In Myanmar, sol­diers have free rein to rape Ro­hingya women


Afro Voice (National Edition) - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Naimul Haq is an IPS cor­re­spon­dent

YAS­MIN, 26, holds her 10­day­old baby, who she gave birth to in a crowded refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, a south­east­ern district bor­der­ing Myanmar.

Three weeks ago, when she was still in her home in Hpaung Taw Pyin vil­lage in Myanmar, she was raped by a group of sol­diers as houses burned, peo­ple fled and gun­fire shat­tered the air.

With sunken eyes, Yas­min told how she was beaten and raped in her ninth month of preg­nancy by Myanmar’s sol­diers. Yas­min’s vil­lage was al­most empty when she and many of her neigh­bours were vi­o­lated. Only a few women and chil­dren re­mained after the men had fled in fear of be­ing tor­tured or killed.

“On that dread­ful evening an army truck stopped in our neigh­bour­hood and then came the sol­diers raid­ing homes. I was alone in my home and one of the sol­diers en­ter­ing my thatched house shouted to in­vite a few oth­ers to join him in rap­ing me.

“I dared not re­sist. They had guns pointed at me while they stripped me to take turns one by one. I don’t re­mem­ber how many of them raped me but at one stage I had lost con­scious­ness from my fad­ing screams,” she said, vis­i­bly ex­hausted and trau­ma­tised by the hor­rific or­deal.

Yas­min’s hus­band was killed by the Myanmar army on Septem­ber 4 dur­ing one of the fre­quent raids, re­port­edly by state-spon­sored Bud­dhist mobs against the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity in their an­ces­tral home in Rakhine state.

Ban­dar­ban, a hilly district, and Cox’s Bazar, a coastal district, both some 350km south­east of Bangladesh’s cap­i­tal Dhaka, are host­ing the over­crowded Ro­hingya camps. The lo­cals here are no strangers to in­fluxes of refugees. Ro­hingyas have been forced out of Myanmar since 1992 and Bangladesh, as a neigh­bour, has shel­tered many of them on hu­man­i­tar­ian grounds.

How­ever, the lat­est Ro­hingya ex­o­dus, fol­low­ing the mas­sive gov­ern­ment crack­down that be­gan last Au­gust, has shaken the world. The mag­ni­tude of the atroc­i­ties car­ried out by the mil­i­tary junta this time is be­yond imag­i­na­tion. Some de­scribe the per­se­cu­tion as “geno­cide”, which Myanmar’s rulers deny.

To add to the com­mu­nal vi­o­lence, dubbed “eth­nic cleans­ing” by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hus­sein, the UN high com­mis­sioner for hu­man rights, the mil­i­tary junta in­ten­si­fied phys­i­cal as­saults and sol­diers have been sex­u­ally ha­rass­ing un­armed Ro­hingya women along­side the reg­u­lar killings of men.

The rea­son­ing is ob­vi­ous, no one should dare to stay in their homes. Many be­lieve it’s a pre-planned op­er­a­tion to clear Rakhine state of the Ro­hingya pop­u­la­tion, who Myanmar does not recog­nise as cit­i­zens.

One Ro­hingya man, who man­aged to reach the Bangladesh bor­der in mid-Septem­ber, said: “They have in­deed suc­cess­fully forced the Ro­hingya men out while the re­main­ing un­pro­tected women were a headache for the mil­i­tary junta, as killing the un­armed women would ex­pose them to in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism. So they chose a strat­egy of fright­en­ing the women and chil­dren – ap­ply­ing phys­i­cal as­sault and sex­ual abuse, which worked so well.”

IPS spoke with many of the agen­cies, in­clud­ing the UN and lo­cal NGOs, work­ing on the ground to pro­vide emer­gency ser­vices such as food dis­tri­bu­tion, erect­ing shel­ters, or­gan­is­ing a safe wa­ter sup­ply and hy­gienic la­trines and, of course, health­care.

Ev­ery­one said lit­er­ally every woman, ex­cept the very old and young, has had ex­pe­ri­ences of ei­ther be­ing mo­lested or ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an ex­treme level of abuse like gang rape.

Sur­vivors and wit­nesses shared bru­tal sto­ries of women and young girls be­ing raped in front of their fam­ily mem­bers. They de­scribed how cruel the sol­diers were. They said the sol­diers showed no mercy, not even for the in­no­cent chil­dren who watched the killings and the burn­ing of their homes.

Bi­mol Chan­dra Dey Sarker, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Mukti, a lo­cal NGO in Cox’s Bazar, said: “I have been work­ing as a hu­man rights ac­tivist for the last 20 years but never heard of such an ex­treme level of vi­o­lence. Many of the women who are now shel­tered in camps shared their ag­o­nis­ing tales of sex­ual abuse. It’s like in a movie.”

Kaniz Fatema, a fo­cal per­son for Codec, a lead­ing NGO in coastal Cox’s Bazar, said: “Sto­ries of sex­ual abuse of Ro­hingya women keep pour­ing in. I heard women de­scrib­ing hor­rific in­ci­dents which they say are every­day night­mares. How can such vi­o­lence oc­cur in this civilised world to­day?”

“Although the women are shy and trau­ma­tised, they speak up. Here (in Bangladesh) they feel safer and so the sto­ries of abuses are be­ing sub­mit­ted from every cor­ner of the camps,” she said.

The chief health of­fi­cer of Cox’s Bazar’s 500-bed district hos­pi­tal, where most of the wounded are be­ing treated, said: “At the be­gin­ning we were pro­vid­ing emer­gency treat­ment for many Ro­hingya refugees with bul­let wounds. Now, we are fac­ing a new cri­sis of treat­ing so many preg­nant women. We are reg­is­ter­ing preg­nant women and ad­mit­ting them al­most every day de­spite short­ages of beds. Many of these women com­plain of be­ing sex­u­ally ha­rassed.”

A nurse at the hos­pi­tal who reg­u­larly treats the sex­u­ally abused women, said: “Many women still bear marks of wounds dur­ing rape en­coun­ters. It’s amazing that these women are so tough. Even after so many days of suf­fer­ing, they keep silent about the ag­o­nies and don’t com­plain.” The UN is of­fer­ing emer­gency re­pro­duc­tive health­care ser­vices in Ban­dar­ban and Cox’s Bazar, where aid work­ers shared sim­i­lar tales from women who suf­fered tor­ture and gang rape at gun­point.

“It is so hor­ri­fy­ing,” said a field worker serv­ing in Ukhia up­azila in Ban­dar­ban, adding, “I heard of a young girl be­ing raped in front of her fa­ther, mother and brother. Then the sol­diers took the men out in the court­yard and shot them.”

Faisal Mah­mud, a se­nior re­porter who re­cently re­turned to the cap­i­tal from Ro­hingya camps, also said he spoke to many vic­tims of rape. “Most of them I spoke to were so trau­ma­tised they were hardly able to nar­rate the bru­tal­ity. I could see the fear in their faces. Although I hardly un­der­stand their di­alect, a trans­la­tor helped me to un­der­stand the ter­ri­fy­ing tales of be­ing stripped naked and gang raped.”

Mo­ham­mad Jamil Hos­sain trekked through the deep forests, evad­ing mines and Myanmar bor­der guards who look for men to catch and take back. “The sys­tem­atic cleans­ing will not end un­til every mem­ber of Ro­hingya pop­u­la­tion is evicted and forced out of the coun­try,” he said. “The whole world is watch­ing and yet do­ing noth­ing to stop the killings.”

Shireen Huq, founder mem­ber of Naripokkho, Bangladesh’s lead­ing NGO fight­ing for women’s rights, said: “I was shocked and over­whelmed by the sheer num­bers of peo­ple, mostly women and chil­dren, flee­ing Myanmar and en­ter­ing Bangladesh.

“The me­dia has re­ported wide­spread atroc­i­ties, mass rape, mur­der, ar­son and bru­tal­ity in the state of Rakhain.”

“Women ar­riv­ing at Naya­para through

Shah Porir Dwip were in a state of shock and fa­tigue. Many of them were can­did about the ju­lum (a word used to mean both tor­ture and rape) they had un­der­gone, about be­ing raped by sev­eral mil­i­tary men” she said.

“We must en­sure ap­pro­pri­ate and ad­e­quate care for the refugees, es­pe­cially all those who have suf­fered sex­ual vi­o­lence. They need med­i­cal care, psy­choso­cial coun­selling and abor­tion ser­vices.”

“Agen­cies work­ing in the Ro­hingya refugee camps es­ti­mate that 50 000 women are preg­nant. Sev­eral hun­dred de­liv­er­ies have al­ready taken place. Round the clock emer­gency health ser­vices must be made avail­able to deal with the sit­u­a­tion,” Shireen said.

More than 515 000 Ro­hingyas have fled the Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity coun­try and crossed into Bangladesh since Au­gust 25. Densely pop­u­lated refugee set­tle­ments have mush­roomed around road from Tek­naf to Cox’s Bazar district that bor­ders Myanmar di­vided by the Naf river. About 2 000 of the refugees are flood­ing into the camps every day, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Mi­gra­tion (IOM).

IOM has ap­pealed to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity for $120m (R1.6bn) be­tween now and Fe­bru­ary to be­gin to ad­dress the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis.

“The refugees who fled Rakhine did so in the be­lief that they would find safety and pro­tec­tion in Cox’s Bazar,” Wil­liam Lacy Swing, IOM’s di­rec­tor-gen­eral said in a state­ment on Oc­to­ber 4.

“It is our re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure that the suf­fer­ing that they have ex­pe­ri­enced on the way must end.”

Mean­while, wit­nesses say there are still thou­sands of refugees in the for­est wait­ing to cross over the Bangladesh bor­der, which has now been of­fi­cially opened. Many can be seen from dis­tant hill­tops, walk­ing with what­ever be­long­ings they could take.

“I was struck by the fear that these peo­ple carry with them­selves, what they have gone through and seen back in Myanmar,” the UN high com­mis­sioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, said in a camp re­cently, where refugees live un­der thou­sands of tar­pau­lins cov­er­ing the hills and rice pad­dies.

“Par­ents killed, fam­i­lies di­vided, wounds in­flicted, rapes per­pe­trated on women. There’s a lot of ter­ri­ble vi­o­lence that has oc­curred and it will take a long time for peo­ple to heal their wounds, longer than sat­is­fy­ing their ba­sic needs,” Grandi said.


DES­O­LATE: Ro­hingya peo­ple wait in line to re­ceive aid at the Tankhali makeshift camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh after flee­ing from op­pres­sion in Myanmar’s Rakhine state fol­low­ing a crack­down by the mil­i­tary against Ro­hingya mil­i­tants. Some 515 000...

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