Thank you very much, Madam, for giving me a chance to speak here today.
Hi and thank you to everyone in the room.
I would like to first introduce myself. I'm an executive director and the founder of the Burma Human Rights Network. We're based in London and we operate across Burma. We have more than 30 people working inside Burma. They are collecting evidence and investigating the human rights violations across Burma. We mainly focus on minority rights, freedom of religion, especially persecutions of the Rohingya and Muslim minorities in Burma.
As you are aware, the Rohingya issue is not new. Since we've existed in Burma, we've been facing all kinds of discrimination—religious discrimination and persecution.
Let me go straight to the 2007 military operation in the northern Rakhine State. Before the tension started, there were already attempts in some locations that we had been monitoring since last year, since 2017, March and May, these periods. We found so much news from the northern Rakhine State of killings of individuals, masked men coming to the villages in the nighttime and committing murder. Even today, nobody can say clearly who these people are who have committed these heinous crimes.
However, the consequence of this killing is that it has created fear among the people. Also, after that, there was some kind of movement in the media, the tone of the media. They started talking about this issue across Burma.
The tension in the northern Rakhine State had escalated significantly prior to August 25, with the unsolved murder of a Rakhine man, and then what appeared to be a vigilante killing of a Rohingya man by beheading him. Following this, sweeping arrests, curfews, beatings and torture of the Rohingya took place across northern Rakhine State.
The Burmese had brought reinforcement to northern Rakhine State prior to August 25, signalling that they were preparing for a military campaign. This was the start. From June, July, there were so many community-level meetings that happened in Sittwe, and significantly, the monk, Wirathu, known as Burmese bin Laden, travelled to Rakhine State quite a few times, frequently. Within these two to three months, we saw that he travelled two or three times to northern Rakhine State. These are some key indicators signalling that something was going on. We started monitoring more carefully. We found so many activities and things that indicated that this was a preplanned military operation.
The Burmese military was reported to have focused on attacking villages and civilians instead of pursuing ARSA to the mountains and foothills where.... This is exactly what happened on August 25. Before that happening, they brought in some military units, the 33rd and 99th, and those started to take positions in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung and those areas, and the southern Maungdaw Township.
Actually, the night the attack happened, I had been communicating with our team members and I relied on them at that time. The youths, those who were attacking those camps without any weapons.... It was the youth and the desperate people who were attacking those camps—the security force.
But still it is very suspicious. What were the locations they attacked? Still there is no clear evidence. Even the Burmese government couldn't tell us.
The Burmese military was reported to have focused on attacking the villages and civilians instead of pursuing the ARSA. Actually, they attacked those young people and the ARSA is also claiming that they attacked those villages, but something which I cannot be clear about even today is what the role of the real ARSA was because they are villagers. They are also young, desperate people. They are just a little bit confused inside. One of the theories is that the youth has been misled. Another one says they are being misled by the ARSA people.
In order to go to that point, to elaborate more, I would like to say that in 2016 when a military attack happened, the ARSA already had an idea of what the consequences were going to be if they attacked them. At that time, in 2016, when the ARSA attack happened, the military retaliated on the villages and civilians. The Burmese military consistently attacked in that direction. This is very important and very relevant to what is now in an ICC case of forced deportation. We conducted the research and asked questions to the people who faced or experienced military atrocities in northern Rakhine during the military operations.
The military conducted the attack by pushing down towards Bangladesh. They came up from the southwest, southeastern side, and then they pushed the population towards the northern side and drove them into Bangladesh. The Burmese military consistently attacked in the direction that pushed fleeing civilians into Bangladesh in what could only be an attempt to forcibly displace them from the country.
Several villages had meetings where authorities from the local government or the military told them to stay in place, and they were attacked and killed the following day. This includes Tula Toli. In this case, the authorities misled those villagers in order to trap them and conduct mass killings.
Following the military campaign, Rohingya civilians continued to flee due to the aid restrictions, the travel restrictions and food shortages. These are like killing without a gun. Official policy continued to force Rohingya to flee the country, but the media paid less attention because it was not conducted by a military operation. It is silently continuing until today.
Discussions on the repatriation of the Rohingya were occurring as the Rohingyas were still fleeing the country due to the unlivable conditions. The international community did not address this as they spoke on behalf of the Rohingya in regard to their return. Whenever we talk about their return, we need to know that these are genocide survivors, traumatized people. They have experienced such a heinous experience. They had to go. It is not possible for them to just return without any protection, without any assurance of security.
Numerous reports have been relayed to BHRN, our organization, and our teams on the ground of Rohingya who stayed in northern Rakhine State being accused of belonging to ARSA, without evidence. They are accused by the authorities that remain in northern Rakhine State, and often in extortion schemes, scamming. They release the accused after they have paid bribes to the police or throw the military some cash. This is one way to get money from those people.
Rohingya living in remote or rural areas outside the Buthidaung have reported that they are receiving little or no aid. Rohingya living in northern Rakhine State continue to complain of inadequate access to life-sustaining medicine for serious illness or diseases such as hepatitis. There are a few people...and the symptoms are now spreading among many people.
Seven Rohingya were also reported fleeing to Bangladesh to get medicine for serious health issues and they were later arrested when they attempted to return home. Rohingya living on the same border near Bangladesh complain about the lack of access to any aid, as Burma has discouraged them from—