By Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Scotland Programme director

FOR decades, the Rohingya community in Rakhine State (on the western coast of Myanmar) have faced intense discrimination with severe restrictions on almost every aspect of their lives and their human rights.

Members of the community were denied the right to work, access to healthcare, education, freedom of movement and even denied their nationality – but this routine denial of rights did not make global headlines until just over a year ago when more than 700,000 Rohingya women, men and children were forced to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Successive governments have denied that the Rohingya are an ethnic group from Myanmar and instead claimed that they are migrants from Bangladesh who settled in the country “illegally”. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of Rohingya living in Rakhine State, as well as those who recently fled to Bangladesh and other states, were born in Myanmar, as were their parents. The majority have no other citizenship and no reasonable claim to citizenship anywhere else. Despite this, most are not recognised as Myanmar citizens.

On August 25, 2017, Myanmar security forces launched a widespread and systematic assault on hundreds of Rohingya villages. The onslaught came in the wake of a series of attacks on security posts by a Rohingya armed group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

In the days and weeks that followed, Myanmar security forces unleashed a vicious campaign of violence that forced 80% of the Rohingya population of northern Rakhine State to flee to Bangladesh.

The horrific violations committed during these operations included village burnings, deportation, unlawful killings, rape, torture and forced starvation.

Amnesty International immediately deployed a crisis response team to the region to report on the atrocities as they happened and gather corroborating evidence, interviews with more than 400 people, satellite imagery, photos, verified videos, forensic medical examination of injury images and confidential documents on the Myanmar military including an audio recording which captured a military officer saying: “We got an order to burn down the entire village if there is any disturbance. If you villagers aren’t living peacefully, we will destroy everything.”

The resulting report detailed how the military carried out large-scale massacres and burning of several hundred Rohingya villages as well as describing the appalling level of rape and sexual violence committed against Rohingya women and girls which terrorised communities and was a key factor in driving so many people to flee.

Kor Mor La, 25, survived an attack that led to the death of her husband Na Ra Yan, 30, and five-year-old daughter Shu Nan Daw. She told us: “The people who shot us were dressed in black… I couldn’t see their faces, only their eyes… They had long guns and swords.

“My husband was shot next to me. I was shot [in the chest]. After that I was barely conscious.”

Rohima Khatun lost at least four relatives, including her husband and daughter: “To them, we are dogs. If a dog died in the road, they would at least drag the dog to the side and bury it. Not with us.”

Using the evidence from our report, we issued calls for individuals responsible for these atrocities to face judicial proceedings for crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations. We also called on the United Nations Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation and prosecution, and to collect and preserve evidence for use in future criminal proceedings.

Yesterday, a pre-trial chamber of the ICC decided that it did have jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of Rohingya to Bangladesh; an important first step in bringing those responsible to justice.

The subsequent UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar echoed our findings and last week issued a blistering report with yet more damning evidence of the Myanmar security forces’ atrocities.

The fact-finding mission was carried out by a body of independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council and their report adds to a mountain of evidence of crimes under international law committed by the military, shows the urgent need for independent criminal investigation and makes clear that the Myanmar authorities are incapable of bringing to justice those responsible.

THE international community must act to ensure justice and accountability. Failing to do so sends a dangerous message that Myanmar’s military will not only enjoy impunity but will be free to commit such atrocities again. And these aren’t historical events – serious violations against civilians remain ongoing in northern Myanmar, amidst armed conflicts that continue to rage.

On Monday, we received chilling news that confirmed how the press are being persecuted for reporting on the military atrocities in Rakhine State. Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to seven years in jail after being found guilty of breaching Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act.

The two reporters were arrested in Yangon, Myanmar’s main city, on December 12, 2017. At the time, they had been investigating military operations in northern Rakhine State focusing on the crimes against humanity which targeted the Rohingya population. By daring to ask uncomfortable questions about atrocities clearly committed by the military they are condemned to years behind bars – simply for doing their jobs. We have called for their convictions to be quashed and both men to be immediately and unconditionally released.