The Rohingya lists: refugees record those killed in Myanmar
Group has painstakingly pieced together, name-by-name, only record of Rohingya Muslims allegedly killed in army crackdown, but list has its flaws
Mohib Bullah is not your typical human rights investigator. He chews betel and he lives in a rickety hut made of plastic and bamboo. Sometimes, he can be found standing in a line for rations at the Rohingya refugee camp where he lives in Bangladesh.
Yet Mohib Bullah is among a group of refugees who have achieved something that aid groups, foreign governments and journalists have not. They have painstakingly pieced together, name-by-name, the only record of Rohingya Muslims who were allegedly killed in a brutal crackdown by Myanmar’s military.
The bloody assault in the western state of Rakhine drove more than 700,000 of the minority Rohingya people across the border into Bangladesh, and left thousands of dead behind.
The Rohingya list makers put the number killed at more than 10,000. Their lists, which include the toll from a previous bout of violence in October 2016, catalogue victims by name, age, father’s name, address in Myanmar, and how they were killed.
“When I became a refugee I felt I had to do something,” says Mohib Bullah, 43, who believes that the lists will be historical evidence of atrocities that could otherwise be forgotten.
Late last year, Myanmar’s military said 13 members of the security forces had been killed. It also said it recovered the bodies of 376 Rohingya militants between August 25 and September 5, which is the day the army says its offensive against the militants officially ended.
The Rohingya accuse the Myanmar army of rapes and killings across northern Rakhine, where scores of villages were burnt to the ground and bulldozed after attacks on security forces by Rohingya insurgents.
Myanmar says what it calls a “clearance operation” in the state was a legitimate response to terrorist attacks.
Calling themselves the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace & Human Rights, the list makers say they are all too aware of accusations by the Myanmar authorities and some foreigners that Rohingya refugees invent stories of tragedy to win global support.
Mohib Bullah gives as an example the riverside village of Tula Toli in Maungdaw district, where – according to Rohingya who fled – more than 1,000 were killed.
“We could only get 750 names, so we went with 750,” he said. “We went family by family, name by name. Most information came from the affected family, a few dozen cases came from a neighbour, and a few came from people from other villages when we couldn’t find the relatives.”
In their former lives, the Rohingya list makers were aid workers, teachers and religious scholars.
“Our people are uneducated and some people may be confused during the interviews and investigations,” said Mohammed Rafee, a former administrator in the village of Kyauk Pan Du who has worked on the lists. But taken as a whole, he said, the information collected was “very reliable and credible”.
The project has its flaws. The handwritten lists were compiled by volunteers, photocopied, and passed from person to person. The list makers asked questions in Rohingya about villages where official names were Burmese, and then recorded the information in English. The result was a jumble of names: for example, there were about 30 different spellings for Tula Toli.
It is also unclear how many versions of the lists there are.
The list makers became more organised as weeks of labour rolled into months. They took over three huts and held meetings, bringing in a table, plastic chairs, a laptop and a large banner carrying the group’s name.
Mohib Bullah and some of his friends say they drew up the lists as evidence of crimes against humanity they hope will eventually be used by the International Criminal Court, but others simply hope that the endeavour will return them to the homes they lost in Myanmar.
“If I stay here a long time my children will wear jeans. I want them to wear longyi. I do not want to lose my traditions. I do not want to lose my culture,” said Mohammed Zubair, one of the list makers. “We made the documents to give to the UN. We want justice so we can go back to Myanmar.”
For Mohammed Suleman, a shopkeeper from Tula Toli, the Rohingya lists are a legacy for his five-year-old daughter. He collapsed, sobbing, as he described how she cries every day for her mother, who was killed along with four other daughters.
“One day she will grow up. She may be educated and want to know what happened and when. At that time I may also have died,” he said. “If it is written in a document, and kept safely, she will know what happened to her family.”