An Amnesty report that points fingers at ARSA could do more harm than good
Amnesty International, a reputed international human rights watchdog group, published a report claiming Rohingya armed group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) had massacred scores of Hindu civilians in Rakhine state on May 22 -- a report which ARSA has categorically denied later.
The report was shocking to many, and drew immediate criticism and condemnation from leading Rohingya activists as well as non-Rohingya activists, not because they were angry with the Amnesty exposé of the alleged crimes by the Rohingya armed group, but because the report was so shoddy and irresponsible.
The report has failed to brief readers on the history of persecutions of the Rohingya people in Myanmar and the emergence of ARSA as a direct consequence of the state-led violence in 2012.
It has also failed to clarify to readers how ordinary Rohingya civilians are not concerned with ARSA’s actions of any sort. Amnesty must have assessed all the risks involved with publishing a standalone report on ARSA’s alleged crimes with provocative religious overtones.
Hindu witness accounts and Amnesty’s methodologies
Last year, Hindu victims in Bangladeshi refugee camps, some of whom have returned to Myanmar now, claimed that they were targetted by Myanmar armed forces in August last year, along with Muslim people, as both Muslims and Hindus of that region look alike. Some Hindu refugees who still remain in Bangladesh continue to make similar claims.
One such Hindu witness last year testified that these masked men in black killed both Hindus and Muslims, or anyone who refused to follow their orders. Since there is no clear indication of a motive for ARSA killing both fellow Muslims and Hindus, the perpetrators who staged the massacre could be Myanmar military, ARSA, or even a third party.
Whilst Amnesty claims all Hindu witness accounts in Bangladesh to be unreliable because it believes these testimonies were given under pressure, it does not apply the same logic or scrutiny as to why Hindus who have returned to or remain in Myanmar under very tense circumstances would provide unreliable testimonies.
It is not clear why Amnesty assumes that accounts provided in Bangladesh should be considered less reliable than the ones in Myanmar (under the watchful eyes of the Myanmar intelligence and authorities).
Isn’t it the same Myanmar government that has been repeatedly exposed of coercing and forcing members of this Hindu community to dress up as Muslims to stage fake events?
Amnesty’s response to criticisms
Amnesty responded to criticisms by stating that no one except for the Rakhine state authorities were aware of their travel to the state’s capital Sittwe and the interviews with Hindus. Isn’t Rakhine state’s NLD government the one and the same as the central NLD government?
For foreigners to travel to Rakhine, plagued by state-led violence since 2012, they must go through strict procedures and rules set by the government -- making it unlikely that they could escape the radar of the Myanmar intelligence services while in Rakhine state.
And (Rohingya) Hindus, like their (Rohingya) Muslims counterparts, also require travel permission from the immigration department -- called “form 4” -- and therefore, their travels to Sittwe could only happen with the complete knowledge of the Myanmar authorities.
During a recent TV debate on TRT Channel, Amnesty’s Tirana implied that this report strengthens calls for international accountability, and the government would be more likely to allow investigators if it reported on all crimes rather than the crimes of the Myanmar military and government only. However, this clearly sounds like rhetoric -- the Myanmar military will not allow any international investigations in Rakhine state unless it is forced to do so by the international authoritative bodies.
The consequences of Amnesty’s callous report
While Amnesty’s report has not conclusively proven that ARSA was behind the massacres, it has resulted in fuelling Islamophobia and the further deepening of anti-Rohingya hatred. The report has thrust big and bold headlines in almost all newspapers in Myanmar, and government officials have been using the report to roll out bitter anti-Muslim propaganda in the country.
The report has apparently become something of a cover-up for the genocidal Myanmar military that has left the remaining Rohingya population in Arakan state vulnerable to further attacks.
And in India, where hatred for Rohingya refugees is on the rise, the media has taken Amnesty’s report grossly out of context. The Indian media has carried headlines like “Rohingya terrorists killed Hindus” giving way to Twitter hashtags like #RohingyaKilledHindus.
Consequently, a massive fire broke out at the Rohingya refugee camps in the Nuh district in Haryana state of India, destroying 70 huts completely. The report has put the lives of Rohingya refugees in India in unprecedented danger.
Furthermore, the report has also:
• Undermined actions taken towards ending the genocide against the Rohingya in Myanmar and bring the perpetrators -- the Myanmar military -- to justice through the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the UN Security Council
• Undermined not only the roles of the UN and human rights groups, but also Amnesty’s own stated advocacy goal of getting the Myanmar-military government to open up Rakhine state
• Helped the Myanmar military -- who label the Rohingya community at large “terrorists” -- to push the issue under the global label of War on Terror
Therefore, it is essential for readers of Amnesty’s report on ARSA to be sceptical of it. Taking this report -- which is filled with sensationalism -- at face value could further endanger a people facing genocide.
The report concerning the Myanmar military should be approached with caution, taking consideration of past records. The whole process of the report, its methodologies, and findings require a good amount of scrutiny to ascertain its merits.
MS Anwar is an activist and journalist with years of experience of reporting on the Rohingya and other related issues. He is currently a news editor at rohingyablogger.com. He was born and brought up in Myanmar. He can be followed on Twitter @YoursRohingya.