Burma’s military announced this week that it had dug up 28 bodies in a mass grave in northern Rakhine State. The following day, they claimed to have found another 17 bodies. While continuing to block independent observers from the area, the military suggested that dozens of Hindu, a minority community, were “cruelly and violently killed by extremist Bengali terrorists.” Those claims were splashed across the local press and social media as ostensible proof of the threat Burma faces from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
While ARSA did attack over two dozen police outposts and an army base in late August – which sparked a Burmese military campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya population, forcing more than 400,000 people to flee to neighboring Bangladesh – no one has been able to independently verify the Burmese government’s most recent allegations. While Burmese authorities have put on a stage-managed tour to the Hindu village in question, as well as Rohingya villages unaffected by the recent violence, they have denied access to independent monitors to he mass graves and the rest of northern Rakhine State. If indeed ARSA responsibility is impartially and credibly established, those responsible should be held to account.
The government’s quick conclusion on ARSA’s guilt contrasts sharply with its own unwillingness to credibly investigate countless alleged crimes committed by its own forces against Rohingya Muslims.
Refugees in Bangladesh have described horrific accounts of soldiers conducting summary executions, burning people alive, and rampant sexual violence. Many Rohingya bear terrible injuries from attacks with spades, machetes, or guns. Human Rights Watch has concluded that these abuses against the Rohingya population are crimes against humanity.
The Burmese government should care about all its citizens – Hindu and Muslim, as well as majority Buddhists. While it has the responsibility to respond to security threats, it needs to do within the restraints of the law.
Burma’s government should stop playing politics with the dead. Beyond stopping military atrocities, it should allow the United Nations fact-finding mission into the country to investigate all crimes.