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Killing of Rohingyas: Death toll could be up to 25,000

New research finds; Refugees compile their own record of those killed
Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar wait to be let through by Bangladeshi border guards after crossing the border in Palang Khali, Bangladesh. File Photo: Reuters

An estimated 25,000 Rohingyas were murdered and 19,000 Rohingya women and adolescents raped during the military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine state since late August last year, according to a research report.

It also found that around 43,000 Rohingyas suffered bullet wounds, 36,000 were thrown into fire and 116,000 beaten up by the Myanmar authorities.

The research titled “Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience” was conducted by a research consortium of academics, practitioners and organisations from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Norway and the Philippines.

The research was carried out based on interviews of 3,300 Rohingya household principal members from 33 zones in Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar in January.

Dr Mohsin Habib of Australia's Swinburne University presented the research book at the “International Conference on Sustainable Development 2018” at the UK's Queens College, Oxford University on Wednesday. The programme was organised by the Ontario International Development Agency of Canada.

Meanwhile, a group of Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar has put the number killed at more than 10,000. They have painstakingly pieced together, name-by-name, the only record of Rohingya Muslims who were allegedly killed in the brutal military crackdown, reports Reuters.

Their lists, which include the toll from a previous bout of violence in October 2016, catalog 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.

The bloody assault in Rakhine drove more than 700,000 of the minority Rohingya people across the border into Bangladesh.

Aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières estimated in the first month of violence that began at the end of August 2017 at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed. The survey didn't identify individuals.

Myanmar government officials did not answer Reuters' phone calls seeking comment on the Rohingya lists.


The research provided evidence of an extremely high degree of destruction of livelihoods and criminal activities against Rohingya, including burning homes, damaging crops, snatching money, robbery, vandalism of business enterprises, rapes and murders.

It says 82 percent participants reported witnessing their neighbours' death or dead bodies, 59 percent of them reported witnessing neighbours who had been victims of rapes, and 85 percent participants reported witnessing burning of their own or neighbours' houses in Myanmar before fleeing to Bangladesh.

Over 79 percent of Rohingya were willing to return to Myanmar as soon as possible, says the research. Also, it says 97 percent of Rohingya demanded recognition of Rohingya ethnicity and 96 percent demanded citizenship as preconditions for their repatriation.

Rohingyas regard themselves as native to Rakhine, but a 1982 law restricts citizenship for the Rohingya and other minorities not considered members of one of Myanmar's “national races”.

Rohingyas were excluded from Myanmar's last nationwide census in 2014, and many have had their identity documents stripped from them or nullified, blocking them from voting in the landmark 2015 elections.


Clad in longyis, traditional Burmese wrap-arounds tied at the waist, and 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.

But they insist that when listing the dead they err on the side of under-estimation.

Mohib Bullah, who was previously an aid worker, 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,” he added. “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. Now after escaping to become refugees, they say they are best placed to chronicle the events that took place in northern Rakhine, which is out-of-bounds for foreign media, except on government-organised trips.

“Our people are uneducated and some people may be confused during the interviews and investigations,” said Mohammed Rafee, a former administrator in Kyauk Pan Du village. But taken as a whole, he said, the information collected was “very reliable and credible”.

What began tentatively in the courtyard of a mosque after Friday prayers one day last November became a sprawling project that drew in dozens of people and lasted months.

The handwritten lists were compiled by volunteers, photocopied, and passed from person to person. The list makers asked questions in Rohingya about villages whose official names were Burmese, and then recorded the information in English.

The list makers say they have given summaries of their findings, along with repatriation demands, to most foreign delegations, including those from the UN Fact-Finding Mission, who have visited the refugee camps.


The list makers became more organised as weeks of labor 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 endeavor will return them to the homes they lost in Myanmar.

Mohammed Zubair, one of the list makers, said: “We made the documents to give to the UN. We want justice so we can go back to Myanmar.”

Matt Wells, a senior crisis adviser for Amnesty International, said he has seen refugees in some conflict-ridden African countries make similar lists of the dead and arrested but the Rohingya undertaking was more systematic. “I think that's explained by the fact that basically the entire displaced population is in one confined location,” he said.

Wells said he believes the lists will have value for investigators into possible crimes against humanity.

“In villages where we've documented military attacks in detail, the lists we've seen line up with witness testimonies and other information,” he said.

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.”


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