Human Rights Watch asks for international probe into sexual violence against Rohingyas

Myanmar government forces committed rape and other sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls during security operations in northern Rakhine State in late 2016, Human Rights Watch said yesterday.

Read also: Myanmar's Rohingya may be victims of 'crimes against humanity': UN

The international rights watchdog said the Myanmar government should urgently endorse an independent, international investigation into alleged abuses in Rakhine State, including into possible systematic rape against Rohingya women and girls.

Myanmar army and Border Guard Police personnel took part in rape, gang rape, invasive body searches, and sexual assaults in at least nine villages in Maungdaw district between October 9 and mid-December last year, it said.

Read also: Myanmar to investigate police abuse of Rohingya

Survivors and witnesses, who identified army and border police units by their uniforms, kerchiefs, armbands and patches, described security forces carrying out attacks in groups, some holding women down or threatening them at gunpoint while others raped them.

Many survivors reported being insulted and threatened on an ethnic or religious basis during the assaults.

"These horrific attacks on Rohingya women and girls by security forces add a new and brutal chapter to the Myanmar military's long and sickening history of sexual violence against women," said Priyanka Motaparthy, senior emergencies researcher of HRW.

"Military and police commanders should be held responsible for these crimes if they did not do everything in their power to stop them or punish those involved."

Between December 2016 and January 2017, HRW researchers in Bangladesh interviewed 18 women, of whom 11 had survived sexual assault, as well as 10 men.

Seventeen men and women, including some women who survived assaults, witnessed sexual violence, including against their wives, sisters or daughters. The HRW documented 28 incidents of rape and other sexual assault.

A report released by the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) on February 3 found that more than half of the 101 women UN investigators interviewed said they were raped or suffered other forms of sexual violence.

The report, based on a total of 204 interviews, concluded that attacks including rape and other sexual violence "seem[ed] to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity."

After attacks by Rohingya militants on border police posts on October 9, 2016, the Myanmar military undertook a series of "clearance operations" in Rakhine State. Security forces summarily executed men, women, and children; looted property; and burned down at least 1,500 homes and other buildings, HRW said.

More than 69,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, while another 23,000 have become internally displaced in Maungdaw district, it added.

Several women described how soldiers surrounded their villages or homes, then gathered the villagers in an outdoor area, separating men from women, and detained them for up to several hours. Soldiers often shot villagers, and raped and gang raped women and girls.

"Ayesha," pseudonym of a Rohingya woman in her 20s, told HRW: "They gathered all the women and started beating us with bamboo sticks and kicking us with their boots. After beating us, the military took [me and] 15 women about my age and separated us… [The soldiers] raped me one by one, tearing my clothes."

The sexual violence did not appear to be random or opportunistic, but part of a coordinated and systematic attack against Rohingya, in part because of their ethnicity and religion, HRW said.

Rohingya victims of sexual assault face limited access to emergency healthcare including to prevent unwanted pregnancy from rape and infection with HIV, and to treat other sexually transmitted infections, it said.

Myanmar authorities have taken no evident steps to seriously investigate allegations of sexual violence or other abuses reported by nongovernmental organisations, including HRW.

"The government's failure to investigate rape and other crimes against the Rohingya should make it clear to Burma's friends and donors that an independent, international inquiry is desperately needed to get to the bottom of these appalling abuses," Motaparthy said.

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