Bound together, shot to death: Myanmar massacre report prompts calls for independent probe

Reuters report marked 1st time soldiers and paramilitary police have been implicated by testimony

February 09, 2018

On Sept. 2, Buddhist villagers and Myanmar troops killed the 10 men in Myanmar's restive Rakhine state. Bound together, the 10 captives watched their Buddhist neighbours dig a shallow grave. Soon after, all lay dead. (Reuters)

A Reuters investigation into the killing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar has prompted demands for a credible probe into the bloodshed there and calls for the release of two journalists who were arrested while working on the report.

The special report, published overnight, lays out events leading up to the killing of 10 Rohingya men from Inn Din village in Rakhine state who were buried in a mass grave after being hacked to death or shot by Buddhist neighbours and soldiers.


On Friday, the UN described the details of the report as "alarming."

"This once more attests to the need for a full and thorough investigation by the authorities of all violence in Rakhine State and attacks on the various communities there," UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters.

On Sept. 2, Buddhist villagers and Myanmar troops killed the 10 men in Myanmar's restive Rakhine state. 

Bound together, the 10 captives watched their Buddhist neighbours dig a shallow grave. Soon afterwards, all 10 lay dead. At least two were hacked to death by villagers. The rest were shot by Myanmar troops, two of the gravediggers said.

"One grave for 10 people," said Soe Chay, 55, a retired soldier from Inn Din's Rakhine Buddhist community who said he helped dig the pit and saw the killings. The soldiers shot each man two or three times, he said. 

'Still making noises' when buried

"When they were being buried, some were still making noises. Others were already dead."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says an independent probe is critical for ensuring accountability.

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The refugee camps on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border contain thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence. CBC's Nahlah Ayed talks about her experiences reporting about the Rohingya refugee crisis and countless harrowing stories she heard from survivors  5:50

"As with other, previous reports of mass graves, this report highlights the ongoing and urgent need for Burmese authorities to co-operate with an independent, credible investigation into allegations of atrocities in northern Rakhine," Nauert said.

"Such an investigation would help provide a more comprehensive picture of what happened, clarify the identities of the victims, identify those responsible for human rights abuses and violations, and advance efforts for justice and accountability," she said.

The Reuters report drew on interviews with Buddhists who confessed to torching Rohingya homes, burying bodies and killing Muslims in what they said was a frenzy of violence triggered when Rohingya insurgents attacked security posts last August.

The account marked the first time soldiers and paramilitary police have been implicated by testimony from security personnel in arson and killings in the north of Rakhine state that the United Nations has said may amount to genocide.

In the story, Myanmar said its "clearance operation" is a legitimate response to attacks by insurgents.

Asked about the evidence Reuters had uncovered about the massacre, Myanmar government spokesperson Zaw Htay said on Thursday, before publication of the report: "We are not denying the allegations about violations of human rights. And we are not giving blanket denials."

If there was "strong and reliable primary evidence" of abuses, the government would investigate, he said. There was no comment from the government following the publication of the report.

'A turning point'

Nearly 690,000 Rohingya have fled their villages and crossed the border of western Myanmar into Bangladesh since August. British Labour Party lawmaker Rosena Allin-Khan told BBC's Newsnight that the Reuters report was consistent with accounts she had heard while working as a doctor at Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh last year.

Nearly 690,000 Rohingya have fled their villages and crossed the border of western Myanmar into Bangladesh since August. (Reuters)

"We've been bystanders to a genocide," she said. "This evidence marks a turning point because, for the first time since this all started to unfold in August, we have heard from the perpetrators themselves."

She said that, as well as an international probe, there needs to be a referral to the International Criminal Court.

Human Rights Watch said Myanmar's military leaders should be held accountable in an international court for alleged crimes against the Rohingya population.

"As more evidence comes out about the pre-planning and intent of the Myanmar armed forces to wipe out Rohingya villages and their inhabitants, the international community … needs to focus on how to hold the country's military leaders accountable," said HRW's deputy Asia director Phil Robertson.

Campaign group Fortify Rights also called for an independent investigation.

"The international community needs to stop stalling and do what's necessary to hold accountable those who are responsible before evidence is tainted or lost, memories fade, and more people suffer," said the group's chief executive Matthew Smith.

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, said in a tweet: "During the reporting of this article, two Reuters journalists were arrested by Myanmar police. They remain held & must absolutely be released."

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in an attempt to escape a violent crackdown by the Myanmar military upon the ethnic minority. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Yanghee Lee, the UN human rights investigator for Myanmar who has been barred from visiting the Rohingya areas, echoed that call and added in a tweet: "Independent & credible investigation needed to get to the bottom of the Inn Din massacre."

Police arrested two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, on Dec. 12 for allegedly obtaining confidential documents relating to Rakhine and have accused them of violating Myanmar's Official Secrets Act. They are in prison while a court decides if they should be charged under the colonial-era act.

Reuters' journalists Wa Lone, centre front, and Kyaw Soe Oo, centre back, are escorted by police as they leave the court after their first trial in Yangon, Myanmar, on Jan. 10, 2018. (Lynn Bo Bo/EPA)

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