Soldiers in Myanmar have gang raped Rohingya women in continued violence against the Muslim minority in Rakhine state, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
Human Rights Watch cited first-hand interviews with 52 Rohingya women and girls who fled to Bangladesh and reported being raped by security forces in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
“Rape has been a prominent and devastating feature of the Burmese military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya,” said Skye Wheeler, women’s rights emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The Burmese military’s barbaric acts of violence have left countless women and girls brutally harmed and traumatized.”
All but one of the interviewees was gang raped, HRW said.
WATCH: HRW Report: Myanmar Security Forces Using Sexual Violence as Scare Tactic
Hundreds of cases
HRW also spoke with multiple humanitarian organizations in Bangladesh who have reported “hundreds” of rape cases. Numbers of rape victims are likely much higher, as social stigma keeps many women silent.
“I have had to deal with disgust, others looking away from me,” Isharahat Islam, who was raped by soldiers in her village Hathi Para in October 2016, told HRW.
The numbers also cannot account for those who were killed after they were raped.
Fifteen-year-old Hala Sadak from a village in the Maungdaw Township told HRW that soldiers had dragged her from her home, stripped her naked, and pushed her against a tree where she estimates as many as 10 men raped her from behind.
“They left me where I was ... when my brother and sister came to get me, I was lying there on the ground, they thought I was dead,” she said.
Emotional, physical injuries
In addition to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, women reported untreated injuries including vaginal tears, bleeding, and infections, the report said.
More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have left Myanmar’s Rakhine State since Aug. 25, after insurgents attacked security forces and prompted a brutal military crackdown that has been described as ethnic cleansing.
Myanmar’s government has repeatedly rejected claims that atrocities, including rape and extrajudicial killings, are occurring in northern Rakhine, the epicenter of the violence that the United Nations has called “textbook ethnic cleansing.”
Denials from Myanmar
In September, the Rakhine state border security minister denied reports of rape by security forces in the state, according to HRW.
“Where is the proof? Look at those women who are making these claims — would anyone want to rape them?” he was quoted as saying in Thursday’s report.
Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya and denies them citizenship, referring to them as “Bengali” to imply origins in Bangladesh.
Though Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized for sidestepping allegations of abuses, many Western governments have been reluctant to ostracize her during a fragile transition to democracy.