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'What kind of hatred could make a man stab a crying baby?'

Rohingya refugees in Teknaf, Bangladesh. The United Nations has released a report detailing ‘devastating cruelty’ against the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, saying such acts are ‘likely commission of crimes against humanity’. PIC By SADDAM YUSOFF

By A. Jalil Hamid
February 5, 2017

THE Rohingya have been described as people struck by tragedy. They have been persecuted for decades by Myanmar, a country they call home.

But they are unloved abroad and suffer from the geopolitics of powerful neighbours India and China, and overshadowed by the refugee crisis in Europe. In short, they have nowhere to go.

And to underline their worsening plight, the United Nations has just issued a damning report detailing an unprecedented “devastating cruelty” against the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

In the report, the UN says human rights violations against the Rohingya by Myanmar’s security forces indicate “very likely commission of crimes against humanity”.

Rohingya children had been subjected to “devastating cruelty” during a military campaign against Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority since Oct 9.

Babies and children have been slaughtered with knives during so-called “area clearance operations” by Myanmar troops, who are reported to have killed hundreds of people over the last four months in the Rakhine State.

An 8 month old, a 5 year old and a 6 year old were all reportedly stabbed to death in their own homes, according to a series of accounts in a disturbing report from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The UN has described the chilling accounts, based on interviews with more than 200 Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence at home, as “revolting”.

One mother recalled how her 5-year-old daughter was trying to protect her from rape when a man “took out a long knife and killed her by slitting her throat”.

In another case, an 8-month-old baby was reportedly killed while his mother was gang-raped by five security officers.

A 14-year-old girl also told of how, after being raped by soldiers, she saw her mother beaten to death and her two sisters, aged 8 and 10, killed with knives.

In another case, recounted by a number of refugees in separate interviews, the army locked an entire family, including elderly and disabled people, inside a house and set it on fire, killing them all.

More than half the 101 women interviewed said they had been victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence.

Linnea Arvidsson, one of the four UN workers who interviewed Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and drew up the report, told UK’s The Independent she had never encountered such a “shocking” situation.

The Myanmar government has repeatedly denied allegations of persecution against the Rohingya minority, rejecting any evidence as “propaganda” and arguing that police beatings were ordinary in many countries.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who has rallied strongly for the Rohingya and on Friday flagged off a food flotilla to Myanmar, had called for Myanmar to stop the “genocide” against its Muslim minority.

The flotilla saw members of Umno and Pas and Muslim non-governmental organisations on board a ship on a humanitarian mission to deliver 2,200 tonnes of food, medicine and basic necessities. 

“We want to tell Aung San Suu Kyi, enough is enough... We must and we will defend Muslims and Islam,” he told a rally in December. “The world cannot sit and watch genocide taking place.”

His use of the term “genocide” has drawn a sharp rebuke from Myanmar, which had threatened to halt sending workers to Malaysia as bilateral relations sour.

Myanmar officials had denied the allegations of abuse and Suu Kyi has told the international community to stop stoking the “fires of resentment”.

But the UN human rights report has proven otherwise.

“The gravity and scale of these allegations beg the robust reaction of the international community,” said Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, whose office released the 50-page report.

“The devastating cruelty to which these Rohingya children have been subjected is unbearable — what kind of hatred could make a man stab a baby crying out for his mother’s milk?

“And for the mother to witness this murder while she is being gang-raped by the very security forces who should be protecting her,” he said.

“What kind of ‘clearance operation’ is this? What national security goals could possibly be served by this?”

The UN report said that security forces’ members sometimes beat, raped or killed people in front of their relatives with the intention of “humiliating and instilling fear”.

“They beat and killed my husband with a knife,” a 25-year-old woman told investigators, describing how five soldiers then raped her and killed her 8-month-old son, who was crying. “To silence him, they killed him, too, with a knife.”

Al-Hussein said Myanmar government must immediately halt grave human rights violations against its own people.

“The killing of people as they prayed, fished to feed their families or slept in their homes, the brutal beating of children as young as 2 and an elderly woman aged 80 — the perpetrators of these violations, and those who ordered them, must be held accountable.”

Will Myanmar take heed of the UN findings? It is unlikely unless there is stronger international pressure on the Myanmar government.

But in Myanmar, the military remains a powerful bloc. A top lawyer, who had devised a plan to replace Myanmar’s constitution with one that would strip the military of its extraordinary political powers, was assassinated last week.

The killing of U Ko Ni, a top adviser for the ruling National League for Democracy party, also showed that the rule of law in Myanmar remains fragile. It has also fuelled distrust and concerns about the country’s future.

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