hear some noises, bullets, and when the army left, we saw the body, and I helped bring the body inside the home,” Ishmael told Fortify Rights. “There was blood on his chest. I took a photo of the body myself.”
Ishmael said he carried the body of Noor Allam to a nearby home.
Fortify Rights received information of at least three killings of Rohingya men in Myothugyi village on October 10—the third was a 25-year-old Rohingya man named Noor Bashar.
“They took three men…and killed them,” another Rohingya man in Myothugyi said. “They did not arrest the people, they just killed them.”
The New York Times and Reuters reported allegations of seven deaths in Myothugyi village on October 10. Both outlets reported witnesses alleging that army soldiers shot at Rohingya as they ran away. The New York Times quoted a local journalist traveling with security forces in Myothugyi at the time, who claimed, “Three suspects were killed as they ran away when the security forces entered the village.” On Facebook, the journalist who spoke to the New York Times later denied the quote, saying he was “in trouble” as a result of the article and now alleges that the victims attacked the soldiers “and soldiers shot them back.”
The Government of Myanmar should conduct a thorough, independent investigation into the killings of police officers on October 9 and into the fatal shootings of Rohingya on October 10, Fortify Rights said.
The use of lethal force by state security forces against a civilian is only lawful when necessary to prevent loss of life and serious injury and when proportionate to the threat at hand. The U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials stipulates that the “intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.” The U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials requires officials to “use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.”
In situations of armed conflict, Article 42 of the Third Geneva Convention stipulates that the use of force “against those who are escaping or attempting to escape, shall constitute an extreme measure, which shall always be preceded by warnings appropriate to the circumstances.”
In all situations, under international humanitarian and human rights law, the authorities have a responsibility to protect civilians.
There are more than one million Rohingya in northern Rakhine State, nearly all of whom are denied citizenship and are stateless. For decades, the Government of Myanmar has strictly restricted Rohingya freedom of movement, preventing movement between villages, village tracts, and beyond.
In June, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights reported to the Human Rights Council that there was a “pattern of gross human rights violations” against Rohingya in Rakhine State that “would suggest a widespread or systematic attack against the Rohingya, in turn suggesting the possible commission of crimes against humanity.”
In February 2014, Fortify Rights published a 79-page report, Policies of Persecution, documenting widespread and systematic human rights violations against Rohingya in northern Rakhine State, including the rights to nondiscrimination, freedom of movement, marriage, family, health, and privacy. In October 2015, the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School found “strong evidence” to establish the elements of the crime of genocide against Rohingya in Rakhine State.
“The people of Rakhine State deserve protection and justice,” said Matthew Smith. “The army should work with local communities to instill calm.”
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