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[This is a longer version of the article with the same title published on Dhaka Tribune on June 19.]

Irresponsible reports do nothing to help the cause of human rights © MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

By MS Anwar | June 22, 2018

An Amnesty report that points fingers at ARSA could do more harm than good

Amnesty International, a reputed international human rights watchdog group, published a report claiming ‘Rohingya armed group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) had massacred scores of Hindu civilians in Rakhine state’ on May 22 -- a report which ARSA categorically denied later.

The report was shocking to many, and drew immediate criticism and condemnation from leading Rohingya activists as well as non-Rohingya activists, not because they were angry with the Amnesty exposé of the alleged crimes by the Rohingya armed group, but because the report was so shoddy and irresponsible.

The massacre indeed took place. No one questions that. But some important questions still remain: Who were the massacred civilians - all Hindus or a mixed group of Hindus and Muslims. And who were those masked-men dressed in black that allegedly perpetrated the crimes? The Amnesty report does not provide definitive answers to either of these damning questions. [Also read: Does Amnesty’s ARSA report prove anything?]

Initial Reports Implicate Myanmar Military for the Massacre

One Hindu eyewitness, in Bangladesh last year, testified that "this black-squad killed both Hindus and Muslims or anyone who refused to follow their orders." Although one cannot rule out the possibility that ARSA could be behind it, there is no indication of a motive for ARSA killing either fellow Muslims or Hindus. Furthermore, more Hindu victims have claimed that they were targeted by the Myanmar armed forces in August, 2017 along with Muslim people as both Muslims and Hindus look alike. These were the account given in Bangladesh refugee camps before some of them returned to Myanmar and after getting in touch with one of their community leaders named U Ni Maw who is reported to have been closely working with the Myanmar authorities. [Read: Outsourcing Myanmar Military’s Lethal Propaganda] Some of the Hindus who have remained in Bangladesh refugee camps continue to claim they were targeted by the Myanmar military along with Muslims.

Citing forensic anthropological experts’ examination of the photos of the dead bodies, Amnesty claimed that the massacre took place on August 25, 2017. Yet this provides no evidence as to who was behind the massacre. Shockingly enough, most of the dead bodies were found with their genitals cut off in the photos that were released by the Myanmar government last year. Many Rohingya and international activists demanded the Myanmar government allow international forensic experts examine the dead bodies of the people massacred. Shortly afterwards, it was he Myanmar government burnt the corpses, leaving no traces behind.

Under such circumstances, one couldn’t help but wonder if members of the Myanmar Security or Military themselves staged a false-flag attack in order to avoid international scrutiny over international crimes including genocide?

How Reliable are Witness Accounts Given in Myanmar?

Amnesty claimed that it conducted ‘dozens of interviews’ in Myanmar and across the border in Bangladesh. So far, it has been proven that all the Hindu witness accounts in Bangladesh implicated the Myanmar military of the massacre.   Amnesty claims these to be unreliable because it ‘BELIEVES’ these testimonies were given under pressure. Yet Amnesty does not apply the same logic or scrutiny as to why Hindus who have returned, or remain in Myanmar under very tense circumstances, may provide unreliable testimony. Understandably, those returnees and other Hindus have different stories to tell when they came to Amnesty’s interviews in Sittwe (the capital of Rakhine state).

(Rohingya) Hindus, like their (Rohingya) Muslim counterparts, are not allowed to travel freely and require travel permission from the Immigration Department called ‘Form 4’. Rakhine Women’s Union’ is said to have arranged their travel to Sittwe for interviews with Amnesty’s interviews in order for them to obtain travel permission. Therefore, arrangements for the interviews had to happen with the complete KNOWLEDGE of the Myanmar Government. It is an established fact that sections of the Rakhine community have assisted the Myanmar armed forces in carrying out Genocide against the Rohingya since 2012. This casts doubt as to whether the interviewees would be free to express themselves and provide reliable testimony. Therefore, it is not clear why Amnesty assume that accounts provided in Bangladesh deemed less reliable than the accounts provided in Myanmar under the watchful eyes of the Myanmar intelligence and authorities.

One can assume that if Hindu victims had provided statements that the perpetrators were the Burmese military - or that they didn't recognize the killers at all, that they would not be safe in Myanmar. The same Myanmar government also has been repeatedly exposed coaxing and forcing the members of this Hindu community to dress up as Muslims to stage fake events. One such staged incident of Muslims supposedly torching their own homes (below), was widely promoted/circulated by the Myanmar Presidential Spokesperson, Zaw Htay (also responsible for the incitement of violence against Rohingya in June 2012). Later, it was exposed as a fake – a source of deep embarrassment for Zaw Htay.


Amnesty responded to criticism by stating that no one except for the Rakhine state authorities knew about their travel to Sittwe and interviews with the Hindu victims. However, isn’t it the Rakhine state NLD government one and same as the NLD government – a government which is controlled by the Myanmar military? The same Myanmar military that is responsible for the Genocide against Rohingya?

Amnesty Team’s Mysterious Travel to Sittwe

According to the report, these interviews with the Hindu victims were conducted between April 25 and May 18. It is not feasible that researcher, Laura Haigh, and her team would have been able to travel to and conduct research in Sittwe for three weeks (or even a few days as Amnesty Crisis Response Director Tirana Hassan later claimed) without Myanmar’s intelligence being fully aware. For foreigners to travel to Rakhine state plagued by the state-led violence (against Rohingya) since 2012, they must go through strict procedures and rules set by the government – making it unlikely that  they could escape the radar of the Myanmar intelligence services while in Rakhine state.

It appears that the preparation and execution for the report on ARSA’s alleged massacre was done in haste. Hence, it contains factual errors and poorly evidenced conclusions – despite Amnesty claims that the methodology was thorough and rigorous.

Besides, Laura Haigh also attempted to travel to Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships while she was in Sittwe. But the authorities barred her and her team from travelling to Maungdaw where the massacre actually happened. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that there is serious information that the authorities were trying to hide from the world or the Amnesty team in this case. Under such circumstance, is it possible to ascertain irrefutable evidence relating to a serious incident that transpired nine months earlier?

Consequences of Amnesty’s Stand-Alone Report

Amnesty International is a reputed International Human Rights Watchdog with years and years of experiences of reporting human rights. They must have assessed the risks involved with publishing a STAND-ALONE report which also has provocative religious overtones written over it.

Amnesty International failed to brief about the background of historical genocidal persecutions of the Rohingya people by the Myanmar military and the emergence of ARSA as a direct consequence of the State-led violence in 2012. Amnesty International also failed to clarify the readers how the ordinary Rohingya civilians are not concerned with ARSA’s actions, even if it’s been proven to have massacred the Hindus or killed any other civilians.

As expected, the report has been being championed by the anti-Rohingya adversaries and taken out of context by some international media carrying Islamophobic headlines. The result is fuelling Islamophobia, the deepening of anti-Rohingya hatred, and the demonizing the Rohingya community as a whole as extremists.  It even overshadows decades-long genocidal-killings of Rohingya in Myanmar. As a result, it has left the remaining Rohingya population in Arakan State vulnerable to further attacks by the Myanmar armed forces and put the lives of the Rohingya refugees outside Myanmar, especially in today’s anti-Muslim/anti-Minority India, in an unprecedented danger.

Myanmar Military Get a Cover-Up

In the face of an unfolding Genocide (by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya), Amnesty’s stand-alone report -- on one ARSA’s alleged crimes instead of including it in a chapter in a larger assessment report on the overall crimes and atrocities taken place in the Arakan state --has seriously damaged years of hard-works of the right activists worldwide. It has given the Myanmar military officials many reasons to cheer and they have welcomed the report. The report has thrust big and bold headlines almost in all newspapers in the country and the government officials have been using the report to roll out bitter anti-Muslim propaganda in the country.


During a recent TV debate on TRT Channel, Amnesty's Tirana has tried to imply that this 'report' strengthens calls for international accountability as though the government would be more likely to allow in investigators if it is for all crimes rather than crimes of Myanmar military and government. However, this clearly sounds empty rhetoric.

With decades of experiences in conflicts and violence against the ethnic minorities in the country, the Myanmar military has certainly mastered the art of trickery to avoid international scrutiny and accountability for the countless crimes they have committed. Therefore, even after considering Amnesty's report to be true, it is highly unlikely that the Myanmar government (controlled by its military) would allow anyone to investigate into the crimes committed by the military, unless they are forced to do so by the international authoritative bodies.

As expected, the Myanmar military seems doubling down their game of distraction and cover-up of crimes. It has formed yet another investigation commission of its own comprising one undisclosed international expert and two local experts to investigate ARSA's alleged crimes seemingly in line with Amnesty's report. Since the violence against Rohingya began in June 2012, the Myanmar government has already formed a total of six investigation commissions of its own to investigate into the crimes committed by its own military. And all the commissions have come out covering up and white-washing the crimes of the Myanmar armed forces.

However, this time, it's expected from the three-person commission to come out with a report finding ARSA guilty of committing gross crimes against humanity, an effective distraction from the crimes against humanity and crimes of Genocide against Rohingya. Not just that, Amnesty's report has also given the Myanmar genocidaires to allege neighboring Bangladesh of being complicit with ARSA.

Therefore, it undermines not only the roles of UN and Human Rights Groups but also Amnesty’s own stated advocacy goal of getting the Myanmar-military government open up in Rakhine State. They will continue to use this report to play down the demands for UN-led investigations and other independent international investigation. And Amnesty has just given them an effective tool to cover-up their crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity in Rakhine state with inconclusive and irresponsible reporting.

Lives of Rohingya Refugees in India are at Risk

Hatred for Rohingya refugees in India has been surging since the right-wing Hindu nationalist party BJP (Bhartiya Janata Party) got into power in 2014. The refugees have been killed, targeted and their camps burnt down. The Indian media has now taken the Amnesty’s report grossly out of context. They have carried headlines such as 'Rohingya Terrorists Killed Hindus’ and twitter hash-tags like ‘#Rohingya Killed Hindus.'

A massive fire broke out in the Rohingya refugee camps in the ‘Nuh’ district in Haryana state of India completely destroying 70 huts. There is a strong possibility that Hindu extremists set the camp on fire, in the wave of extremism triggered by the latest Amnesty report. Amnesty's report has just added fuel to the fire of already seething anti-Rohingya hatred and just given the Hindu extremists legitimacy to target more (Rohingya) refugees in India in times to come. Below is the latest example how the right-wing Hindus are demonstrating their hatred towards to the Rohingya refugees in India after Amnesty’s report.


Co-incidence or Collusion?

Of late, there has been mounting pressure on the Myanmar government and military as calls to prosecute the Myanmar military at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the Crimes against the Humanity against Rohingya have been amplified, with over 100 British MPs calling on the UK to support this process. The ICC has been seeking Bangladesh’s cooperation to initiate a prosecution. Amidst all of this, the Burmese Government and military have been exploring ways to avoid the prosecution including lobbying Bangladesh not to cooperate with the ICC through China and Japan.

On May 21, Priyanka Chopra, a famous Indian actress and UNICEF goodwill ambassador, visited the Rohingya refugee camps highlighting the plight of the refugee children and overall plight of Rohingya internationally. This and other celebrity visits has also helped spread news about the Rohingya genocide survivors in Bangladesh to many corners of the world, where people had earlier been unaware of the situation. Back in her home India, her followers and millions of Indians, have reassessed their thinking about Rohingya and begun thinking positively.

All these positive changes and the hard-work of many Rohingya and non-Rohingya activists to bring the Genocide perpetrators i.e. the Myanmar military into justice have almost been derailed and overshadowed by one Amnesty’s shoddy and callous report published on May 22. It’s also shocking that Amnesty’s report on ARSA’s alleged crimes came just week after Myanmar’s permanent UN representative, U Hau Do San, urged the UN Security Council to investigate the “atrocities” of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) against civilians (on May 15). For past few weeks, the notorious Myanmar’s Presidential Spokesperson Zaw Htay has also been calling the UN and others to focus on ARSA’s crimes (which the Myanmar government claims they have committed).

So, the timing of the report could potentially derail efforts of the Rohingya and non-Rohingya activists and provide the Burmese military with more breathing space? Some activists question whether there was a back-door deal (of some-kind) between the Amnesty research and the Burmese government (brokered by a third party) or suggest that there was a certain degree of collusion between the Amnesty team and the Myanmar government in the preparation of THIS shoddy and callous report with provocative religious overtone.

Has the Report Achieved Anything?

Amnesty's report hasn't CONCLUSIVELY proven that the ARSA were behind the massacres of the Hindu people. But it has

1) Undermined the actions taken towards ending the Genocide against Rohingya in Myanmar
2) Derailed years of efforts of many Rohingya and non-Rohingya activists to bring the Genocidal Myanmar military to justice
3) Fuelled Islamophobia, i.e. Rohingya community at large are seen as Muslim extremists
4) Left the Rohingya people in Myanmar prone to further attacks in Myanmar and put the lives of the Rohingya refugees in India and places alike into unprecedented danger
5) Helped the Myanmar military, who label the Rohingya community at large “terrorists”, to push the issue into the global context of ‘War on Terror.’

Similarly, one shouldn't also dismiss the fact that ARSA, like any other rebel groups, could also be guilty of crimes, even if not in this one.  And all those who commit crimes must be brought to justice. Therefore, it is essential that we force the Burmese government and military -- who have refused all calls to let international bodies investigate the crimes in Rakhine State – to provide unfettered access to those with a  UN Mandate such as IFFM or similar to independently investigate the crimes committed by all parties. Only then, we will know the actual crimes committed by the responsible parties and can bring the perpetrators of Genocide and all other sorts of criminals to justice.

As of now, it is essential for the readers of Amnesty’s report on ARSA to be skeptical of the report. Taking this report, that is filled with sensationalism, at face value could further endanger a people facing Genocide. The report concerning the Myanmar military should be approached with caution, taking consideration of the past records. The whole process of the report, methodologies and findings requires analysis to ascertain its merits.

MS Anwar is an activist and journalist with years of experience of reporting on the Rohingya and other related issues. He is currently a news editor at He was born and brought up in Myanmar. He can be followed on Twitter @YoursRohingya.

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