The Myanmar military executed dozens of Rohingya villagers as they gathered to seek safety following the outbreak of violence in Rakhine state, according to witness reports collected by human rights experts.
The testimonies describe soldiers beating, sexually assaulting, stabbing and shooting villagers, including children, who had gathered at a residential compound in Maung Nu village, two days after the eruption of violence in August.
The reports, which have been collated by Human Rights Watch, follow a statement from the UN committees for women’s and children’s rights warning that the violence in Rakhine state “may amount to crimes against humanity”.
Violence broke out on 25 August when Rohingya militants attacked government forces. In response, the Myanmar military launched a “clearance operation” that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing their homes in northern Rakhine state.
The Myanmar government has repeatedly rejected allegations of systematic atrocities against the Rohingya, telling the UN security council last week that “there is no ethnic cleansing and no genocide in Myanmar”.
In a statement on Wednesday, the UN committees for women’s and children’s rights said: “We are deeply concerned at the state’s failure to put an end to these shocking human rights violations being committed at the behest of the military and other security forces.”
According to interviews with 14 survivors and witnesses from Maung Nu and the surrounding villages, carried out by Human Rights Watch, several dozen Rohingya men and boys were executed on 27 August as they sheltered with hundreds of people in a large residential compound. Myanmar soldiers took Rohingya men and boys into the courtyard and shot or stabbed them to death, before loading the bodies into military trucks, witnesses reported.
Human Rights Watch said it has not been able to verify the estimates of the number of villagers killed, though some interviewees reported there were 100 or more bodies. Satellite imagery analysed by the NGO shows the near total destruction of the villages of Maung Nu and nearby Hpaung Taw Pyin, which appear to have been burned down.
“All the horrors of the Burmese army’s crimes against humanity against the Rohingya are evident in the mass killings in Maung Nu village,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These atrocities demand more than words from concerned governments; they need concrete responses with consequences.”
The human rights group is calling on the UN security council and countries to introduce an arms embargo, as well as sanctions including travel bans and asset freezes against Myanmar military commanders implicated in abuses.
Aid organisations have also issued a plea for $434m (£327m) over the next six months to help up to 1.2 million people, most of them children. There are an estimated 809,000 Rohingya sheltering in Bangladesh, more than half a million of whom have arrived since the violence broke out this August.
“The Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar [close to the border with Bangladesh] is highly vulnerable. Many having experienced severe trauma, and are now living in extremely difficult conditions,” said Robert Watkins, UN resident coordinator in Bangladesh, in a statement.
The 13 aid agencies charities who make up the Disasters Emergency Committee have launched a joint fundraising appeal to provide shelter, medical care, water and food to people fleeing their homes. Saleh Saeed, the committee’s chief executive, described the exodus of Rohingya as “one of the fastest movements of people” in recent decades.
“Families are living in makeshift shelters or by the side of the road with no clean drinking water, toilets or washing facilities. This humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in a country that is already reeling from the worst floods in decades,” said Saeed.
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