Rohingya Fleeing Myanmar's Ethnic Cleansing 'Raped, Robbed and Starved,' Amnesty Says

There is new evidence of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, a rights group has claimed.

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

More than 655,000 Rohingya have fled since the start of the military operation last August, which the U.N. has described as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing."

Amnesty International now claims it has new evidence of violence that has forced hundreds of people to flee in recent weeks.

The group collected evidence of sexual violence, forced starvation and abductions during interviews with 19 Rohingya men and women in January. The refugees had recently arrived in Bangladesh.

The organization said oppression appears to be designed to make Rakhine unlivable for those who are still there.

One of the interviewees said women had been raped and robbed at checkpoints as they tried to flee.

"They searched our bodies. They took off our [outer] clothes," the woman, identified as Khateza, said.

"All the young women, including me, they searched us like this—they put their hand inside [on our breasts]... I was really uncomfortable. It was so embarrassing. I was crying."

The organization called on the international community to apply an arms embargo and targeted sanctions.

"The extent and range of these ongoing attacks in Rakhine show how Myanmar's military continues to assault and undermine not just individuals, but the dignity of the Rohingya population as a whole," Matthew Wells, Amnesty's Senior Crisis Advisor, who just returned from Bangladesh, said.

"Since the beginning of the crisis, the international community's response to the atrocities against the Rohingya population has been weak and ineffective, failing to grasp the severity of the situation in Rakhine or put sufficient pressure on Myanmar's military to stop the ethnic cleansing.

"An arms embargo and targeted sanctions are urgently needed to send a message that these violations will not be tolerated. There is also an urgent need for unfettered and sustained humanitarian access throughout Rakhine," he continued.

Myanmar's Rakhine state
This photo taken on September 6, 2017 shows Rohingya Muslims in the village of Shwe Zarr looking at Myanmar police, who are providing security due to recent nearby unrest, near Maungdaw township in Rakhine State. Amnesty International sai din February it had collected new evidence of violence that has forced hundreds of people to flee in recent weeks. STR/AFP/Getty Images

Amnesty's report comes just days after an investigation by AP led to the discovery of five mass graves in Rakhine.

Survivors and relatives of the victims said those killed were Rohingya Muslims, and the death toll could be as high as 400. They accused security forces of being behind the massacre and trying to cover it up.

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

The army's "clearance operations" began after Rohingya insurgents killed at least 11 people in Rakhine last August.

The military has been accused of committing human rights abuses, including mass rapes and extrajudicial executions, against the Rohingya. U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said the violence against Rohingya may amount to genocide.

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 regarding 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.

U.N. special rapporteur Yanghee Lee said she had been scheduled to travel to Myanmar in January. However, Myanmar told her it would not cooperate with her or grant 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 agreement, 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.