A PROMINENT ethnic minority women’s group in Burma (Myanmar) has used its International Women’s Day statement to defend the rights of Rohingya Muslim women and call for the country’s powerful military head to be referred to the International Criminal Court.
The Karen Women Organisation (KWO) released a statement on Thursday in which it said “We cannot ignore on this day of celebration the incredible abuse by the Burma Army of Rohingya Women. The use of rape and murder by the Army is well documented.”
The Karen people are one of Burma’s many ethnic minorities, who live predominantly in the southern part of the country and make up around 7 percent its population. The militant Karen National Union has fought Burma’s central government for decades.
“We have personally experienced rape as a weapon of war by the Burma Army,” added the Karen Women Organisation. “We had hoped we were one of the last groups of women to suffer at their hands. Sadly, we were not.”
“It is time to put an end to that abuse and refer General Min Aung Hlaing to the International Criminal Court,” it said.
The Tatmadaw army of Burma stands accused of mass rape, killings and arson in Muslim villages as part of “clearing operations” in response to an attack by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on military and police outposts on Aug 25 last year.
As of Feb 15, the International Organisation for Migration reported some 671,000 Rohingya had subsequently crossed the border into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
Many Burmese – even among the nation’s non-Bamar Buddhist minorities – have nevertheless backed the National League for Democracy government of Aung San Suu Kyi amid widespread international condemnation of her administration and the military.
“No woman from Burma of any background should experience these attacks, not the Rohingya, not the Shan, not the Kachin and not the Karen,” added the KWO’s statement on Thursday. “We should not suffer at the hands of our husbands and we should not suffer at the hands of the Burma Army.”
Human Rights Watch released a report last November which documented the accounts of dozens of Rohingya women who said they had been gang raped by Burmese security forces.
A report released this week by Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) summarising a fact-finding mission to Cox’s Bazar from January said they had spoken with multiple refugees who recounted incidents of rape and sexual violence at the hands of the Tatmadaw.
One man told APHR that “I saw helicopters with military men shooting. My aunt was raped and my son was stabbed, killed by the military.” A woman told the delegation of lawmakers from across Southeast Asia that “In all my 45 years, I have never slept properly until I arrived in the camps.”
Reiterating the comments of the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour earlier this week, APHR’s report said that there was a continued outflow of refugees from Burma, “driven by sustained persecution and discriminatory policies”.
Burmese security forces were employing “various forms of harassment” against Rohingya in Rakhine State including beatings, torture, arbitrary arrest and confiscation of property, it said.
Some 36,000 refugee children had lost at least one parent in violence, while 7,700 had lost both parents. APHR thanked Bangladesh for its continuing hospitality to the refugees, calling upon Asean to increase diplomatic pressure on Burma to end discriminatory policies against Rohingya Muslims.