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Seeking justice amidst chaos: methods to identify and document individuals implicated in crimes against the Rohingya in August 2017

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Jennifer Leigh, Alexander Blum, Agnes Petty, Andrea Woods, Parveen Parmar & Chris Beyrer

Conflict and Health volume 16, Article number: 9 (2022)

Abstract

Background

Documenting perpetrators of human rights violations enables effective prosecution and can help prevent future atrocities. Doing so calls for collecting reliable data using verifiable and transparent methodology. We present methods used to document crimes and identify alleged perpetrators implicated in the 2017 attacks against Rohingya civilians in Myanmar. The findings and lessons-learned have relevance to contemporary crises with widespread atrocities.

Methods

A mixed-methods assessment conducted from May to July 2018 included: (1) cross-sectional quantitative surveys among leaders of affected hamlets in northern Rakhine State, (2) qualitative interviews to record hamlet-level accounts, and (3) clinical evaluations of survivors of violence. Survey respondents who reported violence and destruction in each hamlet were asked to identify perpetrators of those acts, including known role or affiliation. The reported names were reviewed for clarity and divergent spellings, repeated references were aggregated, and the names and roles were analyzed and classified by location and affiliation.

Results

143 individuals were implicated in atrocities committed across three Northern Rakhine townships. Each was independently identified by at least three separate survey respondents as directly committing violence or destruction in their hamlet of origin, or as witnessed while fleeing to Bangladesh. Two-thirds (69%) of identified perpetrators were reported by four or more participants and 47% by five or more. Some form of additional identifying information, was provided for 85% of names. The most common affiliations were: Myanmar army (n = 40), Border Guard Police (n = 32), Village Tract Administrators (n = 17), and extremists (n = 25).

Conclusions

The methodology presented here yielded a unique record of individuals purported to have directly committed acts of violence and destruction in Rakhine State in August 2017, forming the most extensive record of individuals implicated in ground-level perpetration of those crimes. This methodology can play a key role in accountability mechanisms for the Rohingya, and in other settings in which perpetrators are many and documentation of their crimes is difficult. The use of survey methods and standardized data collection amongst affected populations to comprehensively characterize crimes committed and to identify individuals implicated in those crimes can serve as a key tool in documentation and an important component of accountability.