After nearly four months of what started out as a crackdown against the Muslim minority Rohingya by the government of Myanmar, we now have our first rough estimates for how many lives have been lost: At least 9,000 Rohingya have been killed since August 25.
According to a Doctors Without Borders survey released on Thursday, about 6,700 of those deaths occurred in the first two months of the campaign that has been called everything from ethnic cleansing to apartheid to genocide.
At least 730 of the dead were children under the age of five. Roughly 59 percent of these children were reportedly shot, 15 percent were burnt to death (in their homes), seven percent were beaten to death, and two percent died in land mine blasts.
The group, known by it’s French acronym MSF, said that 70 percent of all deaths were a result of violence — many are facing starvation, and an unknown number have drowned as they tried to make their way to neighboring Bangladesh.
These casualty counts rival those of actual wars. In Yemen, for example, where civil war has been raging with the participation of major airstrikes led by a Saudi Arabian coalition, the United Nations estimates that around 10,000 people have been killed — roughly half of them civilians — in nearly three years.
While there are Rohingya insurgents, the stateless minority does not have a military, leaving little doubt that the bulk of the casualties are civilian.
“The peak in deaths coincides with the launch of the latest ‘clearance operations’ by Myanmar security forces in the last week of August,” said MSF medical director Sidney Wong in a statement on the group’s site.
“What we uncovered was staggering, both in terms of the numbers of people who reported a family member died as a result of violence, and the horrific ways in which they said they were killed or severely injured,” she added. The statement also noted that the number of deaths is probably an underestimation as the group has not had the chance to make it to all of the camps in Bangladesh, and because “the surveys don’t account for the families who never made it out of Myanmar.”
Myanmar has given little to no access to humanitarian groups and journalists to Rakhine state, where most of the estimated 1.1 million Rohingya lived in the country. The government arrested two Reuters reporters earlier this week, and is charging them under the Official Secrets Act for trying to report on the campaign against the Rohingya, of which over 600,000 have fled to Bangladesh since August.
The government of Myanmar offers a starkly different narrative as to what has been unfolding within its borders since August, when Rohingya insurgents launched deadly attacks on police posts.
The official line is that 400 people have died over the past four months, that the government is fighting terrorists, acting in the interest of national security, and that the Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh have done so after setting fire to their own villages.
Myanmar and Bangladesh have already signed an agreement for repatriating the Rohingya, but it’s unclear to where the hundreds and thousands of people — many of them now widows and orphans — will be moved. There has also been no mention of the government holding soldiers responsible for carrying out systematic rape accountable or keeping victims safe upon return to their communities.
Officials have only vowed that Rohingya will not be returned to “camps,” as past groups have after previous rounds of crackdowns, but has yet to specify where and under what kind of conditions the Rohingya can return to the country that sees them as foreigners and “Bengalis.”