Gender based violence and the Rohingya

Violence against women and girls remains one of the most endemic and devastating human rights violations across the world today. Through the exertion of power and control in the intersection of various power structures, women and girls lives and their communities are being destroyed. Even the very term “violence against women and girls” is problematic in itself, as it is passive and does not focus on the perpetrators of the violence.  

There is increased awareness of the prominent sexual assault against women amongst Hollywood and other power structures, as these women have the platform to share their stories and expose perpetrators. However those women and girls which society does not value because of their race, nationality and/or class, are unable to voice their experiences and are being ignored.

7 One of the military’s most feared weapon to terrorise women and girls and force the Rohingya population to flee is widespread sexual violence, with innumerable numbers of women and girls brutally gang-raped by Burmese military soldiers.

This violence against Rohingya women and girls by the Burmese military and other perpetrators is so widespread, brutal and inhumane that they are being described as the worst that human rights workers have seen. First-hand accounts have been documented by Human Rights Watch in the 37 page report ‘All of My Body Was Pain’: Sexual Violence Against Rohingya Women and Girls in Burma,” as well as by UN doctors and other aid health workers. Human Rights Watch has spoken to multiple humanitarian organizations in Bangladesh who have reported “hundreds” of rape cases. This figure is likely to be very under representative as women and girls are unlikely to report sexual assaults due to the trauma, stigma, and shame.

Since August 25, 2017, the Burmese military has committed genocide against the “stateless” Rohingya people, consisting of mass killings, rapes, and burning of homes in northern Rakhine State, forcing more than an estimated 600,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. The refugee crisis has been “unprecedented in terms of volume and speed,” according to the International Organization for Migration. Human Rights Watch has declared that these are crimes against humanity under international law, and the UN has called it “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Husbands and young men have been murdered, leaving the vast number of refugees in Bangladesh traumatised women and children.

Rape and other forms of sexual assault of women and girls is incredibly brutalising and traumatising; destroying a basic sense of selfhood and creating intergenerational trauma. The use of women and girls’ bodies in genocides is widespread; in the Bosnia, Rwanda, and Bangladeshi genocides to name a few, and it shapes the victims’ futures for years to come. "Survivors face emotional torment, psychological damage, physical injuries, disease, social ostracism and many other consequences that can devastate their lives," says Amnesty.  "Women's lives and their bodies have been the unacknowledged casualties of war for too long."  It destroys the woman and girls sense of safety and connection to their homes and villages and therefore is an effective method of ethnic cleansing.

Rape is not a new tactic of the Burmese army in forcing the Rohingya to flee. The perpetrators have been persistently found to be the Burmese government forces. On Thursday the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten said “My observations point to a pattern of widespread atrocities, including rape, gang-rape by multiple soldiers, forced public nudity and humiliation, and sexual slavery in military captivity directed against Rohingya women and girls.” Patten has also reported that other perpetrators allegedly involved include the Myanmar Border Guard Police and militias composed of Rakhine state Buddhists and other ethnic groups. The Burmese military has denied all allegations. Restless Beings is compiling together hundreds of accounts conducted by our Rohingya team in Bangladesh, which will highlight the genocide and specifically harrowing sexual and gender based violence against the Rohingya women and girls.

In this unprecedented humanitarian crisis, there is overwhelming evidence that the Burmese military and other perpetrators have subjected many Rohingya women and girls to brutal sexual violence. The women and girls must be listened to, protected, and have access to essential health and personalised counselling services. Although the reported cases may be similar in nature, each survivor must be treated as an individual in their own right. The Burmese military and other perpetrators must be called out and held accountable for their crimes against humanity. Creating a safe environment in the refugee camps where survivors can safely and confidentially report rape and other forms of sexual assault is important. This ensures that their trauma is being acknowledged and that they have access to the right counselling services.

We need your support and lobbying to ensure that justice is served for the Rohingya women and girls, and to continue bringing attention to the devastating reality of the Rohingya genocide by the Burmese military and other perpetrators.