Two soldiers who deserted the Myanmar Army have testified that they were instructed by commanding officers to “shoot all that you see and that you hear” in villages where minority Rohingya Muslims lived, AP reported on Tuesday, citing a human rights group.
The comments are said to be the first public confession by military personnel acknowledging reported incidents of army-led massacres, rapes and tortures against the Rohingya community in the predominantly Buddhist country.
Non-profit group Fortify Rights, which focuses on Myanmar, said the two men admitted to killing villagers in northern Rakhine state. They fled the country last month and are believed to be in the custody of the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands, which is examining the violence against the ethnic community, the group added.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since August 2017 to escape “clearance campaign”, as dubbed by the country’s military, after a Rohingya insurgent group launched an attack. The United States Human Rights Council called the campaign a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. The Myanmar government has repeatedly denied allegations of genocide, saying its military operations were targeting Rohingya militants who attacked border police posts.
A video testimony of the soldiers’ was filmed earlier in July by the Arakan Army, an ethnic group in Rakhine engaged in an conflict with the Myanmar government, Fortify Rights said.
The testimony of the two soldiers corroborate with the evidence of violence and human rights abuses against the Rohingya recorded from over a million refugees, The New York Times reported.
In the video message, according to the newspaper, private Myo Win Tun said that his 2017 order was clear: “Shoot all you see and all you hear.” Similarly, private Zaw Naing Tun said his battalion was ordered to “kill all you see, whether children or adults.”
Both of them have said they obeyed the orders and took part in the killing of over 30 Rohingya and also burying them in mass graves.
“This is a monumental moment for Rohingya and the people of Myanmar in their ongoing struggle for justice,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer of Fortify Rights. “These men could be the first perpetrators from Myanmar tried at the ICC [The International Criminal Court], and the first insider witnesses in the custody of the court.”
Both the men also gave the names and ranks of 19 direct perpetrators from the Myanmar army, including themselves, as well as six senior commanders, who they claimed ordered or contributed to atrocities against the Rohingya, the human rights group said.
In November 2019, the Gambia had filed a case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice, accusing it of committing genocide against Rohingya Muslim minority. Gambia asked the international court to urgently order measures “to stop Myanmar’s genocidal conduct immediately”. The case was supported by the 57-member Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, as well as Canada and the Netherlands.
In June this year, the international court ordered Myanmar to take provisional steps to protect the persecuted Rohingya Muslim community.
In September 2018, the International Criminal Court had launched a preliminary examination into the deportations of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to Bangladesh. The court said it can exercise its jurisdiction over allegations of Rohingya deportations as a possible crime against humanity. Although Myanmar is not a part of the court, Bangladesh is, and this gave the court the right to adjudicate since the crimes were committed in Bangladeshi territory.