Two Myanmar soldiers have revealed that they were told to ‘shoot what you hear’ as they ‘wiped out’ villages of Rohingya Muslims, raped women and executed children.
The confessions are thought to be are the first made by soldiers directly involved in the genocide which the Myanmar government described as a ‘clearance campaign’ to remove terrorists from Rakhine state.
The privates, one of whom admitted to raping a woman, said they were ordered to ‘exterminate all Kalar’ (a derogatory word for Rohingya) and described how they marauded through villages, slaughtering young and old alike.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape the atrocities since August 2017. Myanmar’s government has denied accusations that security forces committed mass rapes and killings and burned thousands of homes.
Private Myo Win Tun, 33, said he was ordered to ‘shoot all you see and all you hear’ during a night time raid on a Rohingya village
Private Zaw Naing Tun, 30, who served in a separate light infantry division tells the camera they killed young and old alike
Houses are on fire in Gawdu Zara village, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, in September 2017
A woman who escaped from Rakhine state is covered in injuries at the Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh October 19, 2017
Fortify Rights, which obtained the footage, said privates Myo Win Tun, 33, and Zaw Naing Tun, 30, who served in separate light infantry battalions, gave ‘the names and ranks of 19 direct perpetrators from the Myanmar army, including themselves, as well as six senior commanders … they claim ordered or contributed to atrocity crimes against Rohingya.’
The soldiers are believed to be in the custody of the International Criminal Court at the Hague and were filmed in July after they were detained by the Arakan Army, an ethnic guerrilla group in Rakhine fighting against the Burmese.
It is not clear whether the allegations by the soldiers were made under duress.
In separate videos, the two soldiers were shown seated stiffly in military uniforms with a sheet covering the background, as an off-screen male voice asked them questions.
After answering questions about his name, serial number and military units, Myo Win Tun said the commander of the 15th Military Operations Center, whom he named as Col. Than Htike, gave an order to ‘shoot all you see and all you hear’ when raiding Muslim villages. He said in one operation, they killed and buried 30 people: ‘eight women, seven children and 15 men and elderly.’
He asserted that Col Than Htike ordered his unit to ‘exterminate all Kalar’ – a derogatory name for the Rohingya – and that they shot the men in their foreheads and kicked their bodies into a hole. They also raped the women before killing them and he admitted to carrying out one rape.
He said his unit appropriated mobile phones and laptops, and also seized cattle, an allegation that has been widely reported.
Staring directly at the camera with barely any perceptible movement, Zaw Naing Tun recounted how his unit ‘wiped out’ 20 Rohingya villages.
The soldier said about 80 people in all were killed, including children, adults and the elderly of both sexes. The killings were sanctioned by his battalion commander, Lt. Col Myo Myint Aung, he said.
In one incident, 10 villagers suspected of belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, the Rohingya insurgent group, were captured and tied up, and then shot on the orders of a captain, he said, acknowledging that he was one of the shooters.
Zaw Naing Tun said he was present when a sergeant and a corporal raped three Rohingya women in the course of searching houses, but asserted he did not carry out any rapes.
He acknowledged taking part in looting, saying his unit officer declared ‘what you take is what you get’ ahead of a raid on a market.
‘We entered into the market, destroyed locks and doors, and then we took money, gold, clothes, food and mobile phones,’ he said.
Amina Khatun, a 30-year-old Rohingya refugee who fled with her family from Myanmar a day before, cries after she, along with thousands of newly arrived refugees, spent a night by the road between refugee camps near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, October 10, 2017
Human bones are seen in a shallow grave in Inn Din, Myanmar, October 26, 2017
Fortify Rights said the two deserters arrived at Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh in mid-August and asked Bangladesh authorities for protection. Bangladesh officials then notified the International Criminal Court about their presence, and said they are no longer in Bangladesh, according to Fortify Rights.
Asked about the two soldiers Tuesday, the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor said it does not comment on its ongoing investigations, adding in a statement that it has been ‘independently and impartially collecting evidence from a variety of sources regarding the alleged atrocity crimes.’
‘These confessions demonstrate what we’ve long known, which is that the Myanmar army is a well-functioning national army operating with a specific and centralized command structure,’ Fortify Rights chief Matthew Smith said in a statement.
‘Commanders control, direct, and order their subordinates in all they do. In this case, commanders ordered foot soldiers to commit genocidal acts and exterminate Rohingya, and that’s exactly what they did.’
Under the legal doctrine of command responsibility, higher-ranking officers are held responsible for heinous acts carried out by those serving under them.
That the two men described similar atrocities in separate areas also ‘may indicate operational consistency between battalions, coordination, and intent to commit genocide,’ Fortify Rights said.
Rohingya refugee women queue for aid distribution at the Work Training Center (BLK) in Lhokseumawe City, Aceh Province, Indonesia, on September 7, 2020
Rohingya ethnic men worship at a temporary refugee camp in Lhokseumawe, on September 8, 2020, Aceh province, Indonesia
It said the video confessions appeared to be credible because their content was consistent with other evidence previously unearthed by the group and other investigators, such as the U.N.-empowered Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.
Fortify Rights urged that the two former soldiers be tried by the ICC and that the court put them in a witness protection program.
‘It is reasonable to assume Myo Win Tun and Zaw Naing Tun could plead guilty to the crimes to which they confessed in exchange for becoming `insider witnesses’ for future trials. Such a development would significantly advance efforts to hold perpetrators accountable for atrocity crimes against Rohingya,’ the group said.
The International Court of Justice is the U.N.’s top court. It settles disputes between nations and does not prosecute individuals. The International Criminal Court, which seeks to hold individuals responsible for crimes, has not issued any public indictments in the investigation it is conducting. Both courts are based in The Hague in the Netherlands.
U.N. agencies and human rights organisations have extensively documented atrocities carried out against the Rohingya by Myanmar security forces. The International Court of Justice agreed last year to consider a case alleging that Myanmar committed genocide against the group. The court’s proceedings are likely to continue for years.
Myanmar has long considered Rohingya Muslims to have migrated illegally from Bangladesh, even though their families have lived in Myanmar for generations. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless. They are also denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.