Qualitative evidence of crimes against humanity: the August 2017 attacks on the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar
Messner N., Woods A., Petty A., Parmar PK., Leigh J., Thomas E., Curry D., Venters H., Gilbert A., Nelson T., Lester E.
Abstract Background The Rohingya ethnic minority population in northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, have experienced some of the most protracted situations of persecution. Government-led clearance operations in August 2017 were one of many, but notably one of the most devastating, attacks on the population. The study aimed to conduct a multiphase mixed-methods assessment of the prevalence and contexts of violence and mortality across affected hamlets in northern Rakhine State during the August 2017 attacks. This publication describes qualitative accounts by Rohingya community leaders from affected hamlets, with a focus on the events and environment leading up to and surrounding the attacks. Methods Qualitative in-depth interviews were conducted with Rohingya community leaders representing 88 northern Rakhine state hamlets across three townships affected by the August 2017 attacks (Maungdaw, n = 34; Buthidaung, n = 42; Rathedaung, n = 12). Prior quantitative surveys conducted among representative hamlet leaders allowed for preliminary screening and identification of interview candidates: interviewees were then selected based on prior reports of 10 or more deaths among Rohingya hamlet community members, mass rape, and/or witness of mass graves in a hamlet or during displacement. Recorded interviews were transcribed, translated, and thematically coded. Results Rohingya leaders reported that community members were subjected to systematic civil oppression characterized by severe restrictions on travel, marriage, education, and legal rights, regular denial of citizenship rights, and unsubstantiated accusations of terrorist affiliations in the months prior to August 2017. During the attacks, Rohingya civilians (inclusive of women, men, children, and elderly) reportedly suffered severe, indiscriminate violence perpetrated by Myanmar security forces. Crimes against children and sexual violence were widespread. Bodies of missing civilians were discovered in mass graves and, in some cases, desecrated by armed groups. Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw), consisting of the Army, Navy, and Border Guard Police continued to pursue, assault, and obstruct civilians in flight to Bangladesh. Conclusions Qualitative findings corroborate previously published evidence of widespread and systematic violence by the Myanmar security forces against the Rohingya. The accounts describe intentional oppression of Rohingya civilians leading up to the August 2017 attacks and coordinated and targeted persecution of Rohingya by state forces spanning geographic distances, and ultimately provide supporting evidence for investigations of crimes against humanity and acts of genocide.