Rape by Command : Sexual Violence As A Weapon Against The Rohingya

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Rape by Command : Sexual Violence As A Weapon Against The Rohingya
By Razia Sultana – Chief Researcher, Kaladan Press Network, Chittagong 4000, Bangladesh.   

This report documents the widespread, systematic use of sexual violence by the Myanmar Army during its brutal “clearance operation” in northern Rakhine State in the second half of 2017. This operation has driven over 680,000 Rohingya villagers into Bangladesh. Testimonies of 36 refugees, eight of whom are rape survivors, provide evidence that government troops raped well over 300 women and girls in or near at least seventeen villages across Maungdaw and northern Buthidaung townships, as well as in Maungdaw town, during the operation. With over 350 villages attacked and burned at this time, this number is likely only a fraction of the actual total of women raped.

In the weeks before the official launch of the operation on August 25, thousands of Myanmar Army troops were deployed from existing military camps in Rakhine State, and from central Myanmar, to reinforce Border Guard Police posts throughout northern Rakhine State. These troops were the main perpetrators of sexual violence, at every stage of the operation. Before the start of the operation, the troops committed rape during security patrols and “anti-terror” raids in remote rural areas, where many men had gone into hiding for fear of arrest and torture. In two villages alone in northern Buthidaung, six women and one six-year-old girl were gang-raped by government troops in the weeks before August 25.

However, the majority of rape incidents, involving hundreds of women, took place during the actual attacks starting on August 25, when large numbers of troops entered villages shooting indiscriminately, torturing and killing civilians, and burning houses. Women and girls were caught and raped in their houses, as they were running away, or after being rounded up in large groups in or near the villages; some were horribly mutilated. In the village of Tula Toli (Min Gyi) in northern Maungdaw, survivors estimate that well over one hundred women and girls were raped during the attack; many were also killed.

The sexual violence did not only take place in rural areas. Witnesses described the capture and rape of women in the town of Maungdaw after August 25, when it was in a security lockdown by hundreds of troops. Women fleeing to the border were also targeted for rape. Scores of women and girls from Buthidaung were raped when security forces caught them trying to cross the Mayu mountain range to reach the Bangladesh border. Sexual violence involved hundreds of soldiers and occurred across the length of Maungdaw and northern Buthidaung.

Such scale and breadth of incidence provides strong evidence that rape was systematically planned and used as a weapon against the Rohingya population. In five locations—including Maungdaw town itself—women and girls were forcibly detained and raped in military camps, for periods of up to two weeks. This can only have been authorized by commanding officers of the camps. Rape was committed flagrantly by groups of soldiers, who jointly beat, held down, or tied up women and young girls, and took turns to rape them. Often this took place in front of other troops, and sometimes in front of civilians, showing clear confidence of impunity, which can only have come from shared knowledge of authorization to rape.

Most of the rape incidents involved other forms of brutal torture, including biting, beating, cutting with knives, and burning. In eleven villages, as well as Maungdaw town, rape victims are known to have been killed or died from their injuries. This indicates that rape was part of an overall strategy to mete out savage punishment to women and girls – apparently for their very identity as Rohingya. The pattern of mutilation of women’s breasts and genitals after rape — already apparent in 2016—suggest a specific directive to instill terror in this way, flaunting the army’s ability not just to sexually possess the women of their “enemy,” but also destroy their very means of reproduction.

The well-publicized events in Tula Toli—in which over a hundred women were gang-raped and tortured, with many burned alive—provide compelling evidence of specific orders to commit mass rape. Without such orders, it would be impossible for an estimated 400 troops from different camps, backed up by air support, to so precisely coordinate the massacre of hundreds of civilians in the morning and then methodically gang-rape women over a period of hours in the afternoon. The systematic use of rape as a weapon is a war crime, a crime against humanity, and a tactic of genocide, for which Myanmar’s military leaders must be held responsible.

It is imperative that the Myanmar government stops blindly defending its armed forces. The government must take immediate action to end the military’s systematic atrocities, including sexual violence, not least for the danger posed to the entire society. By authorizing and directing their troops to commit rape, military commanders are encouraging them to find sexual gratification from acts of violence that inflict pain and terror, and cause irreparable damage to women’s lives. With hundreds of thousands of troops deployed across Myanmar, this has horrifying implications for the safety of women and girls throughout the country.

The Myanmar government must order an immediate stop to its army’s atrocities against civilians, including rape, and begin processes to hold the army’s entire command structure to account. A first step to this is to allow the UN Fact Finding Mission into the country. ##

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