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Rohingya refugees walking near the no man's land area between Bangladesh and Myanmar, in the Palongkhali area next to Ukhia, on Oct 19, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

December 15, 2017

COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh -- Disease, hunger and misery stalk the Rohingya living in Bangladesh's refugee camps but despite the grinding hardship, few are willing to consider the alternative - returning home under a deal struck with Myanmar.

The arrangement signed by Myanmar and Bangladesh in November to start repatriating refugees within two months is viewed with deep suspicion and dread by Rohingya still traumatised by the violent expulsion from their homeland.

"They make deals, but they won't follow them," said Rohingya refugee Mohammad Syed, who estimated his age at 33.

"When we go back, they will torture and kill us again."

Their fear is not misplaced.

Doctors Without Borders said on Thursday (Dec 14) that at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the first month of a Myanmar army crackdown on rebels in Rakhine state that began in August.

The worst bouts of violence have subsided but Rohingya continue to flee, the UN says.

Nearly 650,000 of the Muslim minority have fled across the border into Cox's Bazar district in south-eastern Bangladesh since the army campaign began.

The UN rights chief said in December the catalogue of abuses - including indiscriminate killings, mass rape and the razing of hundreds of Rohingya villages - contained "elements of genocide".

Myanmar has consistently denied committing atrocities in Rakhine, saying the crackdown was a proportionate response to the Rohingya militants who attacked police posts on Aug 25, killing around a dozen officials.

But rights groups say the conditions are not in place to ensure safe, voluntary and dignified returns, and the Rohingya sense danger lurking behind Myanmar's assurances.

"It's a trap. They have given such assurances before, and still made our lives hell," said Rohingya woman Dolu, who goes by one name, in a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar.

"I would rather live here. We get food and shelter here, and we can pray freely. We are allowed to live." .

The Rohingya have reason to be wary.

The persecuted minority has been the target of past pogroms in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which does not recognise the group as a genuine ethnicity and has stripped them of citizenship.

Many have no homes left after their villages were torched.

Those still living in Rakhine, Myanmar's poorest state, face heavy restrictions on work, travel and access to basic services.

More than 100,000 Rohingya displaced by a 2012 outbreak of violence have been trapped in squalid camps in central Rakhine ever since.

Aid groups have warned Myanmar they would boycott any new camps for Rohingya returnees, saying refugees must be allowed to settle in their own homes and not forced into ghetto-like conditions.

"They have to recognise us as citizens of the country. They have to give us proper Rohingya identity cards. Only then we will go back," said 25-year-old Rohingya man Aziz Khan at Kutupalong, a gigantic camp in Cox's Bazar. "Otherwise we would rather die here in Bangladesh."

Bangladesh has been praised for opening its borders as waves of Rohingya civilians fled army reprisals and Buddhist mobs.

But the government has always maintained that the refugees would one day return, tussling for months with Myanmar over the terms of repatriation deal.

Before the latest surge, Bangladesh was already hosting hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled previous waves of persecution.

This crisis has put enormous pressure on ordinary Bangladeshis living in Cox's Bazar, where the refugee population has grown fourfold since August.

"It is good news, goodbye to them. It is time they go back to where they belong," said Ehsaan Hossain, a shopkeeper at Cox's Bazar where prices for basic goods has skyrocketed.

Others complained about the headache of frequent identity checks and roadside patrols since the Rohingya influx began.

But rickshaw driver Mohammad Ali worried his income - which had doubled since the flood of refugees - would slump if the Rohingya suddenly left en masse.

"In a way, I will miss them if they leave," the 30-year-old told AFP.

A solar panel sits atop a makeshift home at Thaingkhali refugee camp in Ukhiya, in Bangladesh's Cox’s Bazar, December 6, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Mushfique Wadud

By Mushfique Wadud
December 15, 2017

UKHIYA, Bangladesh -- When Rohingya refugees began arriving in Bangladesh, after violence erupted in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State in August, local residents were puzzled to see some toting small solar panels on their shoulders.

“When we saw they were carrying a solar panel with them, I was surprised. I would never do this in such a situation,” Jashim Uddin, a tea stall owner in Ukhiya, in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

Main Uddin, a government official in charge of Ukhiya sub-district during the Rohingya exodus, said the panels were being carried in despite the sound of gunfire on the border and reports of landmines.

More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State since August, when the Myanmar army launched a crackdown following attacks on police posts and an army base by Muslim militants. 

Many reported making an arduous trek lasting between 5 and 15 days along hilly and waterlogged roads – but the hazardous journey did not prevent many of them from carrying a solar panel with them. 

“This solar panel saved my life,” said Ayatullah, 18, once a shopkeeper in Myanmar’s Mongdu township and now a resident of the Thaingkhali refugee camp in Bangladesh. 

He said he had to take care to avoid Myanmar’s army when he fled the country. 

“They were killing everyone they came across. We had to depend on information from our people about the safe route, and a mobile phone was needed for that. This solar panel helped us to charge the mobile phone,” he said. 

A top United Nations human rights official said last week that Myanmar’s security forces may be guilty of genocide against the Rohingya.

Mainly Buddhist Myanmar denies atrocities against Rohingya, and said in September that nearly 400 people died in the fighting, mostly Rohingya insurgents. 

Ayatulla said that he only brought some clothing to Bangladesh, beside the solar panel. “I thought even if I could not take anything, I must take the solar panel,” he said. 


Interviews by the Thomson Reuters Foundation with more than 50 Rohingya refugees in Balukhali and Thaingkhali camps in Ukhiya, and observations of refugee households in the camps, suggest large numbers of refugee families brought solar panels with them.

A solar panel sits atop a makeshift home at Thaingkhali refugee camp in Ukhiya, in Bangladesh's Cox’s Bazar, December 6, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Mushfique Wadud

Refugees used the panels, each the size of a laptop computer and fitted with a battery and a small light, to charge mobile phones and provide light at night on the hilly jungle roads on their way to Bangladesh, they said. 

Many said they also thought that the panels would also come in useful if they had to live on the streets in Bangladesh. 

Rashida Begum, 45, from Napura village near Mongdu, made the five-day walk to Bangladesh with three sons and three daughters, bringing a solar panel but no other belongings. 

“This helped me a lot while we stayed in the jungle at night. Without this solar panel, we might not (have reached) Bangladesh,” she said. “It was a difficult thing for me to carry this, but I did it thinking it would be useful for me.” 

Mohammad Yaser, a refugee from Kearipara, near Mongdu, said many rural areas of Rakhine State lack grid electricity connections. Most families used solar panels for lighting at night and other daily activities, while others used candles or kerosene lamps. 

Yaser said that solar panels were cheaper in Myanmar than in Bangladesh, with a 20-watt panel costing 20,000 kyat (about $15). In Bangladesh, an equivalent panel costs 8 to 12 times as much. 

Many of the Rohingya refugees said that they knew about this price difference and it was another reason to bring their panels with them. Security concerns also were a worry. 

“When we arrived in Bangladesh, we had to stay on the street for the first few days. We powered lights with solar panel during that time and the light made us feel safe,” said Abdur Jaher, 45, from Maungdu township in Myanmar, who fled with his wife and their five children. 


At the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, there is no grid electricity connection. Refugees use solar panels, candles and kerosene lamps for light at night. 

The Bangladeshi government also has provided 500 solar-powered street lights and 2,000 home system solar panels for the camps, and solar power is also used for wells and water purification systems. 

The International Organization for Migration, a United Nations organization, similarly is using solar power to provide medical support to refugees in Kutupalong and Balukhali camps, with services available 24 hours a day. 

UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, said on December 7 that Rohingyas were continuing to come to Bangladesh even though both Bangladesh and Myanmar had set up a timetable to allow them to return home. UNHCR said around 1,500 had arrived the previous week. 

The refugees have reported fleeing mass killings, rape and arson attacks against them. 

Reporting by Mushfique Wadud; editing by James Baer and Laurie Goering.

The Rohingya exodus was triggered by a Myanmar army crackdown that has been described as ethnic cleansing (Photo: AFP / Dibyangshu SARKAR)

December 14, 2017

At least 6,700 Rohingya Muslims were killed in the first month of a Myanmar army crackdown on rebels in Rakhine state that began in late August, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Thursday.

The figure is the highest estimated death toll yet of violence that erupted on August 25 and triggered a massive refugee crisis, with more than 620,000 Rohingya fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh over a three-month period.

The UN and US have described the military operation as "ethnic cleansing" of the Muslim minority, but have not released specific death tolls.

"At least 6,700 Rohingya, in the most conservative estimations, are estimated to have been killed, including at least 730 children below the age of five," MSF said Thursday.

The group's findings come from six surveys of more than 11,426 people in Rohingya refugee camps and cover the first month after the crisis erupted.

"We met and spoke with survivors of violence in Myanmar, who are now sheltering in overcrowded and unsanitary camps in Bangladesh," said the group's medical director Sidney Wong. 

"What we uncovered was staggering, both in terms of the numbers of people who reported a family member died as a result of violence, and the horrific ways in which they said they were killed or severely injured."

Rohingya refugees have told consistent stories of security forces and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist mobs driving them out of their homes with bullets, rape and arson that reduced hundreds of villages to ash.

Earlier this month the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said the military-led crackdown appeared to include "elements of genocide".


The MSF survey puts a number to the horrors.

Gunshot wounds were the cause of death in 69 percent of the cases, according to the survey.

Another nine percent were reported burned alive inside houses, while five percent died from fatal beatings.

For children under five, nearly 60 percent died after being shot, the survey found.

- 'Rohingya targeted' -

MSF said the peak in deaths coincided with the launch of "clearance operations" by the army and local militias in late August, and showed "that Rohingya have been targeted".

Myanmar's government did not respond to a request for comment. 

But it has consistently denied abuses in Rakhine and puts the official death toll at 400 people -- including 376 Rohingya "terrorists", according to the army.

Authorities have also blocked a UN fact-finding mission from accessing the conflict zone in northern Rakhine state.

The investigators visited refugee camps in Bangladesh in late October and said -- based on interviews -- that the total number of deaths was not known but "may turn out to be extremely high."

The Rohingya are not recognised as an ethnic group in mainly Buddhist Myanmar and have been subject to systematic persecution for decades.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation agreement in late November saying that Rohingya refugees could start to return home in two months, but international aid groups have threatened to boycott working with the government if new camps are set up in northern Rakhine State.

More than 120,000 Rohingya already live in closed-off settlements in the central part of the state since intercommunal violence erupted in 2012.

By Maung Zarni
December 13, 2017

Can you imagine BBC, Chatham House, Rand Corporation portraying as potential “Jewish terrorists” the survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ravensbruick, Dachau and other world infamous death and labour camps? Can you imagine young Jewish children and orphans who were rescued through the programme “kindertransport”, being framed by Allied Policy Makers and advisers as “embryonic Jewish terrorists”, who naturally might be seething with the desire for revenge against the Old Europe post-Third Reich, that, with no shame nor conscience, appeased Hitler in exchange for lucrative business deals or anti-USSR intelligence cooperation while millions of Jewish parents were gassed to death?

Of course not. 

But that is precisely what is now happening to the survivors of my Buddhist country’s genocide, whose name even the entire Catholic Church in Myanmar, and by extension, Pope Francis, have dared not pronounce, lest saying the victims’ ethnic identity might irritate Myanmar’s genocidal leaders, the likes of General Min Aung Hlaing and Aung San Suu Kyi

One million Rohingyas are suffering from this double-whammy of oppression: a perceived threat at home in North Arakan or Rakhine State of Myanmar, and a projected threat across the borders in Chittagong of Bangladesh.

The country of their birth – whatever their citizenship status or ethnic identity – falsely, and officially, frames Rohingyas as ‘illegal Bengali migrants’, or worse, ‘communities of Jihadists’. This view has been cultivated and popularized in the Burmese civil society at large, which now behaves more like the Germans in the 1930s’ than the public that is pushing for human rights or democratization. 

In the eyes of the Burmese public, Rohingyas are seen as a demographic threat to the ‘Buddhist Way of Life’ and a national security. Accordingly, they are mistreated genocidally on their own soil. The host country of Bangladesh of 166 million Muslims, which opened its eastern borders when the human tsunami of fleeing Rohingyas cried out for refuge, has long-standing concern about the Rohingyas in need, becoming ‘a non-traditional security threat’ (epidemic, prostitution, narcotic trade, etc.), as well as a potential pool of Islamic terrorists.

Joining these sovereign states and their governments in this pathological orgy of mis-framing the world’s largest stateless people, that is, the most vulnerable and persecuted community who have just survived the most unimaginably sadistic, coordinated and widespread terror, are consultants and journalists who make a living pumping out ‘security analyses’ for national governments and government-funded think-tanks.

To my dismay, even the country’s great humanitarian and Nobel Peace Laureate Mohammad Yunus – not to mention the usual national security types - has shown no qualms about expressing his national security concerns for Bangladesh, emanating from the prolonged Rohingya presence. He has recently done this in his interview with Mehdi Hassan on Al Jazeera English and elsewhere.

It is now widely reported that Rohingya orphans, women and young girls – including the survivors of genocidal gangrape by Myanmar troops – have been preyed on by local Bangladesh and Rohingya criminal networks – to be exploited as prostitutes, drug mules, bonded labourers, and so on.

Deeply troubling is the existence of white-collar crimes, which I will call the symbolic exploitation of Rohingyas, whereby researchers, journalists and other professionals make their living selling analyses and reports framed within the discourses of ‘Muslim insurgency’, ‘Islamic radicalization’ and ‘fundamentalist terror’. Their human objects of professional gaze, that is, Rohingya survivors of Myanmar genocide – are potential drug mules, petty criminals and ultimately Jihadists.

Considering that out of the recent arrivals of 640,000 Rohingyas, 60 per cent are deeply emotionally scarred women, traumatized children, frail elderly men and women the broad stroke portrayal of this population as a ‘threat to regional instability’ and potential for ISIS recruits is as despicable as the genocidal acts that drove these people in deep and visible misery.

These white-collar criminals – again think-tank consultants, seasoned journalists, amateur Myanmar experts - are equally, if not more, deadly and immoral as the local pimps and petty criminals in Chittagong. Both groups prey on the most vulnerable of all human to line their pockets, enhance their expert reputations and climb their professional ladders as ‘experts on terrorism’, ‘security’, etc.

Swallowing my deep outrage, I have forced myself to read think-tank reports, newspaper editorials, political discussions and media interviews where politicians, consultants, NGOs and journalists express what they consider the prospects for radicalisation of what Bangladesh refers to, gingerly, as ‘forcibly displaced persons from Myanmar’. These ‘security experts’ blatantly ignore the fact that no Rohingya has blown him- or herself up in either Myanmar or Bangladesh – or for that matter, any world’s capital, in the last 39 years since Myanmar launched its first wave of genocidal terror in North Arakan under the guise of ‘anti-illegal immigration’ campaign.

Alas, calling the one million Rohingya genocide survivors, which is what they in fact are, would, I would hope, compel the world of national governments, mass media and national security agencies to accord Rohingyas the kind of belated political support and moral stature which the Holocaust survivors were deservedly accorded.

Why then do the integrated world of power, intelligence and money go along with the pathetic mis-framing of these human victims of the crime of barbarity in Myanmar?

I offer two brief but interlinked explanations: Islamophobia and the mental culture of paranoia on which intelligence agencies rest.

First, these agencies and men and women who staff them, are, institutionally and temperamentally, conditioned to view any human individuals as potential criminals while normal, healthy minds view other humans as decent, potential friends, lovers, and partners. A dear friend and university classmate of my late father who held a coordinator position in Burma’s National Intelligence Bureau reinforced my view that national security paradigms are anchored in institutionalized paranoia.

Second and finally, since 9/11 the western media and the powerful culture industry such as the Hollywood have helped spread the Orientalist (read racist) portrayal of Muslims and Islam as terroristic, senseless, ruthless, parochial, and reactionary. Never mind that it is “the Christian West” – if we must put the mega-pathos of humans in religious terms - have been the primary factor behind the greatest number of death and destruction on a global scale over the last 100 years. The Two World Wars, the Holocaust, the Cold War of Gulags and Death Squads, the Korean War, the Vietnam, and the presently expanding wars in the Middle East come to mind. That doesn’t even include the 500-years of Church-blessed and/or financed European colonialisms and the resultant colonial genocides across the globe.

It is high time that Rohingya refugees are popularly and officially recognized as survivors of Myanmar genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, or whatever one may choose to call their horrendous experiences.

The last thing these Rohingyas – including over 200,000 children – deserve is to be painted as would be Jihadists and Muslim insurgents. We did not call or treat the Holocaust survivors as potential “Jewish terrorists”. Why should we mis-frame, either out of Islamophobia or Pavlovian-paranoia, the Rohingya survivors as potential “Jihadists” or “Muslim insurgents”? Don’t add insult to the genocidal injury of the world’s most persecuted people whose only crime is that they are Rohingya Muslims. 

Maung Zarni is a Burmese human rights activist, an adviser to the European Centre for the Study of Extremism based in Cambridge, UK and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Sleuk Rith Institute in Cambodia. He blogs at

AP Photo/Dar Yasin

The Doctors in Hell

By Ro Mayyu Ali
RB Poem
December 13, 2017

We are a Muslim people, a minority
Once boasting of our tradition and history
But the structure of our house
Where we have resided for generations
Groans beneath the weight of race and religion
And the chauvinism of our junta’s oppression 

It was 1978 in Burma
When the state-sponsored virus infected us
Our symptoms were undeniable
Their cause identifiable
But doctors ignored our suffering
The infection flared with time

In 1992's Myanmar
The disease ravaged our people
And one quarter million forced to leave 
Physicians at last turned their heads
But dismissed, upon examination
Our ongoing extermination
The doctors thought of virus's otherness 
But not the dying patients' goodness 

Our disease progressed to a second stage
In 2012 a heart-stopping crisis
At last a diagnosis was pronounced:
“Systematic killing and racial hatred”
The doctors saw us in our cage
But chose again to disengage
Neither the defense to virus yet
Nor the arrangement of ICU for us

The more the time lagged on
The more the virus spread
From citizenship denied
To killings they tried to hide
Again and again the cycle worsened
While doctors turned their eyes blind
From crimes against humanity
We moved to ethnic cleansing
We are a “text-book example”
Yet the text prescribes no treatment

August 25 delivered us to the final stage
The virus consumes our bodies
And invades out our souls
From hidden killings to genocide
We have progressed without treatment
While doctors avert their gaze

About the poem: The metaphors in this poem portray the inaction of global leaders for Myanmar's genocidal operations against Rohingya people. The poet, himself a Rohingya, feels that the atrocities on Rohingya have been happening in open eyes of the world without required intervention.

A woman calms a baby as Rohingya refugees line up for a food supply distribution at the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

By Michelle Nichols
December 13, 2017

UNITED NATIONS -- A top U.N. official recounted to the Security Council on Tuesday “heartbreaking and horrific accounts of sexual atrocities” by Myanmar soldiers against Rohingya Muslim women, urging the body to visit the region and demand an end to attacks on civilians.

Pramila Patten, special envoy of U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on sexual violence in conflict, said one woman told her she was held by Myanmar troops for 45 days and raped repeatedly, while another woman could no longer see out of one eye after it was bitten by a soldier during a sexual assault.

“Some witnesses reported women and girls being tied to either a rock or a tree before multiple soldiers raped them to death,” Patten told the Security Council. 

“Some women recounted how soldiers drowned babies in the village well. A few women told me how their own babies were allegedly thrown in the fire as they were dragged away by soldiers and gang raped,” she said.

Patten said the 15-member Security Council should visit Myanmar - also known as Burma - and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, where more than 626,000 refugees have fled to since violence erupted in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State on Aug. 25. 

She said that a Security Council resolution demanding an immediate end to violations against civilians in Rakhine state and outlining measures to hold the perpetrators accountable “would send an important signal.” 

Myanmar’s army released a report last month denying all allegations of rapes and killings by security forces. 

“This is unacceptable,” said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. “Burma must allow an independent, transparent and credible investigation into what has happened.” 

“While we are hearing promises from the government of Burma, we need to see action,” she said. 

Myanmar has been stung by international criticism for the way its security forces responded to Aug. 25 attacks by Rohingya militants on 30 security posts. Last month the Security Council urged the Myanmar government to “ensure no further excessive use of military force in Rakhine state.” 

China’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Wu Haitao said the crisis had to be solved through an agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh and warned that any solution “reached under strong pressure from outside may ease the situation temporarily but will leave negative after effects.” 

The two countries signed an agreement on voluntary repatriation Nov. 23. U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman pushed on Tuesday for the United Nations to be involved in any operation to return Rohingya. 

“Plans alone are not sufficient. We hope Myanmar will draw upon the wealth of expertise the U.N. can offer,” Feltman told the Security Council. 

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Tom Brown

A Rohingya refugee waits for her baby to be examined by doctors at the UNICEF health center at the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Dec. 12, 2017.

By Margaret Besheer
December 13, 2017

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. envoy on Sexual Violence in Conflict urged the Security Council on Tuesday to demand an immediate end to the violence against civilians in Myanmar's Rakhine state, which has seen more than 626,000 mainly Rohingya Muslim residents flee to neighboring Bangladesh since August. 

"I urge this body to do everything in its power to seek a swift end to the atrocities; to ensure the alleged perpetrators of sexual and other violence are brought to justice; and to create conditions for a safe and dignified future for the survivors," Pramila Patten told the council. 

She also urged council members to see firsthand the situation in Myanmar and at the refugee camps at Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. 

Patten said Myanmar authorities have invited her to visit Naypyidaw and Yangon on Thursday through Saturday of this week, where she plans to meet with de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as military and security officials.

A baby cries as Rohingya refugees line up for a food supply distribution at the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh Dec. 12, 2017.

She did not say whether she would have access to Rakhine state, the source of the exodus. There have been numerous reports and satellite images of the Myanmar military burning villages and killing and terrorizing minority Rohingya there after militants launched deadly attacks on state security forces in August.


The U.N. envoy visited Bangladesh in early November and over three days heard horrific testimony from survivors. 

"Women and girls recounted how, upon the arrival of soldiers in their village, they were forced to strip naked and threatened with rape in front of their husbands and fathers while their homes were set ablaze," Patten said. "They related how, in some cases, village leaders were compelled to sign documents stating that they had set fire to their own homes, in order to save the women of their community from rape."

Others were not as fortunate.

"Some witnesses reported women and girls being tied to either a rock or a tree before multiple soldiers literally raped them to death," Patten told the council.

Rohingya refugees jostle as they line up for a blanket distribution under heavy rainfall at the Balukhali camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Dec. 11, 2017.

Even Rohingya infants were not spared.

"Some women recounted how soldiers drowned babies in the village well," she said. "A few women told me how their own babies were allegedly thrown in the fire as they were dragged away by soldiers and gang-raped."

She said the accounts of survivors and witnesses were consistent and corroborated by international medical workers at the camps. 

"Ethnic cleansing must never be allowed to achieve its goal," Patten said. 

She also warned that the U.N. and its partners were facing a $10 million funding gap for gender-based violence programs to assist survivors. 

"As regards the alleged sexual violence, the government of Myanmar has made its position clear that it will not condone any human rights abuses," Myanmar Ambassador Hau Do Suan told the council. "If there is concrete evidence, we are ready to take action against the aggressor in accordance with the law, no matter what or who he is."

Photographers help a Rohingya refugee come out of Nad River as they cross the Myanmar-Bangladesh border in Palong Khali, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Nov. 1, 2017.

He said the government would continue to cooperate with the U.N. and its partners to alleviate humanitarian problems and to find a long-term solution to issues related to Rakhine state. 

Aid access needed

U.N. political chief Jeffrey Feltman told the council that humanitarian workers did not have sufficient access to Rakhine. 

"Although Myanmar permitted some ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and, more recently, WFP [World Food Program] assistance, access by other U.N. agencies and partners to northern Rakhine is still highly restricted," he said. 

He told the council that although refugee flows had slowed in recent weeks, new arrivals were "exhausted, destitute and traumatized." 

Separately, a coalition of more than 80 human rights and faith-based organizations issued an appeal to the Security Council to impose an arms embargo against Myanmar's military, as well as targeted sanctions against those officers found responsible for serious crimes and human rights violations.

A young girl carries a sick baby to a Army Medical Post in Kutupalong Refugee Camp, Makeshift Settlement and Expansion Site. Credit: OCHA/Anthony Burke

December 12, 2017

To date, there are nearly 860,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar – of whom 646,000 have arrived since 25 August. Not only has the pace of new arrivals since 25 August made this the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world, the concentration of refugees in Cox’s Bazar is now amongst the densest in the world.

Refugees have arrived traumatized and destitute, and are mostly living in makeshift settlements without adequate infrastructure or services. More than half of them (55 per cent) are living in a single site that merges several pre-existing settlements and new land allocated by the Government.

Aid agencies have been working hard to rapidly scale up life-saving aid, but more assistance is desperately needed, and partners urgently require funding to expand operations in line with rapidly intensifying needs. To date, although donors pledged $360 million for the Rohingya crisis response at a conference in October, the Response Plan remains 65 percent underfunded.

In a context where the refugee population is already extremely vulnerable to disease outbreaks primarily due to low vaccination coverage in Rakhine State and overcrowded, unsanitary living conditions in refugee sites in Bangladesh, diphtheria is rapidly spreading in camps in Cox's Bazar. As of 11 December, some 550 suspected cases and nine fatalities had been reported. A specialized team from WHO - to work with the Ministry of Health - is in the country to spearhead the response to the significant increase in Diphtheria cases. A vaccine campaign will begin tomorrow, 12 December, with over 900,000 doses of vaccine expected to arrive in Cox’s Bazar in the next few days. Agencies have committed to supporting efforts to carry out contact tracing, communicating with communities and other efforts curb the spread of diphtheria.

Decongesting the sites and settlements is an urgent priority. Taken as a whole, the Kutupalong Extension site is one of the largest and most dense refugee camps in the world. Overcrowding and lack of space in all settlements is a major concern. Many sites have no access to basic services, and at the others the existing infrastructure is under immense strain. Without additional land and adequate funding, services to scale cannot be delivered appropriately.

Nov. 22, 2017, photo, F, 22, who says she was raped by members of Myanmar’s armed forces in June and again in September, cries as she speaks to The Associated Press in her tent in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. The Associated Press has found that the rape of Rohingya women by Myanmar’s security forces has been sweeping and methodical. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

By Kristen Gelineau
December 12, 2017

UKHIA, Bangladesh — The soldiers arrived, as they often did, long after sunset.

It was June, and the newlyweds were asleep in their home, surrounded by the fields of wheat they farmed in western Myanmar. Without warning, seven soldiers burst into the house and charged into their bedroom.

The woman, a Rohingya Muslim who agreed to be identified by her first initial, F, knew enough to be terrified. She knew the military had been attacking Rohingya villages, as part of what the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing in the mostly Buddhist nation. She heard just days before that soldiers had killed her parents, and that her brother was missing.

This time, F says, the soldiers had come for her.

The men bound her husband with rope. They ripped the scarf from her head and tied it around his mouth.

They yanked off her jewelry and tore off her clothes. They threw her to the floor.

And then the first soldier began to rape her.

She struggled against him, but four men held her down and beat her with sticks. She stared in panic at her husband, who stared back helplessly. He finally wriggled the gag out of his mouth and screamed.

And then she watched as a soldier fired a bullet into the chest of the man she had married only one month before. Another soldier slit his throat.

Her mind grew fuzzy. When the soldiers were finished, they dragged her naked body outside and set her bamboo house ablaze.

It would be two months before she realized her misery was far from over: She was pregnant.


The rape of Rohingya women by Myanmar’s security forces has been sweeping and methodical, the Associated Press found in interviews with 29 women and girls who fled to neighboring Bangladesh. These sexual assault survivors from several refugee camps were interviewed separately and extensively. They ranged in age from 13 to 35, came from a wide swath of villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and described assaults between October 2016 and mid-September.

Foreign journalists are banned from the Rohingya region of Rakhine, making it nearly impossible to independently verify each woman’s report. Yet there was a sickening sameness to their stories, with distinct patterns in their accounts, their assailants’ uniforms and the details of the rapes themselves.

The testimonies bolster the U.N.’s contention that Myanmar’s armed forces are systematically employing rape as a “calculated tool of terror” aimed at exterminating the Rohingya people. The Myanmar armed forces did not respond to multiple requests from the AP for comment, but an internal military investigation last month concluded that none of the assaults ever took place. And when journalists asked about rape allegations during a government-organized trip to Rakhine in September, Rakhine’s minister for border affairs, Phone Tint, replied: “These women were claiming they were raped, but look at their appearances — do you think they are that attractive to be raped?”

Doctors and aid workers, however, say that they are stunned at the sheer volume of rapes, and suspect only a fraction of women have come forward. Medecins Sans Frontieres doctors have treated 113 sexual violence survivors since August, a third of them under 18. The youngest was 9.

The U.N. has called the Rohingya the most persecuted minority on earth, with Myanmar denying them citizenship and basic rights. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees now live in sweltering tents in Bangladesh, where the stifling air smells of excrement from a lack of latrines and of smoke from wood fires to cook what little food there is. The women and girls in this story gave the AP their names but agreed to be publicly identified only by their first initial, citing fears they or their families would be killed by Myanmar’s military.

Each described attacks that involved groups of men from Myanmar’s security forces, often coupled with other forms of extreme violence. Every woman except one said the assailants wore military-style uniforms, generally dark green or camouflage. The lone woman who described her attackers as wearing plain clothes said her neighbors recognized them from the local military outpost.

Many women said the uniforms bore various patches featuring stars or, in a couple cases, arrows. Such patches represent the different units of Myanmar’s army.

The most common attack described went much like F’s. In several other cases, women said, security forces surrounded a village, separated men from women, then took the women to a second location to gang rape them.

The women spoke of seeing their children slaughtered in front of them, their husbands beaten and shot. They spoke of burying their loved ones in the darkness and leaving the bodies of their babies behind. They spoke of the searing pain of rapes that felt as if they would never end, and of dayslong journeys on foot to Bangladesh while still bleeding and hobbled.

F, 22, clutches her hands around her pregnant belly.

They spoke and they spoke, the words erupting from many of them in frantic, tortured bursts.

N, who says she survived a rape but lost her husband, her country and her peace, speaks because there is little else she can do — and because she hopes that somebody will listen.

“I have nothing left,” she says. “All I have left are my words.”


Two months after the men came quietly in the night for F, they came boldly in the daytime for K.

It was late August, she says, just days after Rohingya insurgents had attacked several Myanmar police posts in northern Rakhine. Security forces responded with swift ferocity that human rights groups say left hundreds dead and scores of Rohingya villages burned to the ground.

Inside their house, K and her family were settling down to breakfast. They had only just swallowed their first mouthfuls of rice when the screams of other villagers rang out: The military was coming.

Her husband and three oldest children bolted out the door, fleeing for the nearby hills.

But K was nearly 9 months pregnant, with swollen feet and two terrified toddlers whose tiny legs could never outpace the soldiers’ strides. She had no place to hide, no time to think.

K, 25, right, cries as she recounts being gang raped by members of Myanmar’s armed forces.

The door banged open. And the men charged in.

There were four of them, she thinks, maybe five, all in camouflage uniforms. Her young son and daughter began to wail and then, mercifully, scampered out the front door.

There was no mercy for her. The men grabbed her and threw her on the bed. They yanked off her earrings, nose ring and necklace. They found the money she had hidden in her blouse from the recent sale of her family’s cow. They ripped off her clothes, and tied down her hands and legs with rope. When she resisted, they choked her.

And then, she says, they began to rape her.

She was too terrified to move. One man held a knife to her eyeball, one more a gun to her chest. Another forced himself inside her.

When the first man finished, they switched places and the torture began again. And when the second man finished, a third man raped her.

In the midst of her agony, she thought of nothing but the baby inside her womb, just weeks away from emerging into a world that would not want him, because he was a Rohingya.

She began to bleed.

She blacked out.

As she awoke, her great aunt was there, tearfully untying her. The elder woman bathed her, clothed her and gave her a hot compress for her aching thighs.

When K’s husband returned home, he was furious: not just at the men who had raped her, but at her. Why, he demanded, had she not run away?

She was pregnant and in no condition to run, she shot back. Still, he blamed her for the assault and threatened to abandon her, because, he told her, a “non-Muslim” had raped her.

Fearful the men would return, she and her family fled to her father’s house in the hills above the village. When they saw soldiers setting fire to the houses below, they knew they had to leave for Bangladesh.

K was too crippled by pain to walk. Her husband and brother placed her inside a sling they fashioned out of a blanket and a stick, and carried her for days.

Inside her cocoon, she wept for the baby she feared was dead.


A few days after the men burst into K’s house, 10 soldiers arrived at R’s.

She was just 13 years old, but R had already learned to fear the military men.

Her parents had warned her to steer clear of them, yet it was her father who first fell prey to their wrath. One day last year, R says, soldiers stabbed him in the head with a knife, killing him.

Yet R’s family had nowhere else to go. And so they stayed in the village. R busied herself by learning Arabic, doting on her chicken and its hatchlings and caring for her two younger brothers.

And then one day in late August, R says, the soldiers barged into her house. They snatched up her little brothers, tied them to a tree outside and began to beat them. R tried to run out the front door, but the men caught her.

Her body is barely pubescent, her limbs still gangly like a child’s. But her youth could not protect her.

R fought back against the men, but they dragged her out of the house. The skin tore away from her knees as her legs scraped along the ground.

The men tethered her arms to two trees. They ripped off her earrings and bracelets, stripped off her clothes.

R screamed at them to stop. They spit at her.

And then the first man began to rape her.

She froze. She was a virgin. The pain was excruciating.

The attack lasted for hours. She remembers all ten men forcing themselves on her before she passed out.

One of her older brothers later found her on the ground, bleeding.

R’s two little brothers were missing, but their mother had no time to search for them. She knew she had to get her daughter over the border and to a doctor quickly to get medicine in time to prevent a pregnancy.

R was barely conscious. So her two older brothers carried her across the hills and fields toward Bangladesh. R’s mother hurried alongside them, terrified for her daughter, terrified that time was running out.

R, 13, shows the scars on her knees and right shin from injuries obtained when members of Myanmar’s armed forces dragged her out of her house before gang raping her.

That R’s family sought treatment for her at all is an anomaly. Despite still suffering pain, bleeding and infections months after the attacks, only a handful of the women interviewed by the AP had seen a doctor. The others had no idea free services were available, or were too ashamed to tell a doctor they were raped.

In a health center overflowing with women and wailing babies, Dr. Misbah Uddin Ahmed, a government health officer, sits at his desk looking weary. He pulls out a stack of patient histories for those treated at his clinics and begins to flick through them, reading the case summaries out loud:

Sept. 5, a patient 7 months pregnant says three soldiers burst into her home 11 days ago and raped her. Also Sept. 5, a patient says she was asleep at home when the military broke in 20 days ago and three soldiers raped her. Sept. 10, a patient says the military came to her house one month ago and beat her husband before two soldiers raped her.

Ahmed says the women who manage to overcome their fear and make it to his clinics are usually the ones in the deepest trouble. So many others, he adds, are suffering in silence.

Though the scale of these attacks is new, the use of sexual violence by Myanmar’s security forces is not. Before she became Myanmar’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi herself condemned the military’s abuses. “Rape is rife. It is used as a weapon by armed forces to intimidate the ethnic nationalities and to divide our country,” she said in a 2011 videotaped statement to the Nobel Women’s Initiative.

And yet Suu Kyi’s government has not only failed to condemn the recent accounts of rape, it has dismissed the accounts as lies. In Dec. 2016, the government issued a press release disputing Rohingya women’s reports of sexual assaults, accompanied by an image that said “Fake Rape.”

Ahmed seems bewildered that anyone would ever doubt these women. Look at what I have just shown you, he says, gesturing toward his stack of files chronicling one atrocity after another.

Gynecologist Arjina Akhter has witnessed the results of those atrocities. Since August, so many women began showing up at her two clinics, she stopped asking them to fill out patient history forms so she could treat them faster. Among other women, she estimates between 20 to 30 rape survivors visited her clinics in September and October.

She ticks off the injuries: Two women with lacerations to their cervixes they said were caused by guns shoved inside their bodies. One woman with horrific tearing she said was caused by a nail driven into her vagina. Several women with severe vaginal bleeding.

More recently, she says, women who were raped months ago have been coming to her in a panic, asking for abortions. She has to explain to them that they are too far along, but reassures them that officials will take the babies if they cannot care for them.

Still, for some Rohingya women, giving up the babies they never asked for was not an option.

Which is how it was for F.


More than three months had passed since the men burst into F’s home, and her despair had only deepened.

Neighbors had taken her in and cared for her. But her house was gone, her husband was dead. And the timing of the attack left little doubt that the baby growing inside her belonged to one of the men who had caused all her grief.

She could only pray that things would not get worse. And then, one night in mid-September, they did.

F was asleep along with the neighbors — a couple and their 5-year-old son — when the men broke down the door, jolting everyone awake.

There were five of them this time, she remembers. They quickly grabbed the boy and slashed his throat, and killed the man.

Then they turned to the man’s wife, and to F. And her nightmare began again.

They stripped off the women’s clothes. Two of the men noticed the swell of F’s stomach and grabbed it, squeezing hard.

They threw the women to the floor. F’s friend fought back, and the men beat her with their guns so viciously the skin on her thighs began to peel away.

But the fight had gone out of F. She felt her body go soft, felt the blood run between her legs as the first man forced himself on her, and then the second. Next to her, three men were savaging her friend.

When it was finally over and the men had gone, the two women lay immobile on the floor.

They lay there for days, so crippled by pain and catatonic from the trauma that they could not even lift themselves to use the toilet. F could smell the blood around them. As the house baked under the punishing sun, the stench from the decaying bodies of her friend’s husband and son finally overwhelmed her.

F, 22, pregnant, prays in her tent in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh.

She would not die here. And neither would her baby.

She reached out for her friend’s hand and clasped it. Then F hauled herself to her feet, pulling her friend up with her. Hand in hand, the women stumbled to the next village. They spent five days recovering there and then, alongside a group of other villagers, began the 10-day journey to Bangladesh.

The monsoon season had begun, but there was nowhere to shelter. So F kept walking through the downpours. She was starving, and her battered body ached with each step. Generous strangers offered her sips of their water, and one man gave her a few sweet rolls.

One day, she came across a 9-year-old boy lying along the side of a road, wounded and alone. He had lost his parents, he told her, and the soldiers had tortured him. She took him with her.

Together, the two made it to the shores of the Naf River and boarded a boat to Bangladesh.

Which is where they live now, in a tiny bamboo shelter between two filthy latrines. And it is here that F prays her baby will be a boy — because this world is no place for a girl.


For now, the women are left to wonder how long they will live in the bleak limbo of Bangladesh, and if they will ever return to their homeland.

R, the teen, is not pregnant. Her mother sold all her jewelry and got her to the hospital in time. But R can’t stop thinking about her little brothers, and her sleep is plagued by nightmares.

Since the rape, she has struggled to eat, and her once-curvy frame has shrunk. Before the rape, she says softly, she was pretty.

K, who feared the baby inside her had died, gave birth to a boy on the floor of her tent in a dizzying rush of relief. She had kept her son alive through it all.

But her trauma persists. The thrum of a helicopter hovering over the camp sends her into a panic and she recites the Muslim prayer for the moments before death. She is convinced the aircraft is Myanmar’s military, coming to kill them all.

When told she is strong, she looks up with tears in her eyes.

“How can you say that?” she asks. “My husband says he is ashamed of me. How am I strong?”

F, whose body is starting to ache under the strain of her pregnancy, finds her mind often drifts toward how she will care for the child in the future. She believes God has kept them both alive for a reason.

Her parents, her brother, her husband are gone now. This baby will be the only family she has left. For her, the most haunting reminder of the agony she endured also, somehow, represents her last chance at happiness.

“Everybody has died,” she says. “I don’t have anyone to care for me. If I give this baby away, what will I have left? There will be nothing to live for.”

Independent International Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar concludes visit to Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR - (11 December 2017) – UN human rights experts wrapped up this weekend a five-day visit to Malaysia, during which they focused their inquiries on recent human rights violations and abuses allegedly committed in Myanmar. 
In Malaysia, the experts – members of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (FFMM) – interviewed persons from Shan and Kachin states, as well as members of the ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya communities.

They talked both with recent arrivals and with those who had been here for some years. They also consulted with government officials, representatives of UN agencies and NGOs, and individual researchers.

While the recent events in Rakhine state have naturally been a significant focus for the FFMM Experts, the Malaysia visit allowed the experts to receive information on situations across Myanmar, including information on recent years from Kachin and Shan states.

“This visit allowed us to examine allegations in various states of Myanmar,” said Marzuki Darusman, former Indonesian Attorney-General and Chair of the FFMM. “We received information about practices and incidents alleging forced labour, abductions, rape and land grabbing.” 

The UN Refugee Agency has registered some 134,000 persons from Myanmar in Malaysia, almost 90 percent of its total caseload in the country. These include Rohingya, Myanmar Muslims, Chin, ethnic Rakhine, Mon, Karen, and various groups from Kachin, Shan among others. The actual number of Myanmar refugees is believed to be much higher.

During the visit, the FFMM experts observed some parallels with information received about Rakhine.

“We were struck by some patterns emerging from the allegations of Shan, Kachin and ethnic Rakhine groups similar to those we heard from the Rohingya we met in Bangladesh,” said FFMM Expert Christopher Sidoti, a former Australian Human Rights Commissioner.

“We heard accounts of events that, if true, would constitute serious human rights violations by the Myanmar military, as well as abuses by armed groups,” Sidoti added. “All those we spoke with said they left Myanmar very suddenly, with little or nothing, which highlights the dramatic nature of what caused them to leave.” 

The use of insults and slurs to refer to ethnic communities was another parallel.

“I’m particularly concerned to hear allegations that, as with the Rohingya, dehumanising language is used to refer to other groups,” Darusman said. “The testimonies point to ingrained prejudices against those who are not from the Bamar majority.” 

Events in Rakhine state remain on the FFMM’s radar. At the special session of the UN Human Rights Council on 5 December, Darusman noted that, while there are signs that the violence has abated in Rakhine, it has not stopped.

“Thanks to fire detection and satellite imagery, we know that villages were still being burned in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships as recently as 25 November,” he said, cautioning against any plan to repatriate those who had fled until there are guarantees for their protection. 

The Myanmar Government has not yet granted the FFMM access to the country. Nevertheless, according to Darusman, lack of access has not impeded the FFMM’s work. 

Teams of human rights officers have been dispatched by the Fact-Finding Mission to various countries to conduct comprehensive interviews with those who fled Myanmar over recent years. This data, alongside other information sources, will be subjected to verification and legal analysis before being submitted as part of the Fact-Finding Mission’s final report. 

The UN Human Rights Council appointed the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar last March to “establish the facts and circumstances of alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces, and abuses, in Myanmar, in particular in Rakhine State.” The experts have defined “recent” to mean since 2011. 

The FFMM It is due to submit an interim oral report to the Human Rights Council in March 2018 and a final report in September 2018 to the Council and to the General Assembly. 


For more information and media inquiries: Sylvana Foa +41 22 9179900 / +41 76 6910812 /

Published by OHCHR

Rohingya refugees build a make-shift mosque at Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. REUTERS/Susana Vera

By Stephanie Nebehay
December 9, 2017

GENEVA -- Peace and stability must be restored in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state before any Rohingyas can return from Bangladesh, under international standards on voluntary repatriation, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday.

Some 20,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to Bangladesh in November, and at least 270 so far in December, bringing the total since violence erupted on August 25 to 646,000, according to the UNHCR and International Organization of Migration (IOM).

The two countries have signed an agreement on voluntary repatriation which refers to establishing a joint working group within three weeks of the Nov. 23 signing. UNHCR is not party to the pact or involved in the bilateral discussions for now. 

“It is critical that the returns are not rushed or premature,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told a briefing. “People can’t be moving back in into conditions in Rakhine state that simply aren’t sustainable.”

Htin Lynn, Myanmar’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, said on Tuesday that his government hoped returns would begin within two months. He was addressing the Human Rights Council, where the top U.N. rights official said that Myanmar’s security forces may be guilty of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority. 

The UNHCR has not been formally invited to join the working group, although its Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Kelly Clements is holding talks in Bangladesh, Edwards said, adding that discussions were “still at a very preliminary stage”. 

He could not say whether UNHCR was in talks with Myanmar authorities on its role, but hoped the agency would be part of the joint working group. 

Edwards, asked whether the two-month time was premature, said: “The return timeline of course is something that we are going to have to look closely at ... We don’t want to see returns happening either involuntarily or precipitously and before conditions are ready.” 

In all, Bangladesh is hosting a total of more than 858,000 Rohingya, including previous waves, IOM figures show. 

“We have had ... a cycle of displacement from Rakhine state over many decades, of people being marginalized, of violence, of people fleeing and then people returning,” Edwards said. 

“Now this cycle has to be broken, which means that we have to find a way to ensure that there is a lasting solution for these people.” 

WFP spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said that it had distributed food to 32,000 people in northern Rakhine in November. 

“Everybody agrees that the situation is very dire on ground, that all of the U.N. agencies need more access, that the violence has to stop and that these people can live in safety where they want to live,” she said. 

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Larry King

Rohingya Exodus