Background: Decades of persecution culminated in a statewide campaign of organized, systematic, and violent eviction of the Rohingya people by the Myanmar government beginning in August 2017. These attacks included the burning of homes and farms, beatings, shootings, sexual violence, summary executions, burying the dead in mass graves, and other atrocities. The Myanmar government has denied any responsibility. To document evidence of reported atrocities and identify patterns, we interviewed survivors, documented physical injuries, and assessed for consistency in their reports.
Methods: We use purposive and snowball sampling to identify survivors residing in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Interviews and examinations were conducted by trained investigators with the assistance of interpreters based on the Istanbul Protocol - the international standard to investigate and document instances of torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. The goal was to assess whether the clinical findings corroborate survivors' narratives and to identify emblematic patterns.
Results: During four separate field visits between December 2017 and July 2018, we interviewed and where relevant, conducted physical examinations on a total of 114 refugees. The participants came from 36 villages in Northern Rakhine state; 36 (32%) were female, 26 (23%) were children. Testimonies described several patterns in the violence prior to their flight, including the organization of the attacks, the involvement of non-Rohingya civilians, the targeted and purposeful destruction of homes and eviction of Rohingya residents, and the denial of medical care. Physical findings included injuries from gunshots, blunt trauma, penetrating trauma such as slashings and mutilations, burns, and explosives and from sexual and gender-based violence.
Conclusions: While each survivor's experience was unique, similarities in the types and organization of attacks support allegations of a systematic, widespread, and premeditated campaign of forced displacement and violence. Physical findings were consistent with survivors' narratives of violence and brutality. These findings warrant accountability for the Myanmar military per the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has jurisdiction to try individuals for serious international crimes, including crimes against humanity and genocide. Legal accountability for these crimes should be pursued along with medical and psychological care and rehabilitation to address the ongoing effects of violence, discrimination, and displacement.
Keywords: Bangladesh; Crimes against humanity; Genocide; Injuries; Istanbul protocol; Mass atrocities; Medico-legal evaluations; Myanmar; Physical evaluations; Rakhine; Refugees; Rohingya; Scars; Survivors.