Mass Graves Discovered in Myanmar

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

RAKHINE, Myanmar – Amongst the ethnic conflict between Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims in the Rakhine state of Myanmar (Burma), a mass grave of 28 Hindus was found on 24 September 2017. The Myanmar army discovered the two pits near Yebawkya Village. The Information Committee confirmed the news later that day in a Facebook post.

Myanmar’s government response on Facebook to discovery of first mass grave. Photo Courtesy of BBC News.

The Rakhine state is the scene of tense ethnic fighting between the Hindus and Rohingya Muslims that has spanned several years. However, the state has been in a state of crisis since the Rohingya militants attacked 30 police posts. The government responded with a military offensive that the UN declares as an act of ethnic cleansing against the Muslims. The High Commissioner called the government attacks disproportionate.

Hindu refugees from an attack on 25 August 2017 stated that Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA)* militants stormed a Hindu village in the north of the Rakhine state, killing many. Others were escorted into the forest. A list of 102 missing people has been presented by Hindu women who fled the village. The Myanmar government is working to confirm this list.

In the meantime, the military is searching for more mass graves and bodies in the same area that original two graves were found. One day later, 25 September, the military found 17 more bodies 200 yards away from the mass graves. Members of the village were present to identify the bodies. In a statement from the government, the bodies were found blindfolded with slit throats and hands bound.

The Myanmar government has not released a formal statement on who committed the crime. The military supports the idea that those responsible are members of ARSA. ARSA militants fight for the Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state. An ARSA spokesman denies these accusations calling them “lies,” and reminds the community that “ARSA has internationally pledged not to target civilians.”

Currently, the government keeps Myanmar closed to foreigners, journalists and media personal specifically. Therefore, obtaining a neutral and independent view is difficult.

It is important to note that the majority of those afflicted by the ethnic violence in the Rakhine state are the Rohingya Muslims. There is little sympathy for the group. They are not universally considered citizens of Myanmar, but rather classified as invaders from Bangladesh. The Myanmar government seeks to rid out Rohingya militants. However over 400,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh in the past month to escape the government violence.

For more information, please see:

Newsweek – MYANMAR CRISIS: AS ARMY CLAIMS DISCOVERY OF ‘MASS HINDU GRAVE’ U.N. SEEKS AID FOR TRAUMATIZED ROHINGYA” – 25 September 2017

The New York Times – “Myanmar Follows Global Pattern in How Ethnic Cleansing Begins” – 18 September 2017

The Hindu – “Myanmar looks for more Hindu corpses as mass grave unearthed” – 25 September 2017

Reuters – “Myanmar finds more bodies in mass grave; UN seeks rapid aid increase” – 25 September 2017

The BBC – ” ‘Mass Hindu grave’ found in Myanmar’s Rakhine state” – 25 September 2017 

Drug Cartels Blamed for Mass Graves in Veracruz

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Within the past two weeks, two mass graves have been found in Veracruz, Mexico that are attributed to the work of local drug cartels.  Sometime within this past week, over 250 human skulls were found in a mass grave in the Mexican state Veracruz, according to state attorney general Jorge Winckler.  Winckler did not comment on the exact day they found the grave, however he noted that this particular site might be the largest grave in Mexico.

Clothing hangs on a fence that surrounds a recently discovered mass grave in Alvarado (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Mexican authorities believe the human remains belong to victims of drug cartels and organized crime from recent years.  Identification of the remains has begun, however has proved to be a slow and complicated process.  Authorities are working to match the skulls to those in their database of missing people.  Members of Colectivo Solecito, a group of relatives of the missing victims, aided discovery of the mass grave.

Martha Gonzalez, a member of Colectivo Solecito, noted that some will finally get closure as a result of the discovery.  She recognized that although the authorities just give her the bones of her victim relative, she will be able to keep them somewhere safe, “put a flower on it,” and will be able to know they “are really there and resting.”

This past Sunday, another 47 skulls were unearthed from a few different locations near the town of Alvarado.  Winckler said that the remains were found in eight different unmarked graves found within a 120-square meter area.  So far, authorities have been able to match the remains to five people.

Winckler blames drug traffickers for using Veracruz for many years as a dumping ground for bodies.  An ongoing turf war between the Zetas cartel and the Jalisco New Generation cartel is suspected to contribute to the high amounts of violence in the area.  On March 1, 2017, 11 bodies were found near a popular tourist site.

Winckler also blamed the previous state government for not taking enough action to find and identify the bodies of people reported missing.  Alluding to former governor Javier Duarte, who has charges of money laundering, organized crime, and looting state coffers against him, Winckler pointed out that “[f]or many years, the drug cartels disappeared people and the authorities were complacent.”

 

For more information, please see:

BBC — Mexico Violence: Skulls Found in New Veracruz Mass Grave — 20 March 2017

Reuters — Mexico Drug War Investigators Unearth 47 More Skulls in Mass Graves — 20 March 2017

Newsweek — Drug Cartels Blamed for Mass Grave Discovery in Mexico — 19 March 2017

CNN — ‘One Big Mass Grave’: More than 250 Human Skulls Found in Mexico — 15 March 2017

Mass Grave with Approximately 100 Bodies Found Near Mosul

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraqi investigators are examining a mass grave discovered by Iraqi soldiers advancing on the Islamic State-held city of Mosul.

Authorities believe the mass grave contains approximately 100 bodies (Photo courtesy of BBC News)
Authorities believe the mass grave contains approximately 100 bodies (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

On Monday, November 7th, Iraqi troops noticed a pungent smell while approaching the town of Mosul. The mass grave was discovered behind an “earthen embankment” near an agricultural college. Upon bulldozing, the land revealed bones poking out from beneath the surface, along with scraps of clothing, garbage bags, and “human remains swarming with flies.” An Iraqi cabinet official in charge of mass grave inspections stated that investigators are on their way to the grave site to conduct examinations and determine the cause of death.

The first officials at the site noted that the grave likely holds approximately 100 bodies, most of which are decapitated. Although the victims’ identities are currently unclear, authorities believe that the bodies are likely those of Iraqi security forces members and their relatives. There is rising concern, however, that children may be among the deceased due to a child’s stuffed animal that had been pulled from the grave by a soldier.

The U.N. Office of Human Rights indicated that it is investigating into whether the mass grave is connected to reports of police officers being killed in the same area. The spokeswoman for the Office of Human Rights stated that it had received reports of 50 former Iraqi police officers killed in a building outside Mosul. She further noted that the building cited in these reports was the same as the agricultural college near which the mass grave was found.

On Tuesday, November 8th, authorities discovered two additional mass graves containing 23 bodies, including the remains of women and children. Officials are concerned that these mass graves could be just the “tip of the iceberg.” It appears to be the latest of several mass graves found in territory that has been retaken from the Islamic State, which is known for massacring hundreds of individuals across northern and central Iraq.

For more information, please see:

Northwest Herald—Investigators probe mass grave found near Mosul, Iraq—09 November 2016

Wall Street Journal—Remains in Mass Grave Near Mosul Identified—08 November 2016

Fox News—Iraqis investigate decapitated bodies in mass grave near ISIS-held Mosul—08 November 2016

BBC News—Mass graves in Iraq reveal Islamic State horrors—08 November 2016

BRIEF: Mass Graves Found in Iraq

The Iraqi forces uncovered two different mass graves in the last two days where they found over 100 bodies.  The bodies were uncovered in southern Baghdad and the city of al-Guba, which is 50 miles north of Baghdad.  The bodies were discovered in an area that used to be a former stronghold of al-Qaeda.  The bodies were badly damaged as the corpses had their hands bound and many were killed through gun shot wounds to the head.  Some of the bodies had already begun decomposing.

Last month, another mass grave was found with over 100 bodies.

For more information, please see:

News.Scotsman.com- Mass graves containing over 100 decomposed corpses uncovered by Iraqi forces- 28 April 2008

The Press Association- 50 bodies unearthed in mass grave- 27 April 2008