Analysis of satellite imagery has revealed new destruction of Rohingya villages during October and November 2017 in northern Rakhine State in Myanmar, Human Rights Watch said.
The Human Rights Watch identified 40 villages with building destruction occurring in October and November, increasing the total to 354 villages that have been partially or completely destroyed since August 25, 2017.
According to a report published by the HRW, thousands more Rohingya refugees fled Myanmar and entered Bangladesh during this period.
The satellite imagery confirms that dozens of buildings were burned the same week Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on November 23 to begin the repatriation of the refugees in Bangladesh within two months.
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Satellite imagery of four villages in Maungdaw township, northern Rakhine State, on November 25, 2017 Digital Globe
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Satellite imagery of four villages in Maungdaw township, northern Rakhine State, on December 2, 2017 Digital Globe
On November 25, satellite data detected an active fire and building destruction in Myo Mi Chang village in Rakhine State’s Maungdaw Township.
Four villages suffered building destruction between November 25 and December 2.
“The Myanmar army’s destruction of Rohingya villages within days of signing a refugee repatriation agreement with Bangladesh shows that commitments to safe returns were just a public relations stunt,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
He said: “The satellite imagery shows what the Myanmar army denies: that Rohingya villages continue to be destroyed. The Myanmar government pledges to ensure the safety of returning Rohingya cannot be taken seriously.”
The report said the rights organization used satellite imagery to assess and monitor over 1,000 villages and towns in the townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathiduang, where the Myanmar military and vigilantes had engaged in attacks on Rohingya.
They also found that the damage patterns in the 354 affected villages are consistent with burning occurring in the weeks after the military operations began in late August.
Of the 354 affected villages, at least 118 were either partially or completely destroyed after September 5 -- the date the Myanmar State Counsellor’s office announced as the end of clearance operations. Of the 40 new villages with building destruction identified by Human Rights Watch, 24 were destroyed in October, 11 in November, and five over both months.
The latest documented arson attacks occurred between November 25 and December 2 in four villages. Satellite data from environmental sensors detected an active fire at 12:30pm in the Rohingya village of Myo Mi Chang in Maungdaw Township on November 25.
Building destruction was concentrated in the centre of the village, which was undamaged until this attack. Other villages subjected to arson attacks during this period include Nga/Myin Baw, Goke Pi, and an unknown village in the village tract of Zee Pin Chaung.
Also Read - HRW: New satellite images confirm mass destruction in Myanmar
On November 23, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an “Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State” on behalf of the residents of Rakhine State who crossed from Myanmar into Bangladesh after October 9, 2016 and August 25, 2017.
In letters to both governments, Human Rights Watch said the agreement should be shelved, noting the lack of involvement by the United Nations and the unrealistic timetable for safe and voluntary returns starting in January 2018.
Since late August, the Myanmar military has committed widespread killings, rapes, arbitrary arrests, and mass arson in hundreds of predominantly Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine State, forcing more than 655,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Also Read - MSF: More than 6,700 Rohingya killed during violence in Myanmar
Human Rights Watch has found that this campaign of ethnic cleansing amounts to crimes against humanity. Attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) armed group on 30 security force outposts and an army base that killed 11 Myanmar security personnel set off the country’s military “clearance operations” against the Rohingya.
In November, a Myanmar army “investigation team” report concluded that there were “no deaths of innocent people” during the military operation in Rakhine State, and that at least 376 “terrorists” were killed during fighting, contrary to information reported by the UN, media outlets, and human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch.
The humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on December 14 concluded that at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the violence, over 700 of whom were children, based on survey data of refugees in Bangladesh.
“The UN Security Council and concerned governments shouldn’t continue to stand by as evidence of continuing attacks on the Rohingya community comes to light,” Adams said.
“Targeted sanctions need to be imposed now against those responsible for ordering and carrying out crimes against humanity.”