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UNITED NATIONS – Amnesty International released a report Wednesday that details new evidence of atrocities inflicted on Myanmar's Rohingya population and names 13 top military commanders the human rights group says should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.
The report is titled "We Will Destroy Everything." Amnesty said those words, spoken by a military commander in a recording of a telephone call obtained by the group's investigators, sum up the mindset of Myanmar soldiers in dealing with the Muslim Rohingya.
About 700,000 Rohingya have fled into neighboring Bangladesh since last August to escape what United Nations and U.S. officials have called an "ethnic cleansing" campaign by Myanmar's government.
Amnesty said its investigative team spent nine months gathering evidence of the brutal treatment of Rohingya in a crackdown that began in August after a radical Rohingya group attacked Myanmar security force posts in the country's western Rakhine state.
The report said the Amnesty team interviewed hundreds of victims and collected harrowing new evidence of the murderous methods used to drive the Rohingya out of Myanmar. Photographs and video clips, as well as expert forensic and weapons analysis, were used to bolster information.
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay was not available for comment Wednesday morning, with calls to his cellphone not going through.
Amnesty said its evidence implicates Myanmar's military commander in chief, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, and 12 others in the commission of nine out of 11 types of crimes against humanity listed in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It says those 12 — nine of the general's subordinates and three border guard police officers — are "those with blood on their hands." It urged that they be put on trial by the international court.
"The explosion of violence — including murder, rape, torture, burning and forced starvation — perpetrated by Myanmar's security forces in villages across northern Rakhine State was not the action of rogue soldiers or units," Matthew Wells, an Amnesty crisis researcher who spent weeks at Myanmar's border with Bangladesh, said in the report. "There is a mountain of evidence that this was part of a highly orchestrated, systematic attack on the Rohingya population."
Myanmar's senior command deployed fighting battalions with a reputation of being the military's most brutal units, Amnesty said.
Wells said several hundred Rohingya villages were burned down and people were tortured, raped and starved. Some men and boys were hanged upside down and then beaten to death. He said homes for other ethnic groups in Myanmar are now being built in the decimated villages, some of which lie under new roads.
Soldiers used systematic rape of women and girls as a war weapon in at least 16 villages, according to Amnesty, which interviewed 11 who were gang-raped. The group said satellite images it obtained show fires set to consume entire villages, with people burning inside their homes.
The report said massacres took the lives of thousands who were bound and executed or fatally shot while fleeing. The military especially targeted the elderly and children, it said.
The 200-page report also provides detailed information on the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, the armed Rohingya group whose attacks set off the crackdown by Myanmar. It said that fighters who were detained were often tortured for information, using waterboarding or having their genitals burned.
One farmer told Amnesty he was standing with his hands tied behind his head when a border police guard pulled down his sarong-like garment "and put a candle under my penis." The soldier's superior ordered the farmer to "tell the truth or you will die."
Wells expressed "extreme disappointment" in Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's Nobel Prize-winning de facto political leader, who does not have direct control of the military.
"Her office failed to speak out against the crimes that have been committed," Wells said, adding that her aides "often inflamed the situation further by repeatedly denying that any crimes have taken place."