Many of the almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar were subjected to acts of sexual violence by the country’s armed forces, according to a new report by the UN secretary general, António Guterres.
Guterres’s report, which will be discussed by the UN security council on Monday, said international medical staff and others in Bangladesh, where many of the Rohingya have fled, have documented that many of the refugees “bear the physical and psychological scars of brutal sexual assault”.
Guterres said the assaults were allegedly perpetrated by Myanmar’s armed forces, “at times acting in concert with local militias, in the course of military ‘clearance’ operations in October 2016 and August 2017”.
“The widespread threat and use of sexual violence was integral to this strategy, serving to humiliate, terrorize and collectively punish the Rohingya community, as a calculated tool to force them to flee their homelands and prevent their return,” he said.Buddhist-majority Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group, insisting they are Bengali migrants from Bangladesh living illegally in the country. It has denied them citizenship, leaving them stateless.
Guterres said “ethnic cleansing in the guise of clearance operations unfolded in northern Rakhine state”. “Violence was visited upon women, including pregnant women, who are seen as custodians and propagators of ethnic identity, as well as on young children, who represent the future of the group,” Guterres said. “This can be linked to an inflammatory narrative alleging that high fertility rates among the Rohingya represent an existential threat to the majority population.”
Guterres’s report comes as Myanmar on Saturday repatriated the first Rohingya family from the refugees who fled to Bangladesh.
The government said “five members of a Muslim family” arrived at a reception center in Rakhine state, after months of fraught talks with Dhaka and amid UN warnings that Myanmar is not ready for their return. Myanmar’s army is one of 51 government, rebel and extremist groups in Guterres’s report that are “credibly suspected” of carrying out rapes and other acts of sexual violence in conflict. Other countries include Syria, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Sudan, South Sudan, Mali and Somalia.
Guterres said most victims are “politically and economically marginalized women and girls” concentrated in remote, rural areas with the least access to services that can help them, and in refugee camps and areas for the displaced. He said many women, including Rohingya refugees, are reluctant to return to locations they fled where forces including alleged perpetrators remain in control. The secretary general lamented that “most incidents of mass rape continue to be met with mass impunity”.