Two Myanmar soldiers taken to The Hague after confessing on video to murdering minority Rohingya Muslims during 2017 mass killings, rights group says.
Two soldiers who deserted from Myanmar's army have testified on video that they were instructed by commanding officers to "shoot all that you see and that you hear" in villages where minority Rohingya Muslims lived, a human rights group has said.
The comments appear to be the first public confession by soldiers of involvement in army-directed massacres, rape, and other crimes against Rohingya Muslims in the Buddhist-majority country, and the group Fortify Rights on Tuesday suggested they could provide important evidence for an ongoing investigation by the International Criminal Court.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh since August 2017 to escape what Myanmar's military called a clearance campaign following an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group in Rakhine state.
Myanmar's government has denied accusations that security forces committed mass rapes and killings and burned thousands of homes.
Defectors in ICC custody?
Fortify Rights, which focuses on Myanmar, said the two army privates fled the country last month and are believed to be in the custody of the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands, which is examining the violence against the Rohingya.
Myanmar government and military spokesmen did not answer calls seeking comment.
The reports said the men had been in the custody of the Arakan Army insurgent group, which is now battling Myanmar government troops in Rakhine state when they made the admissions and were later taken to The Hague in the Netherlands, where they could appear as witnesses or face trial.
It was not clear from the reports how the men fell into the hands of the Arakan Army, why they were speaking, or how they were transported to The Hague and under whose authority.
A spokesman for the Arakan Army, Khine Thu Kha, said the two men were deserters and were not held as prisoners of war. He did not comment further on where the men were now but said the group was "committed to justice" for all victims of the Myanmar military.
Myanmar has long considered Rohingya Muslims to have migrated illegally from Bangladesh, even though their families have lived in Myanmar for generations.
Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless. They are also denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.
'Exterminate all Kalar'
After answering questions about his name, serial number and military units, Myo Win Tun said the commander of the 15th Military Operations Center, whom he named as Colonel Than Htike, gave an order to "shoot all you see and all you hear" when raiding Muslim villages.
He said in one operation, they killed and buried 30 people: "eight women, seven children, and 15 men and elderly."
He asserted that Colonel Than Htike ordered his unit to "exterminate all Kalar", a derogatory name for the Rohingya and that they shot the men in their foreheads and kicked their bodies into a hole.
They also raped the women before killing them and he admitted to carrying out one rape.
He said his unit appropriated mobile phones and laptops, and also seized cattle, an allegation that has been widely reported.
Staring directly at the camera with barely any perceptible movement, Zaw Naing Tun recounted how his unit "wiped out" 20 Rohingya villages.
The soldier said about 80 people in all were killed, including children, adults, and the elderly of both sexes. The killings were sanctioned by his battalion commander, Lieutenant colonel Myo Myint Aung, he said.
In one incident, 10 villagers suspected of belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, the Rohingya insurgent group, were captured and tied up, and then shot on the orders of a captain, he said, acknowledging that he was one of the shooters.
Zaw Naing Tun said he was present when a sergeant and a corporal raped three Rohingya women in the course of searching houses, but asserted he did not carry out any rapes.
He acknowledged taking part in looting, saying his unit officer declared "what you take is what you get" ahead of a raid on a market.
"We entered into the market, destroyed locks and doors, and then we took money, gold, clothes, food and mobile phones," he said.
From Bangladesh to ICC
Fortify Rights said the two deserters arrived at Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh in mid-August and asked Bangladesh authorities for protection.
Bangladesh officials then notified the International Criminal Court about their presence and said they are no longer in Bangladesh, according to Fortify Rights.
A spokesman for the International Criminal Court (ICC), based in The Hague, said it did not have the men in custody.
"No. These reports are not correct. We don't have these persons in the ICC custody," said the spokesman, Fadi el Abdallah.
Payam Akhavan, a Canadian lawyer representing Bangladesh in a filing against Myanmar at the ICC, said the two men had appeared at a border post requesting the protection of the government and had confessed to the mass murder and rape of Rohingya civilians in 2017.
"All I can say is that those two individuals are no longer in Bangladesh," he said.
Under the legal doctrine of command responsibility, higher-ranking officers are held responsible for heinous acts carried out by those serving under them.
The International Court of Justice is the UN’s top court.
It settles disputes between nations and does not prosecute individuals.
The International Criminal Court, which seeks to hold individuals responsible for crimes, has not issued any public indictments in the investigation it is conducting.
Both courts are based in The Hague in the Netherlands.