Rohingya refugees relate tales of atrocities
Government soldiers accused of rape, killing babies, burning families
COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh — Hundreds of women stood in the river, held at gunpoint, ordered not to move.
A pack of soldiers stepped toward a petite young woman with light brown eyes and delicate cheekbones. Her name was Rajuma, and she was standing chest-high in the water, clutching her baby son, while her village in Myanmar burned down behind her.
“You,” the soldiers said, pointing at her. She froze. “You!” She squeezed her baby tighter.
In the next violent blur of moments, the soldiers clubbed Rajuma in the face, tore her screaming child out of her arms and hurled him into a fire. She was then dragged into a house and gang-raped.
By the time the day was over, she was running through a field naked and covered in blood. Alone, she had lost her son, her mother, her two sisters and her younger brother, all wiped out in front of her eyes, she says.
Rajuma is a Rohingya Muslim, one of the most unwanted ethnic groups on earth, and she now spends her days drifting through a refugee camp in Bangladesh in a daze.
She relayed her story at the camp, one of several where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya like her have rushed for safety. Her account of what happened in her village, in late August, was corroborated by dozens of other survivors and by human rights groups gathering evidence of atrocities.
Survivors said they saw government soldiers stabbing babies, cutting off boys’ heads, gang-raping girls, shooting 40-millimeter grenades into houses, burning entire families to death, rounding up dozens of unarmed male villagers and summarily executing them.
Much of the violence was flamboyantly brutal, intimate and personal — the kind that is detonated by a long, bitter history of ethnic hatred.
“People were holding the soldiers’ feet, begging for their lives,” Rajuma said. “But they didn’t stop, they just kicked them off and killed them, they chopped people, they shot people, they raped us, they left us senseless.”
Human rights investigators said that Myanmar’s military killed more than 1,000 civilians in the state of Rakhine, and possibly as many as 5,000, though it will be hard to ever know because Myanmar is not allowing the United Nations or anyone else into the affected areas.
On Wednesday, the United Nations reported that in addition to the military’s use of rape and other traumatic tactics to drive survivors out, the nature of the broader violence — homes burned, crops and livestock destroyed, the landscaped leveled — “render the possibility of the Rohingya returning to normal lives and livelihoods in the future in northern Rakhine almost impossible.”
Myanmar’s army has claimed it was responding to an attack by Rohingya militants on Aug. 25 and targeting only the insurgents. But according to dozens of witnesses, almost all of the people killed were unarmed villagers, and many had their hands bound.
Satellite imagery has revealed 288 separate villages burned, some down to the last post.
Human rights groups said the government troops had one goal: to erase entire Rohingya communities. The unsparing destruction drove more than half a million people into Bangladesh in recent weeks. U.N. officials called the campaign against the Rohingya a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing.
Many people in the refugee camps have been eerily stoic — seemingly traumatized past the ability to feel. In dozens of interviews with survivors who said their loved ones had been killed in front of them, not a single tear was shed.
But as she reached the end of her horrible testimony, Rajuma broke down.
“I can’t explain how hard it hurts,” she said, tears rolling off her cheeks, “to no longer hear my son call me Ma.”
Rohingya refugees from Myanmar arrive in Shah Porir Dip, Bangladesh, after crossing the Naf River. United Nations officials have called the campaign against the Rohingya in Myanmar a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.