As some 617,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh in the last few months, they have brought with them horrific stories of indiscriminate violence and systematic rape at the hands of the Burmese army.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch said in a report that the egregious abuses committed by Myanmar’s security forces against the country’s Rohingya Muslim ethnic minority amount to crimes against humanity. The report also highlights “widespread rape” committed by Burmese military personnel against Rohingya girls and women.
The report was published just days after Reuters reported that the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, said she plans to bring the issue of Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingya — particularly sexual violence by the military — before the International Criminal Court.
To produce the report, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 50 Rohingya women and girls who now live in Bangladesh’s refugee camps and found that more than half were raped by members of the security forces — all but one of the survivors interviewed was gang raped.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people have been on the run since violence broke out in Rakhine state — where most of Myanmar’s Rohingya population lived — on Aug. 25. Global Citizen’s timeline of the crisis details how the violence escalated and the situation spiraled in recent months.
Humanitarian organizations in the camps told Human Rights Watch that they have received reports of dozens, and at times hundreds, of cases of sexual assault and rape committed by uniformed Burmese military personnel against Rohingya girls and women. Yet two-thirds of the people Human Rights Watch interviewed said they had not reported being raped, which means that any figure officials are able to put together is likely to be an underestimate.
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The stories the rights organization heard echo those Patten said UN agencies on the ground have heard.
“The forms of sexual violence we consistently heard about from survivors include gang-rape by multiple soldiers, forced public nudity and humiliation, and sexual slavery in military captivity,” Patten said at a conference in Bangladesh on Sunday. “One survivor was in captivity for 45 days by the Myanmar army.”
Of the rape survivors Human Rights Watch interviewed, none had received post-rape health care like emergency contraception or HIV preventative medication, even though humanitarian organizations like Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) — also known as Doctors Without Borders — have set up specialist clinics to provide care for rape survivors.
Of the many accounts the rights watchdog heard, several were from young girls. One 15-year-old girl said she was stripped naked and dragged out of her house to a nearby tree where 10 soldiers, she estimated, raped her.
A 14-year-old girl described being raped by two soldiers as she fled. Six weeks later, she said her body still hurt.
On Monday, Myanmar’s army released the findings of its own investigation into allegations of personnel raping and murdering Rohingya people, Reuters reported. The report fully exonerated the army of all accusations made against its security forces.
“Rape is an act and a weapon of genocide,” Patten said. She added that “The widespread threat and use of sexual violence was a driver and ‘push factor’ for forced displacement on a massive scale, and a calculated tool of terror aimed at the extermination and removal of the Rohingya as a group.”