BANGKOK – Sexual violence carried out by Myanmar’s security forces against the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority was so widespread and severe that it demonstrates intent to commit genocide as well as warrants prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity, a U.N. report charged Thursday.
The U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar said it found the country’s soldiers “routinely and systematically employed rape, gang rape and other violent and forced sexual acts against women, girls, boys, men and transgender people in blatant violation of international human rights law.”
Its report on sexual and gender-based violence in Myanmar covers the Kachin and Shan ethnic minorities in northern Myanmar as well as the Rohingya in the western state of Rakhine.
The report, released in New York, charges that the genocidal intent of Myanmar’s military toward the Rohingya was demonstrated “by means of killing female members of the Rohingya community, causing Rohingya women and girls serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting on the Rohingya women and girls conditions of life calculated to bring about the destruction of the Rohingya in whole or in part, and imposing measures that prevented births within the group.”
Many human rights groups have accused Myanmar of carrying out genocide or ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. In an earlier report, the U.N. mission documented other major abuses in Rakhine since 2016, including widespread killings and torching of villages, and found that similar abuses were carried out in Kachin and Shan states.
The fact-finding mission, led by Indonesian human rights lawyer Marzuki Darusman, was established by the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in 2017 in reaction to increasing repression of the Rohingya, an ostracized minority in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar. Violence against the Rohingya increased markedly in August that year, when security forces launched a brutal counterinsurgency campaign that drove more than 700,000 Rohingya villagers into neighboring Bangladesh.
The Rohingya refugees still live in squalid camps in Bangladesh, and a planned effort Thursday to repatriate an initial large group to Myanmar collapsed when none showed up to be taken back.
The new report condemns Myanmar’s failure to hold accountable the perpetrators of the abuses, noting that “such violence was only possible in a climate of long-standing tolerance and impunity, where military personnel had no reasonable fear of punishment or disciplinary action.”
The report says its finding of genocidal intent toward the Rohingya was supported by “the widespread and systematic killing of women and girls, the systematic selection of women and girls of reproductive ages for rape, attacks on pregnant women and on babies, the mutilation and other injures to their reproductive organs, the physical branding of their bodies by bite marks on their cheeks, neck, breast and thigh, and so severely injuring victims that they may be unable to have sexual intercourse with their husbands or to conceive and leaving them concerned that they would no longer be able to have children.”
A less detailed 2018 report by the fact-finding mission also tied sexual and gender-based violence to genocidal intent, citing the statements of Myanmar officials and what was described as an “organized plan of destruction that included the targeting of women and girls of reproductive age for rape, gang rape and other forms of sexual violence” and the military’s “extreme brutality, including attacks on pregnant mothers and on babies.”
Myanmar’s government and military have consistently denied carrying out human rights violations, and said its military operations in Rakhine were justified in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.
In reaction to another report by the mission earlier this month about the alleged corporate enablers of the military, Myanmar’s foreign ministry said that in establishing the fact-finding mission, the U.N. Human Rights Council “exceeded its mandate and contravened the terms and practices of International Law. We do not recognize either the Fact-Finding Mission or the report that it produced. The Government of Myanmar categorically rejects the latest report and its conclusions.”
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