Myanmar’s military is razing emptied Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine state and building bases on the rubble, raising fears that evidence of atrocities may be destroyed, according to a new report by rights watchdog Amnesty International.
Drawing on satellite image analysis and interviews with Rohingya eyewitnesses, Amnesty said that Rohingya mosques and homes have been bulldozed “at an alarming pace,” and new infrastructure, including roads, helipads, and military bases, are being build in their place.
“What we are seeing in Rakhine state is a land grab by the military on a dramatic scale,” Amnesty’s Crisis Response Director Tirana Hassan said in a statement. “New bases are being erected to house the very same security forces that have committed crimes against humanity against Rohingya.”
The report follows previous accounts by Amnesty and other rights groups who have documented the demolition of Rohingya villages at the epicenter of recent violence, prompting concerns that evidence of human rights abuses are being concealed before they can be properly documented. “Myanmar’s authorities are erasing evidence of crimes against humanity, making any future attempts to hold those responsible to account extremely difficult,” Hassan said.
Since Aug. 25, more than 671,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, after the military launched a campaign of violence on the Rohingya population that the U.N.’s top human rights official strongly suspects includes “acts of genocide.”
Myanmar’s government, which argues that the operations were a legitimate response to attacks by Rohingya militants, has requested “clear evidence” that atrocities have occurred.
According to Amnesty’s report, satellite images reveal that Myanmar’s military is flattening Rohingya villages and building new security infrastructure, including three military bases. One base is allegedly being built in Inn Din township, where a Reuters special report revealed a massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys in September by military forces and local Buddhist villagers.
The new developments also include a “transit center” intended to house returning Rohingya refugees, that was built on top of a burned-out village, Amnesty said. Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a repatriation agreement in January that would see hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees returned within two years. But rights groups have criticized the deal as “alarmingly premature” and raised concerns that repatriated Rohingya will be detained in interment camps similar to those in the center of the state, where some 120,000 Rohingya have been confined since waves of sectarian violence in 2012.
“This makes the voluntary, safe and dignified return of Rohingya refugees an even more distant prospect,” Hassan said. “Not only are their homes gone, but the new construction is entrenching the already dehumanizing discrimination they have faced in Myanmar.”