The disfigured bodies of murdered and acid-burned Rohingya Muslims were left strewn across five mass graves in a Myanmar village, an Associated Press investigation revealed Thursday.
The discovery of the previously unreported graves provides further evidence of a campaign of ethnic cleansing during last year’s violence in Rakhine State.
AP confirmed the existence of the graves in the village of Gu Dar Pyin, Rakhine state, through interviews with more than two dozen refugees who had fled to camps in neighboring Bangladesh. Some refugees had timestamped videos of the graves on their mobile phones.
The report describes the videos, dated 13 days after the violence began in August last year, as showing “blue-green puddles of acid sludge surround(ing) corpses without heads and torsos that jut into the air.”
The refugees said they fled when around 200 troops from Myanmar’s military, carrying out a brutal crackdown against Rakhine state’s marginalized Rohingya Muslim minority, arrived in Gu Dar Pyin on Aug. 27, burning homes and shooting those who couldn’t flee.
Nearly every interviewee from the village reported having seen three large mass graves at the entrance to the village, while a handful of others confirmed two other major graves near a school.
Survivors claimed the soldiers had tried to prevent identification of their victims by using large quantities of acid to burn off their faces and fingerprints. Two days before the attack, they said, troops had been seen buying 12 large containers of acid at a nearby village.
One survivor, Noor Kadir, was only able to recognize the bodies of six of his friends by their clothes, as their faces had been burned off or blasted away with bullets.
“It was a mixed-up jumble of corpses piled on top of each other,” he told AP.
Access to the village has been cut of by Myanmar authorities, but satellite images show it has been destroyed. Village leaders from Gu Dar Pyin say they have counted 75 dead so far, but they fear the number could be much higher.
Myanmar’s military communications team did not respond to questions about the graves, while local security officials said they weren’t aware of them.
Myanmar’s government has repeatedly denied any campaign took place against the Rohingya, despite mounting evidence supporting claims by the U.N. that ethnic cleansing took place.
Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’s special envoy on human rights in Myanmar said again on Thursday that the killings in Rakhine bore “the hallmarks of a genocide” but that she couldn’t be more definitive until an international tribunal had assessed the matter.
Humanitarian groups said the fresh evidence of atrocities highlighted the need for the global community to do more to bring the perpetrators to account.
"The AP's report that Tatmadaw soldiers brought along to Gu Dyar Pin village containers of acid to disfigure the bodies and make identification more difficult is particularly damning because it shows a degree of pre-planning of these atrocities," said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
More than 680,000 members of the persecuted Rohingya minority are estimated to have fled majority-Buddhist Myanmar since the latest outbreak of violence started in August. The total number killed remains unknown, but according to one estimate by Doctors Without Borders, 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the month after the crackdown started.
Cover image: Rohingya Muslims arrived at Shah Porir Dwip at night in Teknaf, Bangladesh on September 27, 2017 from Myanmar to escape countrys military operations in Rakhine state since August 25. (Rehman Asad/NurPhoto via Getty Images)