Sona Mia and his family had little other choice when Myanmar soldiers opened fire on his village in late August. The 77-year-old was at home in the village of Koe Tan Kauk when the shootings began, part of the army’s grotesquely lopsided retaliation against the already persecuted Rohingya people for an attack on security forces. The family had to flee, but his adult daughter, Rayna, had a disability and could not walk or speak.
One of Mia's sons tried to carry Rayna on his shoulders, but the shootings were getting closer. Desperate, they hid Rayna in an abandoned house, promising to come back to her when the coast was clear.
After the military left the village, Mia’s sons went down and found their sister’s burned corpse in the ruins of the torched house.
Mia’s family joins more than 530,000 Rohingya who have fled from Myanmar security forces executing a scorched-earth campaign against them in just a few short weeks. That is comparable to the entire population of Tucson or of Atlanta running for their lives.
In addition to the massacres and the destruction of villages, the military also systematically raped and tortured those who tried to escape. One woman told of witnessing scores of her fellow villagers killed — including three of her children beaten to death — only to be raped by soldiers along with other women and left in a burning hut to die.
In our most detailed analysis yet of the Rohingya crisis, Amnesty International has identified, for the first time, specific military units responsible for committing these violent attacks, which amount to crimes against humanity.
We know who is responsible for these horrific acts. Myanmar has shown no signs of acting. Now it is time for the U.S. and international community to take the following steps to hold them accountable:
First, the international community should cut off all military cooperation with the Myanmar military by immediately suspending the transfer of all weapons, munitions and other security assistance.
Second, the United Nations Security Council should impose a comprehensive arms embargo as well as targeted financial sanctions against senior Myanmar officials responsible for human rights abuses. Witnesses we interviewed repeatedly implicated the army’s Western Command, the 33rd Light Infantry Division, and the Border Guard Police in some of the most heinous human rights violations. The military’s commander in chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, appears to have been intimately involved in the operations.
Fourth, the U.S. must demand that Myanmar halt the severe restrictions imposed on international and local aid organizations. These restrictions have compounded the suffering by depriving people of food and other life-sustaining provision. There is mounting evidence that Rohingya are now pouring into Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest and most densely populated countries, due to the threat of starvation.
While we welcome the U.S. government’s recent contribution of $32 million in humanitarian aid for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and those who are internally displaced within Myanmar, given the enormity of the humanitarian crisis that will continue for some time, the U.S. should play an international leadership role by increasing aid to provide food, medical care, water, sanitation and shelter for the growing number of displaced Rohingya.
Finally, the U.S. and international community should pressure the Myanmar civilian government to end the longstanding systematic discrimination against the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship under Myanmar law despite having resided in Myanmar for decades. For those Rohingya who wish to return to their homes voluntarily, Myanmar authorities must facilitate such return in safety and with dignity in accordance with international law.
Time is of the essence. The Rohingya can wait no longer while the international community stands by as the Myanmar military continues to commit crimes against humanity with impunity. For nearly two months, the world has watched the execution of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in Myanmar. If the international community does not come together now to protect refugees and human rights, when will it?
Joanne Lin is the senior managing director of advocacy and government relations at Amnesty International USA.Follow her on Twitter: @JoanneLinDC