Gang-rapes, killings of babies and children, brutal beatings and disappearance of members of Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya group are detailed in a new United Nations report from the Buddhist-majority nation based on interviews with victims.
The serious human rights violations by Myanmar's security forces in a sealed-off area north of Maungdaw in northern Rakhine State are contained in the report based on interviews with victims across the border in Bangladesh.
In the past few months, security forces in Myanmar have accelerated efforts to clear the ethnic group from the country's borders — in a campaign of "area clearance operations" — to historic levels in terms of both scale and brutality, Foreign Policy reports.
"The 'area clearance operations' have likely resulted in hundreds of deaths and have led to an estimated 66,000 people fleeing into Bangladesh and 22,000 being internally displaced," the new U.N. report said.
The allegations in the damning report released Feb. 3 were compiled after interviews with more than 200 Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar, which is also sometimes called Burma, to neighboring Bangladesh.
One mother recounted how her five-year-old daughter was murdered while trying to protect her from rape.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein said, "The cruelty to which these Rohingya children have been subjected is unbearable - what kind of hatred could make a man stab a baby crying out for his mother's milk?
'NATIONAL SECURITY GOALS'
"And for the mother to witness this murder while she is being gang-raped by the very security forces who should be protecting her – what kind of 'clearance operation' is this? What national security goals could possibly be served by this?"
"I call on the international community, with all its strength, to join me in urging the leadership in Myanmar to bring such military operations to an end."
Of the 204 people individually interviewed by a team of U.N. human rights investigators, the vast majority reported witnessing killings, and almost half reported having a family member who was killed as well as family members who were missing.
Of the 101 women interviewed, more than half reported having suffered rape or other forms of sexual violence.
"Especially revolting were the accounts of children – including an eight-month old, a five-year-old and a six-year-old – who were slaughtered with knives.
"In another case, an eight-month-old baby was reportedly killed while his mother was gang-raped by five security officers."
Zeid noted the report suggests the recent level of violence to be unprecedented.
The report noted that after the repeated failure of the Government of Myanmar to grant the U.N. Human Rights Office unfettered access to the worst-affected areas of northern Rakhine State, deployed a team of human rights officers to the Bangladeshi border with Myanmar.
There an estimated 66,000 Rohingya have fled since Oct. 9, 2016.
All the individuals interviewed by the team had fled Myanmar after the Oct. 9 attacks against three border guard posts, which had prompted intense military operations and a lockdown in north Maungdaw. The military indicated that it was conducting "area clearance operations" in the region.
The report notes that it cites consistent testimony indicating that hundreds of Rohingya houses, schools, markets, shops, madrasas and mosques were burned by the army, police and sometimes civilian mobs.
Witnesses also described the destruction of food and food sources, including paddy fields, and the confiscation of livestock.
"Numerous testimonies collected from people from different village tracts...confirmed that the army deliberately set fire to houses with families inside, and in other cases pushed Rohingyas into already burning houses," the report states.
"Testimonies were collected of several cases where the army or Rakhine villagers locked an entire family, including elderly and disabled people, inside a house and set it on fire, killing them all."
Myanmar's government and its de-factor leader Aung San Suu Kyi have previously dismissed claims of rights abuses and insisted that the security forces follow the rule of law.
Suu Kyi's spokesman told the BBC, however, that the latest allegations were extremely serious. The spokesman said officials would look into them immediately.
Of Myanmar's 87 million people, about 88 percent are Buddhist, Christians make up some 6.2 percent and Mulsims 4.3 percent.