Monday 17 December 2018

Witness accounts and international reaction - what we know about mass graves discovered in Myanmar

Rohingya Muslim refugee Mohammad Karim, 26, shows a mobile video of Gu Dar Pyin’s massacre inside his kiosk in Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh. Photo: AP
Rohingya Muslim refugee Mohammad Karim, 26, shows a mobile video of Gu Dar Pyin’s massacre inside his kiosk in Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh. Photo: AP Newsdesk Newsdesk

The international community has expressed alarm following the discovery of at least five mass graves in Myanmar. We look at what we know so far:

Five graves confirmed:

At least five previously unreported mass graves have been uncovered in Myanmar, in the newest piece of evidence for what looks increasingly like genocide against the Rohingya in Rakhine state.

The Associated Press confirmed the existence of the graves around the village of Gu Dar Pyin, through interviews with more than two dozen survivors in Bangladesh refugee camps and time-stamped mobile phone videos.

The government regularly claims massacres like Gu Dar Pyin never happened, and has acknowledged only one mass grave containing 10 “terrorists” in the village of Inn Din.

The AP findings suggest not only the military’s slaughter of civilians but the presence of many more graves with many more people.

The Rohingya are a long-persecuted ethnic Muslim minority in the predominantly Buddhist country.


Community leaders have compiled a list of 75 dead so far, and villagers estimate the toll could be as high as 400, based on evidence from relatives and the bodies they have seen in the graves and strewn about the area.

Almost every villager interviewed by AP saw three large mass graves at Gu Dar Pyin’s northern entrance, near the main road, where witnesses say soldiers herded and killed most of the Rohingya.

A handful of witnesses confirmed two other big graves near a hillside cemetery, and smaller graves scattered around the village.

Video evidence:

Myanmar has cut off access to Gu Dar Pyin, so it is unclear how many people died, but satellite images obtained by AP from DigitalGlobe show a devastated village.

In the videos obtained by AP, dating to 13 days after the killing began, blue-green puddles of acid sludge surround corpses without heads and torsos that jut out from the earth, skeletal hands seeming to claw at the ground.

Survivors said soldiers planned the August 27 attack, and tried to hide what they had done.

They came to the slaughter armed not only with rifles, knives, rocket launchers and grenades, but also with shovels to dig pits and acid to burn away faces and hands so bodies could not be recognised.

Buddhist villagers then moved through Gu Dar Pyin in a sort of mopping-up operation, using knives to cut the throats of the injured, survivors said, and pitching the young and the elderly into fires.

International reaction:

The US State Department said on Thursday it was "deeply, deeply troubled" by new reports of mass graves in Myanmar's Rakhine State, where the military has been accused of atrocities against minority Rohingya Muslims.

"We are deeply, deeply troubled by those reports of mass graves," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a regular news briefing. "We are watching this very carefully. We remain focused on helping to ensure the accountability for those responsible for human rights abuses and violations."

Nauert said the reports highlighted the need for authorities in Myanmar to cooperate with an independent, credible investigation into allegations of atrocities in northern Rakhine state.

The UN special envoy on human rights in Myanmar said the military’s violent operations against Rohingya Muslims bear “the hallmarks of a genocide”.

Yanghee Lee told reporters in Seoul that she could not make a definitive declaration about genocide until a credible international tribunal or court had weighed the evidence, but “we are seeing signs and it is building up to that”.

Ms Lee said she did not have specific details on Gu Dar Pyin, but added: “You can see it’s a pattern.”

  • Additional reporting by Reuters

Press Association

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