GENEVA — Catching up with villagers from Min Gyi who had escaped the Myanmar Army’s assault on their homes, the soldiers first killed all the men, shooting them and then methodically slitting the throats of those who lingered. Then they turned on the women and children.
A United Nations Fact Finding Mission report on Tuesday cited the slaughter in Min Gyi, in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, as evidence that the army committed “the gravest crimes under international law” in clearance operations a year ago targeting the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
In Min Gyi, troops shot some of the children, snatched infants from their mothers, throwing some into the river to drown and tossing others onto a fire. They then led the women and girls back to their village to be robbed and raped. Many were stabbed, others were mutilated or shot. Soldiers locked some women along with old men and young children in houses that they set ablaze.
The three-person United Nations panel named Myanmar’s army chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, last month as one of six top commanders who should stand trial in an international court for genocide and crimes against humanity.
The panel’s 444-page report, released on Tuesday, is one of the longest ever produced by a United Nations human rights inquiry. It chronicles in excruciating detail the atrocities that drove more than 750,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee into neighboring Bangladesh and on which it based the charge of genocide.
The panel has called on the United Nations Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or set up an international tribunal to prosecute those, including the army chief, identified as responsible for the violence. It further urges the Security Council to impose an arms embargo and to establish targeted individual sanctions such as travel bans and asset freezes.
Unusually for a human rights investigation, the report went further to call for an overhaul of the military, known as the Tatmadaw, and constitutional reforms to end its political dominance. The panel said that the Tatmadaw’s leaders should be replaced, the military placed under civilian oversight, and the military’s grip on Parliament by controlling a quota of seats abolished.
“Any engagement in any form with the Tatmadaw, its current leadership and its businesses is indefensible,” the panel said.
At least 750 villagers were killed in Min Gyi village, the panel said, citing credible testimony collected in the course of 875 interviews with victims and witnesses. In all, at least 10,000 people are thought to have been killed in clearance operations that started in August last year, lasted more than two months and totally or partially destroyed more than 40 percent of the villages in northern Rakhine, it said.
“The killing was widespread, systematic and brutal,” the panel said in its report, which was presented Tuesday to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Myanmar has rejected allegations that the military, committed any atrocities. It said troops were reacting to attacks by Rohingya militants on border security police and several villages.
“This explanation is flawed,” the United Nations panel retorted, describing the clearance operations as grossly disproportionate to any threat from militants and noting that the security forces made no attempt to identify a military target or distinguish between militants and civilians.
A systematic buildup of military forces in the area before the militant attacks and involvement of all levels of the military from the commander in chief down pointed to “an organized plan of destruction, supporting an inference of genocidal intent.”
The Tatmadaw’s use of consistent methods and tactics in operations carried out over a wide area for many weeks, demonstrated “significant levels of forethought and organization,” the panel said. And as in the authorities’ decades-old conflict with other minorities in Myanmar, sexual violence featured prominently as a tactic of war in Rakhine.
Troops systematically raped women and girls and specifically targeted children for killing. Moreover, “the brutality with which the underlying acts were carried out provides further support for a conclusion that they were committed with genocidal intent,” it said.
Eighty percent of rape incidents corroborated by the panel involved gang rape, often accompanied by the killing of the victims’ children. “The Tatmadaw was overwhelmingly the main perpetrator,” the panel found.
Troops often inflicted further injury and humiliation by biting women’s faces, breasts or thighs or mutilating reproductive organs in what the panel considered “an act akin to branding.”
“We are going to kill you this way, by raping,” a woman who was assaulted with her sister recalled a member of the Tatmadaw telling her. “We are going to kill Rohingya. This is not your country.”
What happened in Rakhine was “a disaster long in the making,” the mission concluded, pointing to decades of official discrimination and waves of violence against Rohingya Muslims, who were demonized by ultranationalists and religious extremists as “Bengali” immigrants posing an existential threat to their survival.
The “Bengali problem” was an “unfinished job,” General Min Aung Hlaing said in a statement at the height of the clearance operations, the panel reported. He added that the government was taking great care to solve it.