Dozens of rapes re­ported in north­ern Rakhine State

The Myanmar Times - - News - FIONA MACGRE­GOR f.macgre­gor@mm­times.com

DOZENS of Mus­lim women have al­legedly been raped by state se­cu­rity forces in north­ern Rakhine State dur­ing counter-in­sur­gency op­er­a­tions there, ac­cord­ing to rights groups cit­ing “cred­i­ble” sources. Tight mil­i­tary con­trols in the re­gion, in­clud­ing shut­ting out in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tions, means in­de­pen­dent ver­i­fi­ca­tion has not been pos­si­ble.

Around 30 women are re­ported to have been raped by se­cu­rity forces in a sin­gle vil­lage on Oc­to­ber 19, ac­cord­ing to Chris Lewa, di­rec­tor of the Arakan Project, a Ro­hingya rights or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Ms Lewa said she had also re­ceived ad­di­tional re­ports of five girls aged be­tween 16 and 18 being raped in another vil­lage on Oc­to­ber 25 and two women at another lo­ca­tion on Oc­to­ber 20.

On Oc­to­ber 25, the Burma Hu­man Rights Net­work (BHRN) re­leased a state­ment say­ing it was “ex­tremely con­cerned” over at least 10 al­leged rape cases that had been doc­u­mented by civil­ians in Maung­daw township since the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion had be­gun there, in­clud­ing one wo­man who was three months preg­nant and later suf­fered a mis­car­riage.

“The Burmese gov­ern­ment is de­lib­er­ately vi­o­lat­ing in­ter­na­tional law and com­mit­ting crimes that it promised the world they would re­frain from,” said U Kyaw Win of the BHRN, re­fer­ring to the Dec­la­ra­tion of Com­mit­ment to End Sex­ual Vi­o­lence in Con­flict.

The re­ports of wide­spread sex­ual as­saults come as se­cu­rity forces in the area hunt for those be­hind three deadly at­tacks on bor­der po­lice posts on Oc­to­ber 9, be­lieved to have been car­ried out by Ro­hingya in­sur­gents.

Ms Lewa said, “[ The se­cu­rity per­son­nel] look down on women and Ro­hingya women in par­tic­u­lar. Th­ese women are very vul­ner­a­ble, es­pe­cially when the men have fled the vil­lages.”

A large swathe of north­ern Rakhine State has been un­der mil­i­tary lock­down since the Oc­to­ber 9 at­tacks, with lo­cal res­i­dents re­port­ing ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings, tor­ture, largescale evic­tions, and the burn­ing and loot­ing of prop­erty.

Many vil­lages are re­ported by sources on the ground to be ly­ing en­tirely empty, with an es­ti­mated 10,000 Ro­hingya peo­ple be­lieved to have been dis­placed. In other vil­lages men have fled fear­ing they will be ac­cused of being in­sur­gents and shot or ar­rested by au­thor­i­ties, leav­ing women vul­ner­a­ble to as­sault, those sources on the ground have added.

In­ter­na­tional groups in­clud­ing the UN and INGOs have de­manded that the gov­ern­ment al­low an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the se­ries of al­leged hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions emerg­ing from north­ern Rakhine State.

Au­thor­i­ties have de­nied that rights abuses are being per­pe­trated, and re­ports have re­mained im­pos­si­ble to in­de­pen­dently ver­ify as even hu­man­i­tar­ian and aid or­gan­i­sa­tions are being de­nied ac­cess to the area, where food and med­i­cal sup­plies are run­ning low for tens of thou­sands of peo­ple.

Fol­low­ing calls from UN hu­man rights ex­perts for ac­cess to the area, Pres­i­dent’s Of­fice spokesper­son U Zaw Htay told The Ir­rawaddy on Oc­to­ber 25, “We haven’t done any­thing law­less.”

Women’s rights or­gan­i­sa­tions have pub­lished nu­mer­ous re­ports de­tail­ing in­ci­dents of sex­ual as­sault and rape by the Tat­madaw, par­tic­u­larly in eth­nic mi­nor­ity ar­eas. Un­der the 2008 con­sti­tu­tion mem­bers of the mil­i­tary have im­punity for such crimes, some­thing rights or­gan­i­sa­tions have long de­manded should be changed.

“The Tat­madaw have a long and well-doc­u­mented his­tory of sex­u­ally abus­ing women in ar­eas where they op­er­ate, so it’s shock­ing but not at all sur­pris­ing that th­ese kinds of re­ports about mul­ti­ple rapes are com­ing out of north­ern Rakhine State. The ques­tion is what is [State Coun­sel­lor Daw] Aung San Suu Kyi and the gov­ern­ment of Burma pre­pared to do about it be­cause this is a real test of their po­lit­i­cal com­mit­ment to re­spect rights,” said Phil Robert­son, deputy di­rec­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch’s Asia di­vi­sion.

Ini­tial re­ports of the Oc­to­ber 19 mass rape in­ci­dent in U Shey Kya vil­lage be­gan ap­pear­ing on so­cial me­dia on Oc­to­ber 21. The Ro­hingya Blog­ger web­site al­leged it had re­ceived the names of at least 10 women, in­clud­ing two girls aged 15, who had been raped in that in­ci­dent. How­ever, Ms Lewa said two sep­a­rate sets of re­search con­ducted by her or­gan­i­sa­tion since then had found the num­ber of al­leged vic­tims to been around 30. The names of about two-thirds of the vic­tims have been recorded. The two sets of re­ports had been con­sis­tent with one another, she said, though she added that ac­counts had dif­fered as to whether the al­leged rapes were car­ried out solely by mem­bers of the mil­i­tary or whether mem­bers of the Bor­der Po­lice Force had also been in­volved.

So­cial me­dia have also in­cluded re­ports of rapes in re­cent days.

The in­creas­ing re­ports of rape have added to fur­ther de­mands for im­me­di­ate ac­tion.

“First, the gov­ern­ment needs to or­der the Tat­madaw to let the hu­man­i­tar­ian agen­cies and in­ter­na­tional ob­servers into th­ese ar­eas where the mil­i­tary is run­ning roughshod over the Ro­hingya. And the gov­ern­ment needs to im­me­di­ately launch an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion of th­ese abuses, lead­ing to the crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of any sol­diers found to have en­gaged in such abuses and com­man­ders who looked the other way as their troops com­mit­ted th­ese crimes,” said Mr Robert­son.

“It will not pass the laugh test if the gov­ern­ment lets the Tat­madaw re­spond by it­self to th­ese se­ri­ous charges, be­cause the mil­i­tary have reg­u­larly sought to cover up th­ese kinds of crimes by their troops in the past.”

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