BURMA IS compounding the malevolence of its brutal ethnic cleansing campaign against the Muslim minority Rohingya people. The Burmese military unleashed a wave of violence in northern Rakhine state in August 2017, killing Rohingya, burning villages and forcing more than 650,000 to flee to Bangladesh. Now, satellite imagery published by Human Rights Watch shows that Burma, also known as Myanmar, is covering up the crime, bulldozing the scorched villages into oblivion.
The images show that at least 55 villages have been cleared of all buildings and vegetation using heavy machinery, among the 362 villages that were targeted by the military. In 10 more villages, the images show, hundreds of buildings that were partially destroyed by arson have now been leveled.
The bulldozers and backhoes are wiping clean a crime scene. Courageous Reuters reporters revealed recently that in one village, 10 Rohingya villagers — fishermen, shopkeepers, two teenage students and an Islamic teacher — were massacred and their bodies dumped into a shallow grave. How many more shallow graves are scattered across this blighted landscape? Burma has blocked international observers and foreign journalists from seeing the devastated region. A serious forensic examination is essential to hold the military to account for its actions.
Wiping the villages from the face of the Earth is also an insult to history and memory. It suggests the perpetrators believe they acted with impunity, a disturbing show of arrogance made even more brazen by the fact that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya victims are living in camps just beyond the border in Bangladesh. Earlier, the Burmese military exonerated itself of any responsibility for atrocities in northern Rakhine state.
The explanation offered by some in the government that the bulldozers are rebuilding the area strains credulity, given the regime’s long history of persecuting the Rohingya population. More likely, the generals are rushing to bury the evidence so it can never be presented in an international tribunal prosecuting crimes against humanity.
Once again, it is painful to ask, but we must: Where are you, Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, champion of democracy and human rights, and today your nation’s de facto leader? Can you not find your own conscience, despite the power still held by the generals in your country? This voice of conscience delivered the Nobel lecture June 16, 2012, in which you declared: “Ultimately our aim should be to create a world free from the displaced, the homeless and the hopeless, a world of which each and every corner is a true sanctuary where the inhabitants will have the freedom and the capacity to live in peace.”
The displaced Rohingya of Burma do not live in peace, and bulldozers are destroying what remains of their true sanctuary. The coverup can still be stopped, and Aung San Suu Kyi should be the one to stop it. No one wants northern Rakhine state to take its place in history alongside the Katyn forest, Babi Yar and Srebrenica.
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