Nobel Women’s Initiative Preliminary Findings on Myanmar
UN Human Rights Council Thirty-Seventh session March 2018
The Nobel Women’s Initiative conducted a fact-finding delegation to Bangladesh between February 24 and March 2, to investigate the situation of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, particularly the violence against Rohingya women— including high levels of sexual violence.
Nobel Laureates Mairead Maguire (Northern Ireland), Shirin Ebadi (Iran) and Tawakkol Karman (Yemen) and Nobel Women’s Initiative staff also sought to gain a better understanding of the assistance and protection being provided by the Bangladeshi government and local communities, including the challenges they face, and the role of local and international organizations providing support to the Rohingya women in the neighboring camps and beyond. Nobel Women’s Initiative conducted the mission in partnership with local Bangladeshi women’s organization, Naripokkho, and in consultation with women’s rights activists from Burma.
The delegation heard direct testimonies from over 100 women in refugee camps in Kutapalong and Thyankhali, and visited the ‘No Man’s Land’, a strip of land between Myanmar and Bangladesh where approximately 6,000 Rohingya refugee remain stuck as they await refugee status in Bangladesh. After hearing survivors describe how security forces burned villages, tortured, killed and systematically raped women and girls—as well as reports from humanitarian organizations and UN officials– the delegation concluded that ongoing attacks against the Rohingyas in Rakhine State show a deliberate persecution based on their ethnicity, and amounts to genocide.
Deliberate and systematic use of rape
The delegation met with over 100 Rohingya women in two refugee camps, in Kutapalong and Thyankhali. The vast majority of women who testified to the delegation were rape survivors, and provided first-hand accounts of the high-levels of violence they endured. An alarming majority of these women identified their perpetrators as members of the Myanmar military. They were raped openly, in broad daylight by men in military apparel, often just outside their home. “Most women died of rape, I am thankful to be alive”, said one of the women. “The military surrounded and burned houses. They took all the young girls and raped them,” added a woman at the Thyankhali camp. “When we tried to escape, I was shot in the leg. I fell and was blindfolded. The men raped me and I was thrown in a field,” said another rape survivor.
The first-hand testimonies echo other reports released on this matter, such as the Human Rights Watch Report “All my body was pain” and “Rape by Command” by the Kaladan Press Network. They show a deliberate and systematic use of rape and gang-rape towards women and girls in all villages attacked by the military. Most survivors also stated they were raped in front of their family members and husbands, before members of the military would proceed to slaughter their families.
Extreme patterns of violence
Testimonies received from refugees in all three visited locations clearly suggest systematic and disproportionate violence towards Rohingyas on the basis of their ethnic identity. The accounts from refugees also revealed extreme levels of cruelty: “My 18-year old daughter had her breasts cut off and she died,” a Rohingya woman in the Thyankhali camp told the Nobel peace laureates. “My baby was only 1-year and 6-months old. The military tore her from my arms and slaughtered her in front of me,” said a Rohingya survivor of rape in Kutapalong. “My 12-year-old son was taken by the military. I do not know if he is alive or dead,” said another woman. “I lost two sons and two daughters. All were killed. They were burned to death. I lost everyone. I am alone now,” said another Rohingya woman at the Thyankhali camp.
The refugee testimonies show a consistent pattern of violence and suggest an alarming degree of devastation in Rakhine State. “We will stay here because in the village there is not a single house left,” said a woman we met in Kutapalong. Another woman added: “My husband was slaughtered. My in-laws were slaughtered. Everyone is slaughtered. Everyone is dead”.
These crimes also reveal the startling levels of impunity that exist inside Myanmar. The majority of these violations occurred openly in broad daylight, and the perpetrators showed no fear of retribution by their superiors.
Urgency of the crisis
The persecution against the Rohingyas continues to unfold at an alarming rate. During the short period of time that the delegation was in Bangladesh, an estimated
800 more people arrived at one of the camps, showing signs of trauma and persecution. Two days after the delegation left the ‘No Man’s Land’ area, several heavy Myanmar military trucks positioned themselves at the Myanmar border, in a clear attempt to intimidate Rohingya refugees. As a result, refugees ran into neighbouring camps for protection, and remain in a state of fear for their lives.
Recommendations to members states of the Human Rights Council
The genocide signs emerging from Rakhine State in Myanmar today call for a robust, unequivocal and immediate response from the international community.
These findings are the result of a wide consultation with Rohingya women survivors of sexual violence in Burma, Rohingya women’s organizations, and women’s organizations working both inside Rakhine state and Bangladesh, who cannot be named for security reasons and fear of retribution.
On behalf of these women, the delegation urges the Human Rights Council to:
- Take immediate steps to prioritize the Rohingya crisis with the urgency it merits, and treat it as an unfolding genocide.
- Call for an immediate end to the crimes committed against the Rohingyas in Rakhine, and order the Myanmar military to immediately stop all acts of sexual violence.
- Provide full support to the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar and Independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar, accelerate the gathering of overwhelming evidence, and ensure the protection of testifiers.
- Refer the crimes currently unfolding against Rohingyas in Rakhine State to the International Criminal Court (ICC). We particularly call on Bangladesh, as the only country in South Asia to have ratified the Rome Statute, to refer this case, along with other states parties committed to the universal protection of human rights.
- Call for a specific ICC investigation on the use of rape as a crime against humanity in Rakhine State.
- Call on the ICC Prosecutor to immediately open an independent investigation into crimes against humanity and genocide perpetrated in Rakhine State.
- Ensure no forced repatriation is imposed on refugees. Repatriation should be voluntary, safe and dignified.
- Call the government of Myanmar to take immediate action to address the systematic discrimination of the Rohingya in Rakhine State, and ensure the respect of basic rights to Rohingyas –including the right to citizenship, safety, land ownership, freedom of movement and other fundamental rights.