Myanmar’s government has razed at least 55 villages once populated by Rohingya, destroying with them evidence of crimes against the persecuted minority, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Satellite images released by the rights group on Friday show that, between December 2017 and mid-February, areas that were once full of buildings and greenery had been completely cleared.
HRW described the actions by Burmese security forces as an “ethnic cleansing campaign” and called on the UN and Myanmar’s donors to demand an end to the demolitions.
A total of 362 villages have been destroyed either completely or partially since Myanmar’s military began a campaign against the Rohingya in August last year, according to HRW.
Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said the deliberate destruction of villages to hide evidence of “grave crimes” was obstruction of justice.
“The government’s clearing of dozens of villages only heightens concerns about Rohingya families being able to return home,” he said.
“Donor governments should ensure they don’t provide any direct or indirect support that would hamper justice or assist those responsible for ethnic cleansing in their efforts to pretend the Rohingya do not have the right to return to their villages in northern Rakhine state.”
Reports about village demolitions have been filtering through from members of the Rohingya community long before satellite images appeared seemingly confirming the accounts.
Rohingya activist Ro Nay San Lwin told Al Jazeera that he had heard reports of villages being razed from people on the ground.
“I have been hearing about bulldozing the villages since the beginning of January,” he said, adding: “There were many houses, mosques and Islamic schools which remained intact in … Maungdaw but those all were demolished and bulldozed.
“First Rakhine vigilantes enter the houses and take the things they want … Then the authorities demolish and bulldoze.”
Since August more than 650,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh where they live in camps on near the border.
Those fleeing bring with them accounts of rape, killing, and the destruction of homes by Burmese soldiers and vigilante gangs.
The UN has described their plight as textbook genocide, but little action has been taken by the international community to halt the Burmese government’s campaign.
Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed on a deal to send Rohingya refugees back.
As part of the repatriation deal, Rohingya will be held in holding centres, which Rohingya activists have called “concentration camps”.