UN report condemns sexual violence by Myanmar military
Sexual violence carried out by Myanmar's security forces against the country's Muslim Rohingya minority was so widespread and severe that it demonstrates intent to commit genocide as well as warrants prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity, a U.N. report charged on Thursday.
The U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar said it found the country's soldiers "routinely and systematically employed rape, gang rape and other violent and forced sexual acts against women, girls, boys, men and transgender people in blatant violation of international human rights law."
Its report on sexual and gender-based violence in Myanmar covers the Kachin and Shan ethnic minorities in northern Myanmar as well as the Rohingya in the western state of Rakhine.
The report, released in New York, charges that the genocidal intent of Myanmar's military toward the Rohingya was demonstrated "by means of killing female members of the Rohingya community, causing Rohingya women and girls serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting on the Rohingya women and girls conditions of life calculated to bring about the destruction of the Rohingya in whole or in part and imposing measures that prevented births within the group."
Myanmar's government and military have consistently denied carrying out human rights violations and said its military operations in Rakhine were justified in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.
Many human rights groups have accused Myanmar of carrying out genocide or ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. In an earlier report, the U.N. mission documented other major abuses in Rakhine since 2016, including widespread killings and torching of villages and found that similar abuses were carried out in Kachin and Shan states.
Rohingya in Bangladesh: anniversary of the exodus
A year ago, the Rohingya exodus from Myanmar began. Hundreds of thousands fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. Andrea Marshall gives her impressions of the refugee camp Kutupalong in Bangladesh.
Dusty, hot, narrow – and almost as big as Cologne: Rohingya began fleeing from Myanmar to Bangladesh decades ago. A refugee camp grew up next to the village of Kutupalong. As a result of the mass exodus since August 2017, the number of inhabitants there has risen sharply and further camps have been set up. A total of almost one million people now live there – a city almost the size of Cologne, but without the infrastructure
Football fever in the refugee camp: international flags fly at the entrance to the Kutupalong refugee camp. During the World Cup, the Brazilian, Argentinian and occasionally even the German flag were to be seen. Football fever gripped the camp and the surrounding villages, prompting coverage by citizen reporters. Even in a difficult situation there is joie de vivre
Monsoon floods and landslides: threatened by cyclones in the spring and torrential rains during the monsoon season, life here is mostly about coping with extreme hardship. The programme "Palonger Hotha" by citizen reporters serves partly to disseminate vital information: where can I find bamboo poles to reinforce the accommodation? Which residential areas should be evacuated because of the threat of mudslides?
The aim of the mission is also to strengthen people's identity by taking their everyday experiences seriously. The team of reporters, consisting of young Rohingya and local Bangladeshi people, asked: What is the impact on family life when you have to sit huddled together in a narrow hut for hours on end due to the weather?
Collecting constructive ideas: an important concern of the citizen reporters is to find constructive ideas and inspire the listeners. Reporter Sajeda reported on "hanging vegetable gardens" where beans are planted – a way to improve the food supply despite the limited space. There are also reports featuring household remedies for diseases that accumulate in the rainy season for hygienic reasons
Education instead of "lost generation": how do children remember their way home? What can they do to ensure they donʹt get lost in the huge refugee camp? What are the challenges of the Learning Centres in the camp? For reporter Iqbal, the education of the refugee children is a special concern. There are no real schools for them
Elephant alarm new for Rohingya: the refugee camp is on the route of the Asian elephants. At the beginning of the year there were several deaths after people in the camp tried to chase the animals away. The United Nations organised training courses on the correct handling of elephants, while "Palonger Hotha" reporters covered the initiative
Green hills deforested: some Bangladeshi people from the area have found work in connection with the refugee camp. But they also complain that hundreds of thousands of newly arrived Rohingya have raised food prices in the region. Hills have been deforested because the refugees needed space and firewood. That is why it is important to include the perspective of the locals on citizensʹ radio
Conflict-sensitive approach: the "Palonger Hotha" team with their local trainer Mainul Khan aims to deal responsibly with potentially sensitive issues. Politics is not the subject of the programme. On the other hand, the UNHCR's "Smart Card", which is supposed to facilitate the (voluntary) return of refugees to Myanmar and has been met with suspicion by many, is well reported
Overcoming the trauma: on the anniversary of the beginning of the mass exodus on 25 August, traumatic experiences were shared. People also told us how they cope with their trauma – one step at a time
While describing sexual violence as a "hallmark" of the military's operations, the new report notes that it is also perpetrated by armed guerrilla groups of the ethnic minorities in northern Myanmar, "although to a significantly lesser extent."
"Sexual violence is an outcome of a larger problem of gender inequality and the lack of rule of law," the report asserts, noting that the U.N.'s ranking of Myanmar's gender inequality at 148 of 189 countries indicates it is especially prone to sexual and gender-based violence.
Looking at the root causes of the problem in Myanmar society, the fact-finding mission concluded that "the discriminatory framework of laws and practices even in peacetime contribute and aggravate violence against women in wartime," said Radhika Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan lawyer who is one of the mission's three international experts, speaking at a news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York.
Coomaraswamy said researchers had found a link between militarisation across Myanmar in every facet of life and higher levels of sexual violence. She told reporters that the mission's overarching recommendation is the need for security sector reform under civilian oversight of the military.
The fact-finding mission, led by Indonesian human rights lawyer Marzuki Darusman, was established by the U.N.'s Human Rights Council in 2017 in reaction to increasing repression of the Rohingya, an ostracised minority in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar.
Violence against the Rohingya increased markedly in August that year, when security forces launched a brutal counterinsurgency campaign that drove more than 700,000 Rohingya villagers into neighbouring Bangladesh.
The Rohingya refugees still live in squalid camps in Bangladesh and a planned effort Thursday to repatriate an initial large group to Myanmar collapsed when none showed up to be taken back.
The new report condemns Myanmar's failure to hold accountable the perpetrators of the abuses, noting that "such violence was only possible in a climate of long-standing tolerance and impunity, where military personnel had no reasonable fear of punishment or disciplinary action."
The report says its finding of genocidal intent toward the Rohingya was supported by "the widespread and systematic killing of women and girls, the systematic selection of women and girls of reproductive ages for rape, attacks on pregnant women and on babies, the physical branding of their bodies by bite marks on their cheeks, neck, breast and thigh and so severely injuring victims that they may be unable to have sexual intercourse with their husbands or to conceive and leaving them concerned that they would no longer be able to have children."
A less detailed 2018 report by the fact-finding mission also tied sexual and gender-based violence to genocidal intent, citing the statements of Myanmar officials and what was described as an "organised plan of destruction that included the targeting of women and girls of reproductive age for rape, gang rape and other forms of sexual violence" and the military's "extreme brutality, including attacks on pregnant mothers and on babies."
In reaction to another report by the mission earlier this month about the alleged corporate enablers of the military, Myanmar's foreign ministry said that in establishing the fact-finding mission, the U.N. Human Rights Council "exceeded its mandate and contravened the terms and practices of International Law. We do not recognise either the Fact-Finding Mission or the report that it produced. The Government of Myanmar categorically rejects the latest report and its conclusions." (AP)