Myanmar has waged “a campaign of ethnic cleansing” against Rohingya Muslims, a leading rights watchdog said on Monday, citing evidence of mass graves and forced displacement.
The Rohingya, who are denied citizenship by the country also known as Burma, have faced crimes against humanity including murder, persecution, deportation and forced transfer, New York-based Human Rights Watch said.
Myanmar officials, community leaders and Buddhist monks organised and encouraged mobs backed by state security forces to conduct coordinated attacks on Muslim villages in October in the western state of Rakhine, HRW said.
“The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement,” said HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson.
HRW noted that while ethnic cleansing was not a formal legal term, it was generally defined as a policy by one ethnic or religious group to remove another such group from certain areas by violent and terror-inspiring means.
In Rakhine, more than 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims have been forcibly displaced, denied access to humanitarian aid and are unable to return home, the group said.
At least 180 people died in two outbreaks of Buddhist-Muslim violence in Rakhine since June last year, according to the official toll, but rights groups believe the real figure is much higher.
In a report based on more than 100 interviews, HRW said that it had uncovered evidence of four mass-grave sites in Rakhine, accusing the security forces of trying to destroy evidence of crimes.
In one instance in June, it said, a government truck dumped 18 naked and half-clothed bodies near a camp for displaced Rohingya, describing it as an attempt to scare them into leaving permanently.
Thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar since June on rickety boats, mostly believed to be heading for Malaysia. Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
Other Muslims were also targeted in violence last month in central Myanmar, where at least 43 people were killed.
In Rakhine, HRW accused government authorities of destroying mosques and conducting violent mass arrests, and said security forces “stood aside or assisted” Buddhists attacking Muslim communities.
There was no immediate reaction from the Myanmar government.