Massacre by the River: Burmese Army Crimes against Humanity in Tula Toli
On August 30, 2017, Hassina Begum, a 20-year-old ethnic Rohingya woman, was among the few survivors of a massacre of unspeakable brutality. Just days after a deadly attack by Rohingya militants against Burmese security forces, hundreds of Burmese soldiers in uniform, along with ethnic Rakhine villagers armed with machetes and wooden sticks, attacked the village of Tula Toli, officially known as Min Gyi, in Maungdaw Township in Burma’s Rakhine State, also known as Arakan State.
The advancing soldiers trapped several hundred unarmed Rohingya Muslim villagers, including Hassina, on the large bank of the river, which surrounds Tula Toli on three sides. As they approached, some fired at the crowd, others toward people trying to flee. While some Rohingya managed to escape, swimming across the fast-moving river or dashing to the surrounding hills, many terrified villagers could not run away or swim. Families with young children had no chance to flee.
Interviewed in a refugee camp in neighboring Bangladesh, Hassina and other survivors described to Human Rights Watch how the soldiers had then separated the women and children from the men, confined the women to the shallow water of the river, and systematically murdered the men over the course of several hours. The soldiers and Rakhine Buddhist villagers dug several deep pits on the river beach. They dumped the men’s bodies inside the pits, poured on gasoline, and set them on fire.
The soldiers then turned to the women and children. Soldiers took some women and children away as soon as the men were killed, and others while the soldiers were still digging the pits and disposing of the bodies. They began killing some of the children at the beach, tossing young children into the river.
Hassina tried hiding her 1-year-old daughter Sohaifa under her shawl. A soldier noticed and tore the infant from her, throwing the girl alive on a fire. Five soldiers took Hassina, her mother-in-law, Fatima, 35, and her sister-in-law, Asma, 18, together with Fatima’s three young sons, ages 7, 10, and 14, from the water to a nearby bamboo house in the village. Hassina says that on arrival a group of ethnic Rakhine men at the house beat the three boys to death. The soldiers proceeded to sexually assault Hassina and the women inside the house. When Fatima resisted, the soldiers stabbed her to death before beating the others unconscious, and knifing Hassina.
As they left, the soldiers locked the unconscious and dead women inside the house and set it on fire. Hassina and Asma regained consciousness when their clothes caught on fire, and fought their way out through the burning bamboo walls. They were the sole survivors from that house. When interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the two women showed their wounds, which included burns and machete cuts.
What happened to Hassina and her relatives that day was repeated many times in Tula Toli. Shawfika, 24, said that six soldiers took her and four other women together with three children from the river to another nearby house. They beat to death the children, ages 5, 6, and 10, on the steps to the house. The soldiers took the women inside and raped, beat, and shot them, then left them locked inside the burning house. Shawfika said:
When we entered, they pushed us inside. We were five women and six soldiers. They took off our clothes and tried to touch us. We tried to escape, but they caught us and they raped all of us. Then they beat us, and when we were beaten down, they shot us. The shot missed me, and I pretended to be dead, and then I passed out. Then they left and put the house on fire.
I woke up and realized I was in a pool of sticky blood. I tried to wake the others up but they didn’t move. Then I broke through the [bamboo] wall and escaped.… When I escaped from the house, all the houses in the area were on fire. I could hear women screaming from some of the other houses. They could not escape from the fires.
In addition to Hassina, Asma, and Shawfika, four other female survivors, including a 16-year-old girl, recounted to Human Rights Watch how they too had been taken from the water at Tula Toli, witnessed children being murdered in front of their mothers, and been raped, beaten, stabbed, and left for dead in a burning house. Three of the four were the sole survivors from the group of women and children taken to a particular house.
Download full report HERE.