Hundreds of secretly shot videos, obtained from a network of citizen activists, have shown evidence of Myanmar forces shot at civilian men, women and children – often as they ran from their homes – burned hundreds of villages and in some cases engaged in mass rape of women and young girls.
Ever since more than 700,000 Muslim Rohingyas fled a violent army campaign in Myanmar late last year, Myanmar’s military and government have repeatedly denied targeting civilians, insisting they were simply hunting Islamist terrorists.
Their campaign began on August 25, the day after the government claimed Rohingya “terrorists” attacked 31 police posts and an army base killing 11 border officials and an immigration officer. The army insists it was then involved in a “clearance operation” against the Islamist terrorists.
But witness testimony and documentary evidence presented in a PBS, Channel 4 and Dateline film, ‘Myanmar’s Killing Fields’, paint a different picture.
Rohingya villagers interviewed in the film describe extreme violence and brutality at the hands of Myanmar forces.
Mumtaz Begum is a mother from the village Tula Toli, which experienced one of the worst massacres of Rohingya citizens in August 2017.
“My five-year-old they threw her into the river,” she says. “I had a two-year-old baby. They took my child and threw him onto the fire.”
There are stories of extreme violence from other villages – in Chut Pyin, multiple villagers describe mass rape by soldiers.
One woman, Nur Begum, says women were rounded up and taken to bushes – when they tried to fight back one of the women was shot. “A soldier cut off her breast, he held it up like this and…said if we screamed, they would do the same to us.”
Yanghee Lee, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, says in the film that the Rohingya situation has the “hallmarks of genocide.”
The film shows that the army’s campaign to drive the Rohingya out of Myanmar began years ago, when it began implementing severe restrictions on all aspects of Rohingya life to the point where they were not seen as citizens but instead illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, despite many having lived in Myanmar for generations. Rohingya people living in Myanmar couldn’t travel without written permission or payment, mosques and religious schools were closed, they needed written permission and payments to have more than two children or to get married and as tensions escalated Rohingya villages were surrounded and besieged by security forces and local Rakhine Buddhists – the dominant ethnic group in the region.
The footage shows how the army conducted a brutal sweep through the region after the first attack on police posts by members of a previously unheard of militant group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). They filmed the aftermath of massacres and the dead bodies of men, women, children and babies – who villagers tell us were killed by the army as they moved through small Rohingya communities.
The covert camera operators were filming as the military increased its presence in Rakhine State from mid-2017 and continued to when the army’s main operation against the Rohingya was launched in August 2017.
They film dozens of villages they say were set on fire by the army, as scores of wounded men, women and children attempted to flee to neighbouring villages while being shot at. Large number of Rohingya civilians also escaped through forests and over mountains in desperate flight to find safety in Bangladesh.
'Myanmar's Killing Fields' is on Dateline Tuesday 9:30pm, May 15.