Five New Mass Graves Discovered in Myanmar As Rohingya Crisis Continues

Dozens of corpses have been discovered at five mass graves in Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state.

Survivors and relatives of the victims said those killed were Rohingya Muslims, a stateless ethnic minority facing alleged persecution in the country. They said the death toll could be as high as 400 and accused security forces of being behind the massacre and trying to cover it up.

The atrocity is thought to have taken place in late August 2017, following the start of a military operation in Rakhine the U.N. later described as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing."

This is not the first time that mass graves have been discovered in Rakhine, where rights groups say thousands have been killed.

The previously unreported five mass graves were discovered following an investigation by news agency AP, which interviewed dozens of Rohingya refugees across refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh.

The organization also obtained footage showing attempts at using acids to eliminate the bodies, which villagers discovered after heavy rains had made them surface from the shallow graves.

One survivor, Kadir, alleged that security forces started shooting at Rohingya in the village of Gu Dar Pyin during a football-like game. Only he and two other teammates survived. Kadir later discovered the bodies of six of his friends in two of the five mass graves.

"It was a mixed-up jumble of corpses piled on top of each other," he said. "I felt such sorrow for them."

Human Rights Watch, which has conducted several investigations into alleged crimes against the Rohingya, called on the international community to demand accountability from Myanmar.

"It's time for the E.U. and the U.S. to get serious about identifying and leveling targeted sanctions against the Burmese military commanders and soldiers responsible for these rights crimes," Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director, Human Rights Watch, said in a statement to Newsweek.

"And for the U.N. to lead the charge for a global arms embargo, and an end of training and engagement for the Tatmadaw [Myanmar's armed forces]. The U.N. Security council should also take a decision to refer the Myanmar security forces actions to the International Criminal Court for a thorough investigation and effective prosecution."

Rohingya Muslims
Rohingya refugees climb to their house at Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh's Ukhia district on January 26, 2018. The repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar will not begin as planned, Bangladesh said on January 22, with authorities admitting 'a lot of preparation' was still needed. MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Myanmar regards Rohingya as stateless people and unwelcome migrants from Bangladesh.

The Rohingya live in segregated conditions in Rakhine and routinely flee Myanmar due to widely reported persecution.

More than 655,000 Rohingya have fled since the start of the military operation last August.

The exodus began after attacks by Rohingya insurgents killed at least 11 people in Rakhine. The military retaliated with what they described as "clearance operations" to identify and root out militants, but U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said violence against Rohingya may amount to genocide.

Myanmar's army has been accused of committing human rights abuses, including mass rapes and extrajudicial executions, against the Rohingya.

The army has strongly denied accusations of excessive force against the Rohingya and only admitted to being responsible for a mass grave containing the bodies of "10 Bengali terrorists" discovered in Inn Din village last year.

Myanmar's de-facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has faced scathing criticism for her prolonged silence and perceived inaction to resolve the ongoing crisis.

Suu Kyi's power over the military is limited, however she has been criticized for failing to address the situation and publicly condemn the massacres. The leader refuses to use the word "Rohingya" in her public addresses, arguing it is too contentious for an already affected population.

In December, Myanmar indefinitely barred access to the U.N. independent investigator on human rights in the country.

U.N. special rapporteur Yanghee Lee said she had been scheduled to travel to Myanmar in January. However, Myanmar told her that it would not cooperate with her or grant her access to the country for the rest of her tenure.

Myanmar and Bangladesh reached a deal to repatriate the refugees, but rights groups and the U.N have expressed skepticism over the deal, calling for greater clarity.

Some have pointed out Rohingya will unlikely return voluntarily, unless Myanmar guarantees them safety and full recognition of their rights as citizens.