Amnesty International has accused and identified 13 senior Myanmar military officials for orchestrating crimes against humanity.
The report titled We Will Destroy Everything: Military Responsibility for Crimes against Humanity in Rakhine State, Myanmar, calls for an international investigation into the army’s brutal crackdown on the country’s ethnic Rohingya minority in northern Rakhine state.
In the report published on Wednesday, Amnesty said that there is overwhelming, credible evidence that Myanmar’s military Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and nine of his subordinates in the armed forces, as well as three others in the Border Guard police (BGP), played a key role in ethnic cleansing.
“Senior military officials knew – or should have known – that crimes against humanity were being committed, yet failed to use their command authority to prevent, stop or punish those crimes, and even attempted to whitewash the overwhelming majority of them in the aftermath,” Amnesty said in a statement.
Those accused include Deputy Commander-in-Chief Vice Senior General Soe Win, Lieutenant General Aung Kyaw Zaw, Major General Maung Maung Soe and Brigadier General Khin Maung Soe.
Myanmar launched a military offensive in August last year after a Rohingya armed group carried out attacks on border security forces.
The ensuing violent crackdown has forced nearly 700,000 Rohingya to flee Rakhine state for neighbouring Bangladesh.
Since August 25, 2017, Myanmar’s security forces committed nine distinct types of crimes against humanity, including murder, torture, deportation, rape, persecution, enforced disappearance and forced starvation, Amnesty’s latest report said, as it put the responsibility on the army’s top ranks.
The rights group said there was sufficient evidence to prompt an investigation into whether some or all military officials may have been “directly involved in planning, ordering or committing murder, rape, torture and the burning of villages”.
Commenting on the findings, Matthew Wells, Amnesty’s senior crisis adviser and one of the authors of the report, said: “The evidence shows that the ethnic cleansing campaign implicates each level of the Myanmar military from soldiers on the ground, who carried out the atrocities, to field commanders who ordered or directly oversaw the crimes, to ultimately the senior-most levels of the military, including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.”
Besides the 13 officials identified, Wells told Al Jazeera “there are undoubtedly many others”.
Earlier this month, Amnesty shared their research in detailed letters with the Myanmar authorities, including the state counsellor, the military, and the police.
“The state counsellor’s office confirmed receipt of our letter on June 13, but at the time of publication [of the report], Amnesty International had not received any response from the civilian or military authorities,” Wells said.
Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation, UK (BROUK), said the report is “another crucial piece of research to add to the already overwhelming body of evidence against Myanmar’s security forces”.
“Many of Amnesty’s findings chime with what we already knew – that soldiers killed, raped and burned villages indiscriminately, but this report makes it even clearer that this was part of an orchestrated campaign, going all the way up to Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing,” Khin told Al Jazeera.
“The international community must act now and ensure that there is justice for Rohingya people.”
Since the start of the crisis in August, Amnesty and other rights groups have released a series of reports, documenting the alleged human rights violations committed, with accounts of sexual violence, torture, arson and killings.
Kyaw Win, chairman of the UK-based Justice for the Rohingya Minority (JFRM), said Amnesty’s latest report comes as “no surprise”.
“These people [Myanmar’s army] have been committing war crimes and crimes against humanity since several decades and not only with the Rohingya population but also with other minorities – like the Kachin people, Shan people and Karen,” he told Al Jazeera, in a phone interview from Thailand’s capital, Bangkok.
“This has been continuously going on only because there is no accountability.”
Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials, MSF, has estimated that at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the first month of the August crackdown alone.
The United Nations has denounced the army’s bloody crackdown, with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calling it a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Myanmar’s military used the deadly attacks by Rohingya fighters as a pretext to launch the brutal crackdown on Rohingya, one of the most persecuted communities in the world.
They have been denied citizenship and basic human rights by Myanmar authories since 1982.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has given Myanmar until July 27 to respond to a prosecution request that it consider a case on the alleged deportation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to Bangladesh.
This came after the Guardian newspaper published details of horrific acts of violence, the evidence of which has been sent to the ICC and forms part of the investigation.
Amnesty International as well as other rights groups and activists are calling for those in top military positions to be held accountable and prosecuted by the ICC.
“Those with blood on their hands – right up the chain of command to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing – must be held to account for their role in overseeing or carrying out crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations under international law,” said Amnesty’s Matthew Wells in a statement.
Win from the Justice for the Rohingya Minority is hopeful that the ICC and universal jurisdiction can grant due justice to the Rohingya victims and prevent further atrocities.
“When the cases are strongly established, the people who are trying to travel around the world, they will be stopped and arrested and they should face consequences for the crimes they have committed,” he said.
Tun Khin, of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation, also believes the ICC is Rohingya’s “main hope”.
“The international community must step in and members of the UN Security Council must refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC immediately,” Khin said.
Follow Saba Aziz on Twitter: @saba_aziz