BURMA (Myanmar) has joined the ranks of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and South Sudan on a list of 19 countries submitted to the United Nations Security Council regarding sexual violence in armed conflict, which said “brutal sexual assault” had been used as a “calculated tool” against Rohingya Muslims.
Its army the Tatmadaw has for the first time been included in the annually released report, which was presented to the Security Council by the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict on Monday.
Sexual violence had been “integral to their [Burma’s army] strategy, humiliating, terrorising and collectively punishing the Rohingya community”, said the report, which added that it was a “calculated tool to force them to flee their homelands and prevent their return”.
Humanitarian agencies have said more than 671,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Rakhine State into Cox’s Bazar in since Aug 25 in response to so-called “clearing operations” by army. The military and Buddhist vigilantes stand accused of mass killings, rape and arson in Muslim villages.
Echoing the UN Rights Chief who last year said the situation was a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing, Secretary General’s report referred to “‘ethnic cleansing’ under the guise of clearance operations in northern Rakhine”.
Violence was perpetrated against women including those who were pregnant, it said, because they are viewed as “custodians and propagators of ethnic identity”. It is linked to an “inflammatory narrative” which alleges high fertility rates among Rohingya women represent and “existential threat” to the majority Buddhist population, said the report.
The Special Representative had heard accounts of “rape, gang rape, forced nudity and abduction for the purpose of sexual slavery during military campaigns of slaughter, looting and the razing of homes and villages,” from “almost every woman and girl” during her visit to refugee camps in November, it said.
The UN report reflects the testimonies of Rohingya women whose stories have been widely documented by medical professionals and service providers in Cox’s Bazar, as well as other UN agencies, rights groups and foreign government representatives.
Last November, Human Rights Watch released a 37-page report documenting the horrific recounts of Rohingya women, many who described being victims of gang rape.
“This is the fastest refugee movement since the Rwanda genocide. I am extremely grateful to Bangladesh for opening its borders,” said Director of the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation’s women section Razia Sultana in a statement presented on behalf of civil society to the Security Council.
“However, the international community, especially the Security Council, has failed us,” she said.
Razia’s statement alleged that government troops had raped “well over” 300 women and girls across 17 villages in Rakhine – some who were as young as six years old. “This number is likely only a fraction of the actual total number of women raped,” said her statement.
The statement said that many of Burma’s other ethnic groups such as “Karen, Kachin, Chin, Mung, and Shan have also faced decades of entrenched discrimination, rape, and other human rights violations by the military operating with impunity.”
In a visit organised by the UK, Peru and Kuwait, the Security Council will visit camps in Cox’s Bazar and then Burma later this month.
“During this visit, you must meet with women and girl survivors. I could facilitate safe meetings,” said Razia. “You must work with the Bangladesh authorities to stop the trafficking, pressure the Myanmar Government and senior officials to cooperate with the UN Fact Finding mission, and insist on unrestricted humanitarian access across Rakhine State.”
The International Criminal Court (ICC) announced last week it was seeking jurisdiction over Burma in order to investigate and potentially prosecute crimes against humanity in Rakhine.
After her visit to Cox’s Bazar last November, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence’s announced that she would be referring Burma to the ICC.