United Nations doctors’ have confirmed numerous reports of sexual assaults committed by Myanmarese military against Rohingya women.
According to Reuters, doctors treating some of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar in recent weeks have seen dozens of women with injuries consistent with violent sexual attacks, UN clinicians and other health workers said.
Over 429,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when Myanmar regime forces and extremist Buddhist started a new wave of crackdown that the United Nations has termed as ethnic cleansing. The recent exodus of Rohingya has brought the number of refugees from Rakhine living in Bangladesh to over 800,000.
The UN medics’ accounts, backed in some cases by medical notes reviewed by Reuters, lend weight to repeated rape allegations leveled by women from the stateless minority group against Myanmar’s armed forces.
Reuters cited eight health and protection workers as saying that they had treated more than 25 individual rape cases since late August in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district.
The medics say they do not attempt to establish definitively what happened to their patients, but have seen an unmistakeable pattern in the stories and physical symptoms of dozens of women, who invariably say Myanmar soldiers were the perpetrators.
It is rare for UN doctors and aid agencies to speak about rape allegedly committed by a state’s armed forces, given the sensitivity of the matter.
Doctors at a clinic run by the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) at the Leda makeshift refugee say they treated hundreds of women with injuries they said were from violent sexual assaults during the army operation in October and November.
Dr. Niranta Kumar, the clinic’s health coordinator, told Reuters they have seen have injuries among recent influx of refugees suggesting “more aggressive” attacks on women.
Several health workers suggested that, whereas in October many women had initially remained in their villages believing the army sweeps were only targeting Rohingya men, this time most had fled at the first sign of military activity.
FRACTION OF THE CASES
At Bangladesh government clinics supported by UN agencies in the Ukhia area, doctors reported treating 19 women who had been raped, said Dr. Misbah Uddin Ahmed, head of the main health complex there, citing reports from female clinicians.
In one day alone, Sept. 14, six women showed up at one of the clinics, all saying they were sexually assaulted. “They all said Myanmar army had done this.”
An IOM doctor who asked not to be identified, working at one of those clinics near the Kutapalong refugee camp, said she treated 15 of the 19 cases of women who appeared to have been raped, and another eight women who had been physically assaulted, Reuters reported.
Internal reports compiled by aid agencies in Cox’s Bazar recorded that 49 “SGBV survivors” were identified in just four days between Aug. 28-31. SGBV, or sexual and gender-based violence is used to refer to only cases of rape, according to UN doctors. Data for reported rape cases was not available for other dates.
A situation report from aid agencies says more than 350 people had been referred for “life-saving care” relating to gender-based violence – a broad term that includes rape, attempted rape and molestation, as well as emotional abuse and denial of resources based on gender – since Aug. 25. It did not refer to the perpetrators.
Kate White, emergency medical coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Cox’s Bazar said the charity had treated at least 23 cases of sexual and gender-based violence including gang-rape and sexual assault since Aug. 25.
“This is a fraction of the cases that are likely to be out there,” she said.
RAPE AS A WEAPON
A report of the UN Secretary General in April said the sexual assaults were “apparently employed systematically to humiliate and terrorize their community”.
Before her rise to power last year Suu Kyi had spoken of rape being used as a tool of division in the country’s myriad ethnic conflicts.
“It is used as a weapon by armed forces to intimidate the ethnic nationalities and to divide our country, this is how I see it,” she said in 2011 in a video message to a conference on sexual violence in conflict. However, the Buddhist Nobel laureate has chosen to keep silence when it comes to brutal sexual attacks commited by regime’s forces against Muslim women.
Her spokesman Zaw Htay said there was “nothing to say” when asked if her view had changed since then. “Everything should be according to the rule of law,” he said. “The military leaders also have said they will take action.”