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‘Alarming new satellite images’ show destruction of Rohingya villages

Displaced persons camp in Rakhine state, western Myanmar. (Credit: DFID / Flickr)

A new wave of attacks on Myanmar’s Rohingya left hundreds of buildings destroyed and forced people flee across the border to Bangladesh, aid workers reported. Satellite images collected by Human Rights Watch reveal the speed of the destruction believed to be caused by government-backed forces.

The images disprove government claims that attacks are limited and cause little damage. Human Rights Watch said 820 buildings were destroyed between Nov. 10 and 18 across five villages in western Myanmar.

“These alarming new satellite images confirm that the destruction in Rohingya villages is far greater and in more places than the government has admitted,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement. “The apparent arson attacks against five Rohingya villages is a matter of grave concern for which the Burmese government needs to investigate and prosecute those responsible. U.N. participation is crucial for such an investigation to be credible.”

Myanmar’s government launched a counter-insurgency operation in Maungdaw after a border post was attacked last month. Forces cracked down on people living in the region, according to Rohingya activists. The satellite images from Maungdaw district give credence to the claims. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar visited the region and issued a warning about the human rights situation in all of Rakhine State.

“The government has now admitted using helicopter gunships in support of ground troops, and there are unverified claims of reprisals against villagers who had shared their grievances with the delegation,” said Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee, in a statement. “The security forces must not be given carte blanche to step up their operations under the smokescreen of having allowed access to an international delegation. Urgent action is needed to bring resolution to the situation.”

The latest fires bring the total number of destroyed buildings in the region to 1,250, according to the rights group. That number is a rough estimate based on satellite images, and the number could be higher. The Rohingya minority and other Muslim communities have suffered a series of attacks in recent years and endured serious human rights violations, rights groups said.

Human Rights Watch recorded instances of active burning buildings through thermal anomaly data collected by environmental satellite sensors. The government of Myanmar admitted that there were some buildings burning, but they were the result of “terrorists” and it was only a small problem.

Myanmar’s military said only 60 homes were burned down in Dar Gyi Sar, on Nov. 15. Satellite photos from the next day showed 265 buildings in the same zone.

Human Rights Watch said the U.N. should have more access to the region to investigate the attacks, and aid groups should be allowed in to support people affected by the destruction.

Use slider to see before and after satellite images from the village of Wa Peik.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]