The Daily Star/ANN
“Where I come from, women and girls have been gang-raped, tortured and killed by the Myanmar army, for no other reason than for being a Rohingya,” said Sultana Razia, a lawyer who specializes in trauma, mass rape and trafficking of Rohingya girls and women.
She said her research showed that Myanmar troops raped well over 300 women and girls in 17 villages in Rakhine State since August last year.
“With over 350 villages attacked and burned since August 2017, this number is likely only a fraction of the actual total number of women raped,” she said at the Security Council's open debate on preventing sexual violence in conflict on Tuesday.
The debate, presided over by Peru, takes place at a time when Myanmar's military has been put on a UN list of government and rebel groups "credibly suspected" of carrying out rapes and other acts of sexual violence in conflict. The Security Council is also preparing for a visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh later this month.
Myanmar's military crackdown forced some 700,000 Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh. Doctors without Borders said 6,700 Rohingyas were killed in just one month since the atrocities began late August.
“The widespread threat and use of sexual violence was integral to their strategy, humiliating, terrorising and collectively punishing the Rohingya community and serving as a calculated tool to force them to flee their homelands and prevent their return,” said the UN Secretary General's report on sexual violence in conflicts, released on March 23.
The violence is linked with an inflammatory narrative alleging that high fertility rates among the Rohingya community represents an existential threat to the majority population in Myanmar, it said.
Razia Sultana, a senior researcher with Kalandan Press and a coordinator of the Free Rohingya Coalition, said Rohingya girls as young as six were gang-raped during the military atrocities in Rakhine.
“Women and girls were caught and gang-raped in their homes, as they were running away or trying to cross the Bangladesh border. Some were horribly mutilated and burned alive,” she said at the debate on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security at the UN in New York.
She was the first Rohingya woman to address the UN's most powerful body.
Razia Sultana said sexual violence involved hundreds of soldiers and occurred across a vast part of Rakhine. She added that the scale and breadth of violence provided strong evidence that rape was systematically planned and used as a weapon.
“The pattern of mutilation of women's private parts after rape, suggests a specific directive to instil terror among Rohingya people but also to destroy their very means of reproduction,” she said during the debate addressed by representatives of 70 countries.
Razia, who has been working with Rohingya women in the refugee camps in Bangladesh since 2014, said the international community, especially the Security Council, has failed the Rohingya.
“This latest crisis [could] have been prevented if the warning signs since 2012 had not been ignored,” she said.
She urged the Security Council to meet the female survivors during its visit to Bangladesh, while also putting pressure to end impunity, support political and legal reform, and stop the oppression of all ethnic peoples in Myanmar.
"It is hypocritical to condemn the human rights violations and express horror at the new violence, while then also selling arms to Myanmar and seek explorative licences to mine its natural resources," she said.
Pramila Patten, the UN special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, said sexual violence continued to be employed as a tactic of war, a tactic of terrorism, and a tool of political repression in 2017 not only in Myanmar but in many other countries.
She told the Council that accountability was urgently needed to stop wartime rape "from being once again 'normalized' due to the frequency and impunity with which it is committed."
Bangladesh's Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Ariful Islam, urged the international community to take concrete actions to end sexual violence in conflicts, according to a statement issued by the UN Security Council.
“If such violence is not stopped and the Rohingya women are provided protection, there is no hope of safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingya,” he said.