Sexual attacks against Rohingya may be war crimes, says UN envoy

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Widespread atrocities against Rohingya Muslim women and girls have been orchestrated and perpetrated by Myanmar’s military and may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, the UN envoy on sexual violence in conflict said today.

Pramila Patten, who met many Rohingya victims of sexual violence in Bangladesh camps during a visit this month, said she fully endorses the assessment by UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein that Rohingya have been victims of “ethnic cleansing.”

Patten said at a news conference that the widespread use of sexual violence “was clearly a driver and push factor” for more than 620,000 Rohingya to flee Myanmar. It was “also a calculated tool of terror aimed at the extermination and removal of the Rohingya as a group,” she added.

Myanmar’s government has denied committing any atrocities as has its military. The government refused a request from Patten to visit northern Rakhine state where many Rohingya lived.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar doesn’t recognise 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.

The recent spasm of violence began when Rohingya insurgents launched a series of attacks on August 25. Myanmar security forces then began a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages that the UN and human rights groups have called a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Patten said that during her visit to camps for the displaced, she heard “the most heartbreaking, most shocking, and horrific accounts of abuses committed cold bloodedly with unparallelled hatred against the Rohingya community.”

Patten, a former member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, said sexual violence including gang rape by soldiers, forced public nudity and sexual slavery and it was clearly being used “as a tool of dehumanisation and as a form of punishment.”

She said a number of eyewitnesses “reported rapes of the most extreme and brutal nature, which included the tying of women and girls to a rock or tree before being gang raped by multiple soldiers, and many were literally gang-raped to death.” Some girls who were raped in their houses were left to die when their houses were torched, she added.

Witnesses also said that even before August 25, Myanmar troops would throw Rohingya babies into fires or into village wells to contaminate the water and deprive residents of drinking water, Patten said.

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