Rohingya Were Raped Systematically by Myanmar’s Military, Report Says
By RICK GLADSTONE NOV. 16, 2017
Myanmar’s persecution of Rohingya Muslims in recent months, which has uprooted a half-million people and been condemned by the United Nations as ethnic cleansing, has been corroborated by many graphic accounts of killings, sexual violence and other atrocities.
But a report on the Rohingya released early Thursday by Human Rights Watch, which focused on sexual violence, said that the raping of women and girls appeared to be even more widespread and systematic than earlier suspected, and that uniformed members of Myanmar’s military were responsible for it.
The report was based on interviews with 52 Rohingya women and girls who had fled to neighboring Bangladesh, including 29 survivors of rape from 19 different villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Human Rights Watch said the report’s conclusions also drew from interviews with 17 representatives of humanitarian organizations providing health services to Rohingya women and girls in Bangladesh refugee camps, as well as Bangladeshi health officials.It found that Myanmar security forces had “raped and sexually assaulted women and girls both during major attacks on villages but also in the weeks prior to these major attacks sometimes after repeated harassment.” In every case, the report said, “the perpetrators were uniformed members of security forces, almost all military personnel.”
While Human Rights Watch did not estimate the number of rapes, it said that dozens and “sometimes hundreds of cases” had been reported by aid groups working with refugees in the camps, and that they “likely only represent a proportion” of the total.
“All but one of the rapes reported to Human Rights Watch were gang rapes, involving two or more perpetrators,” the report said. “In eight cases women and girls reported being raped by five or more soldiers. They described being raped in their homes and while fleeing burning villages.”
Nisha Varia, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch’s women’s rights division, said the report showed “the patterns that we were able to uncover that provide a much fuller sense of how these attacks were carried out.”
Those patterns, she said, “include the verification of uniformed members of security forces as perpetrators, the high incidence of gang rapes, several instances of ‘mass rape,’ and the patterns of sexual harassment and violence in the weeks leading up to attacks on villages.”
The Human Rights Watch report was released against the backdrop of growing international pressure on Myanmar to stop the Rohingya persecution. It came a day after Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson visited Myanmar and told its leaders to investigate “credible reports of widespread atrocities,” an accusation that Myanmar officials have repeatedly rejected.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Fortify Rights, an advocacy group, said in a report released Wednesday that there was “mounting evidence” that the anti-Rohingya campaign in Myanmar amounted to genocide. The report was based on a year of research and more than 200 interviews.
On Sunday, Pramila Patten, a United Nations diplomat who is the special representative on sexual violence in conflict, also suggested that the Rohingya were genocide victims and that the perpetrators should be tried at the International Criminal Court.
Ms. Patten spoke after a three-day visit to the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh, where she met extensively with women and girls who had escaped the crackdown.
“Rape is an act and a weapon of genocide,” she was quoted by Reuters as saying. “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.”