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RB News 
January 24, 2017 

Maungdaw, Arakan – Displaced Rohingya villagers from Wa Paik Hamlet of Kyee Kan Pyin village tract are refusing to settle into new locations where the Government proposed to move them into new model villages. 

Today, January 24th 2017, at 9:30 AM villagers from Middle Hamlet and Wa Paik Hamlet were in a meeting with the Maungdaw Township adminisration at the associate high school in Kyee Kan Pyin village tract. 

In the meeting the township administrators said that the authorities are planning on building a new model village for the villagers displaced from Wa Paik. A villager from Wa Paik warmly welcomed the offer from the administration. 

At the same time another villager from the Middle Hamlet informed the Township Administrator that they were forced to leave their homes by the military and that they were pushed out of their village. The villager said they were now taking refuge in in other villages since they were not allowed to return home. He said all their belongings were lost or looted, including even the wood and pillars used to construct their homes. The administrator responded by saying he would arrange the return of the villagers as soon as he could. 

The villagers from Wa Paik said they felt the administrator intentionally avoided mentioning that the model village would be constructed in a new area, so many in the meeting were very happy with the offer by the Township Administration. The Ministry of Information later posted about the meeting on their Facebook page where they explained that the planned area for the model village would not be in Wa Paik Hamlet but in another location instead. The villagers from Wa Paik lost their homes in arson attacks they attribute to Myanmar Security Forces in reprisal for attacks against the Border Guard Police on October 9th, 2016. 

Details have emerged that the Government is planning on building the model village on the roadside of Kyee Kan Pyin-Zan Paing Nyar, located inside Kyee Kan Pyin village tract, and on the roadside of Kyee Kan Pyin-Kyein Chaung, located in Nwar Yone Taung village tract. These locations are known for salty soil and poor access to drinking water. Realizing this, villagers informed RB News they would not agree to resettle in these locations because of of how difficult it will be for them to live and farm there. They said they will request the government to resettle them back on their own land in Wa Paik village. 

Additional reporting by Rohingya Eye.

Kyee Kan Pyin Middle hamlet villagers forced to leave homes on October 23, 2016.


UN human rights expert concerned about reprisals during recent visit to Myanmar

GENEVA (24 January 2017) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, today warned about possible reprisals against people she met during her recent official visit to the country (9 to 21 January). “There is one word that has hung heavily on my mind during this visit – reprisals,” the expert said. 

“I am deeply concerned about those with whom I met and spoke, those critical of the Government, those defending and advocating for the rights of others, and those who expressed their thoughts and opinions which did not conform to the narrative of those in the position of power,” she said, while noting the increasing use of section 66 (d) of the Telecommunications Law against many, “merely for speaking their minds.” 

“It is particularly alarming to learn that the security forces’ counter operations in the villages of Maungdaw north in Rakhine State has reportedly been resumed following a brief lull, with raids conducted in several villages including nearby the villages I visited,” Ms. Lee stressed. There are further allegations of arbitrary arrests and detention in relation to these latest reported raids.

The expert was especially dismayed to note during this visit the feelings of optimism and hope appearing to slowly fade among the ordinary people of Myanmar just after one year when the whole country was elated with the outcome of the last general elections.

The Special Rapporteur expressed regret at only being allowed to go to Myitkyina, and not Laiza and Hpakant in Kachin State due to security reasons and met interlocutors who travelled to Myitkyina instead.

“It is evident that the situation in Kachin and at the northern borders is deteriorating, she stated. “Those in Kachin State tell me that the situation is now worse than at any point in the past few years. Whilst I was not able to travel to the areas most severely affected, the situation is now such that even in Myitkyina, the capital of the state and home to over 300,000 people, residents are afraid – and now stay home after dark.”

In Mon State, Ms. Lee visited for the first time a hard labour camp where she saw the living conditions of the prisoners. Her major concerns were the use of shackles as a form of additional punishment (including while working in the quarry) as well as the lack of transparency regarding the prisoners’ transfer to the hard labour camp. The lack of an individual complaint system in prisons, including the hard labour camps, was very concerning to the Special Rapporteur. “I was struck by the fear of those prisoners who were afraid of what would happen to them after speaking to me.”

In Rakhine State, the Special Rapporteur visited the Border Guard posts that were attacked on 9 October by armed individuals. She conveyed her deepest condolences to the families of those killed brutally during the attacks. 

“I must remind again that these attacks took place within the context of decades of systematic and institutionalised discrimination against the Rohingya population,” she noted. The expert also went to several affected Muslim villages.

“I saw with my own eyes the structures that were burnt down in Wa Peik,” she said, and was told by Government officials that it was the villagers who had burnt down their own houses. “As the authorities offered no evidence for this, I found this argument quite incredible.” 

The expert also noted the video clip that went viral of the Myanmar Police personnel beating men – and children – who were rounded up during the security operations, and highlighted the possibility that such treatment of the local population may not be an isolated incident but rather a more common practice.

She emphasised the importance for the security forces to always act within the parameters of the rule of law and in compliance with human rights and that it would be crucial for the Government to combat the apparent climate of impunity. “There must be accountability and justice must be done and seen to be done to reassure the ordinary people that no one is above the law,” Ms. Lee reminded.

“From my meetings and conversations with the State Counsellor and the various officials, I can see their genuine commitment and dedication in improving the lives of all in Myanmar. Somehow this commitment has yet to translate into real actions that are felt on the ground,” she said. In particular she found the Government’s response of defending, dismissing and denying human rights issues to be not only counterproductive but is draining away the hope that had been sweeping the country.

During the 12-day visit, the expert addressed a broad range of human rights issues with the authorities and various stakeholders, including political and community leaders, civil society representatives, as well as victims of human rights violations and members of the international community.

The Special Rapporteur will present her report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017, which will include her observations and recommendations to the Government of Myanmar.

Ms. Yanghee Lee (Republic of Korea) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 as the Special Rapporteur on situation of human rights in Myanmar. She is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Lee is currently serving as the Chairperson of the Coordinating Committee of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Ms. Lee served as member and chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003-2011). She is currently a professor at Sungkyunwan University, Seoul, and serves on the Advisory Committee of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. Ms. Lee is the founding President of International Child Rights Center.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

Originally published here.

In this Jan. 16, 2017, photo, Rohingya fishermen stand in shallow waters on the coastline waiting to launch their homemade rafts to go fishing in the rough sea of the Bay of Bengal off Tha Pyay Taw village, Maungdaw, western Rakhine state, Myanmar. Every day before sunrise, dozens of fishermen, shivering against the cold, shove out onto the Bay of Bengal on makeshift rafts made out of plastic jugs, bamboo and twine. Their usual, sturdy fishing boats were outlawed three months ago when Myanmar authorities launched a sweeping and violent counter-insurgency campaign in Rakhine state, home to the long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority. (Esther Htusan/Associated Press)

By Esther Htusan 
January 24 at 1:07 AM

THA PYAY TAW, Myanmar — Every day before sunrise, dozens of fishermen, shivering against the cold, shove out onto the Bay of Bengal on makeshift rafts made out of plastic jugs, bamboo and twine, just steps away from the sturdy and much safer wooden boats they had used for years.

They were barred from using their boats three months ago by Myanmar authorities who say they’re trying to prevent insurgents from entering or leaving the country by sea. The ban is one small part of a sweeping and violent counter-insurgency campaign in Rakhine state, home to the long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority, where authorities have been accused of widespread abuses.

Desperate to feed their families, Rohingya fishermen in the coastal villages that dot Rakhine’s Maungdaw district they skirt the ban by setting out on dangerous, jerry-rigged rafts that use yellow cooking oil jugs to keep them afloat. The vessels are not technically boats, and therefore not technically illegal.

“What is the difference for us?” asks 35-year-old Mohammed, a Rohingya fisherman and the father of four children in Tha Pyay Taw village. “We will die in the village from starvation if we don’t go out, or we can risk our lives to get some fish and fill our stomachs. We have nothing to eat.”

The Associated Press is identifying Mohammed only by his first name out of security concerns.

As long as the villagers leave their big boats on the shore, the police allow them to bob along the choppy waves — for a price.

As noon approached on a recent day, dozens of villagers paddled their plastic rafts back to shore, fresh fish in tow. As they unloaded the day’s catch, a policeman holding a sack approached and demanded some fish.

The fishermen described the transaction as typical.

“We have to give it to them or they won’t allow us to go again to the sea,” said Kalumya, a 40-year-old fisherman who uses only one name.

The police officer refused to speak to The Associated Press.

Muslims in an overwhelmingly Buddhist nation, the Rohingya have long faced persecution in Myanmar, where most are denied citizenship. The latest outbreak of violence was triggered by October attacks on guard posts near the Bangladesh border that killed nine police officers. While the attackers’ identities and motives are unclear, the government launched a massive counter-insurgency sweep through Rohingya areas in western Rakhine state.

Most of Myanmar’s more than 1 million Rohingya live in Rakhine, which borders Bangladesh.

Tha Pyay Taw was not directly affected by the violence, which occurred in villages a two- to three-hour drive away. But “for reasons of regional security, the fishing boats were banned from going out on the sea,” said Hashim Ulah, the government-appointed village administrator in Maungdaw.

Mohammed said the villagers have no good options.

“There is the risk of getting shot by the navy in Myanmar or Bangladesh if we go out in our boats,” he said. “Or we may get caught in a storm on our rafts. There is no choice for us.” The fishermen have managed to keep safe so far, though they take their makeshift vessels far enough out to sea that from shore, they look like mere dots on the horizon.

The United Nations estimates that 65,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar across the border to Bangladesh in the past three months to escape the government’s “clearance operation.” Rohingya villagers and activists say hundreds of civilians have been killed. The number cannot be verified because authorities have limited aid workers’ and journalists’ access to areas where the deaths occurred. Recent satellite images released by the group Human Rights Watch showed thousands of houses were burned.

“Even in the future, only trouble awaits the Rohingya,” said Mohammed. “I don’t see any improvement in our lives anymore.”

Nine-year-old Tin Aung Zin, who is in a coma, is held by his sister in their house near the Thet Kae Pyin camp for internally displaced people in Sittwe, Rakhine state, April 23, 2014. (Photo: Reuters/Minzayar)

Ro Mayyu Ali
RB Opinion
January 24, 2017

The facts and information mentioned in this piece of writing represent neither any national or international organization in Northern Rakhine State, nor the views of any official person in local or state authorities. Moreover, the author does not wish to cause any trouble between the authorities and aid groups, their employees and employers. 

Myanmar is one of the least-developed countries in South East Asia. Rakhine State, situated in the north-west of Myanmar, on the border with Bangladesh, is the second poorest state among the seven states in the country. An estimated 1.3 million people in Rakhine State are Rohingya, regarded as the world’s most persecuted ethnic group.

During 1990, some groups of international non-governmental organizations, such as Medicine Sans Frontiers (MSF-Holland), Action Contre la Faim (ACF-French), Malteser International and CARE, as well as some United Nations agencies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), World Food Program (WFP), International Committee for Red Cross (ICRC) and UNICEF have been providing humanitarian aid in two of the Northern Rakhine State’s three townships, specifically in Maungdaw and Buthidaung.

Maungdaw, the border trading town, is the home of more than half a million people. There are 105 village tracts and 50,233 households in the township. In Buthidaung, there are more than 300,000 people, 86 village tracts and 42,871 households. 

Since the Rohingya people are persecuted by the Union and State governments, the hundreds of educated Rohingya who work for international organizations are the main targets of their oppression. For decades, this specific group of Rohingya people have been facing the worst of the human rights and civil rights violations in Myanmar.

Northern Rakhine State's maternal mortality rate is double that of Myanmar's national average, which, at 200 deaths per 100,000 live births, is already one of Asia's worst. In Buthidaung and Maungdaw, malnutrition rates rival those of war-torn regions in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Rohingya are therefore counted as the most vulnerable community in Northern Rakhine State. Thousands of Rohingya people in the townships have been surviving only because of the aid and medical assistance provided by international organizations. For the educated Rohingya, a job with those international organizations is the only opportunity they have as a professional, since their recruitment by civil services in Myanmar has been denied since 1970.

RESTRICTED ACCESS AND ATTACKS AGAINST AID WORKERS

There are many types of criticisms and propaganda amongst the Buddhist community in Northern Rakhine State directed towards these organisations. They think that the recruitment policy of INGOs and international agencies is unfair. However, it is coherent that these organisations recruit more Rohingya candidates than Buddhists because most of the vulnerable people that require assistance are to be found in the Rohingya community. In order to be effective and to make progress with their activities, language is important, as well as an understanding of beliefs, and a sensitivity to approach, which are some of the concerns of modern organizations. INGOs and agencies in Northern Rakhine State do, nonetheless, respect the gender balance as well as ethnic balance during their recruitment. Compare this approach to the local authorities in Northern Rakhine State, who always disrespect Rohingya translators assisting in INGOs’ meetings.

Following the violence in Northern Rakhine State in June 2012, dozens of Rohingya aid workers, including Mr. Soe Myint and Ms. Nandar who worked for UNHCR Maungdaw Office, were detained for months and then released following intervention from the United Nations advocacy. Omar Farukh (a nutrition animator), Akbaal (a guard from ACF Maungdaw), Rafique (a counsellor) and Zafor (a driver) from MSF Maungdaw Offices, were incarcerated for years on accusations of involvement in arson in Maungdaw downtown. However, the staff were on duty on that day when the fires were started. At that time, blockage of humanitarian aid was used against the Rohingya and the activities of aid groups in Northern Rakhine State were suspended for more than 4 months. 

In October 2013, the violence again resumed in Du Chee Yar Tan Village tract, situated in Southern Maungdaw. It was a ruthlessly barbaric operation that included arson, shootings, arbitrary arrest, and the siege of the villagers to prevent them fleeing to save their lives. As a result, dozens of Rohingya, including children, were killed and many more were injured. At that time, since the village tract was covered by MSF, many patients received treatment from them.

When Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF-Holland) said that it had treated people it believed were victims of the violence near Maungdaw, the government expelled the group for favouring the Rohingyas. Myanmar authorities denied the attack took place. As a result, MSF work in Northern Rakhine State was suspended in February 2014. MSF's departure has had “a major humanitarian impact”, said Pierre Peron, spokesman for the United Nations' coordination agency UNOCHA. “MSF had built up a program over 20 years and it was reaching places that were very difficult to reach, and that's not something that can be done overnight,” he added.

However, the 1999’s Noble Peace Prize winning MSF was granted permission to resume their activities again in Northern Rakhine State after 8 months. Without doubt, MSF is the main medical haven for the Rohingya community in Northern Rakhine State. It is not because the Buddhist staff in government hospitals do not treat the Rohingya patients well, but because there are several restrictions in order to get medical accesses for the Rohingya. But in the last quarter of 2013, MSF treated approximately 9,000 patients every month, and about 1,000 pregnant women in the six clinics ran across Norther Rakhine. Over the same period, it also referred 160-200 people monthly to hospitals for life-saving treatment.

A recent study of poverty and health in Rakhine state by Mahmood Saad Mahmood for Harvard University shows vast disparities between the Rohingya and the Rakhine: There is only one physician per 140,000 Rohingya, but in the parts of Rakhine state dominated by the Rakhine, there is one doctor per 681 people. It is clear why most of the vulnerable Rohingya community prefer MSF treatment to that of state-run hospitals and clinics in Northern Rakhine. For the Myanmar government, MSF is seen as the great opposing medical organization that treats the Rohingya and saves Rohingya lives in one of Myanmar's poorest and most remote regions. However, lifesaving is MSF’s medical ethic for eligible people, regardless of their race, religion, color, gender or class. 

Some governmental orchestrated protests against MSF and other INGOs and agencies have been conducted throughout Rakhine State after the violence in June 2012. ‘Get out, MSF!’ and ‘Get out, INGOs!’ are the kinds of aggressive banners that were used during the protests. Some logos of international organizations were destroyed in Norther Rakhine State. The MSF and Malteser offices in Sittwe were attacked and demolished. Attempts to attack MSF foreigners and national staff in Sittwe airport were exposed. Rohingya staff were banned to attend any capacity building trainings in Yangon after June 2012. It seems that now it is the time of Myanmar authorities to annihilate both the targeted Rohingya people and those aid groups that try to save their lives in Rakhine State.

In this regard, aid groups have been facing several types of severe restrictions and tangible denials from local authorities in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships. Strategically, some Rohingya staff in UN agencies, who held the temporary the White Card, had to receive a National Verification Card (NVC) in order to attend capacity building trainings in Yangon in early of 2016. This has been perceived as an opportunity to trap the Rohingya aid workers.

Following the attack on 9th of October, again the flow of humanitarian aid was blocked and the activities in both Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships were suspended for a couple of months. 

On 14th of October, 2016, an educated Rohingya family in Aung Sit Pyin was targeted and detained in police custody. In the family, there are two aid workers who were arrested: Abul Foyas, who is a staff of MHDO, a local INGO that is the coordination partner of WFP (he also worked for WFP Maungdaw Office for years). Also, 56 year old Kareem Ullah, a former senior staff member, who has worked for WFP, FOA and UNHCR for years in the Maungdaw Office. On 16th of October, Kareem was tortured to death in Maungdaw police custody and his body was buried down in Kanyin Tan Myoma cemetery without even informing his family. (For more details, you can read http://www.rohingyablogger.com/2016/10/a-senior-humanitarian-rohingya-was.html) However, Abul Foyas and his two relatives are still being held in custody, accused of involvement in attacks on Border Guard Police outposts. 

On the 18th December 2016, before the meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers in Myanmar, the Ministry of Security and Border Affairs approved the resumption of humanitarian activities in 117 village tracts in Maungdaw district. However, the flow of humanitarian aid to northern Maungdaw lasted for just 10 days. On 28th of December, the Ministry of Security and Border Affairs continued the area clearance operation in 45 village tracts, mostly in northern Maungdaw, again suspending the access of INGOs to those in the troubled part of the township. “We’re going to proceed the operations in 45 village tracts in northern Maungdaw. It is not good for security if they go to work in there,” said U Ye Htut, Maungdaw District Administrator. 

In addition, now the Rohingya aid workers must hold a Form 4 to pass from one village to another when they go to work. (Form 4 is an authorization letter that the Rohingya must hold to pass from one township to another). Firstly, they must apply to the Township Authorization and submit their activity plan to the District Administration Office. However, none of the team is allowed to stay overnight at the field level in Maungdaw, so have to return the same day. Sometimes this process is also delayed or denied. 

The Rohingya are already vulnerable, depending on humanitarian assistance. But when there is a conflict, firstly the Myanmar government stops the flow of humanitarian accesses to those most vulnerable of people. Blockage of humanitarian assistance to the conflict area is one of the main political weapons used by the Myanmar government. It is shocking that sometimes there is no direct access or distribution of humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable of the Rohingya people in Northern Rakhine State. 

Humanitarian assistance is essential and it is necessary to reach victims directly and on time. The free and direct assess of the aid to victims is the core value of all INGOs and UN organizations. They also respect the dignity and value of the people they help. However, international organizations in Myanmar seem somehow up for negotiation and bidding. They must be careful that they do not fall into the government’s traps. “Myanmar is perhaps one of the toughest nuts to crack in international diplomacy” says Azeem Ibrahim, a fellow at Mansfield College, Oxford.

Despite thousands of acutely malnourished children that are taken care of by UNICEF and ACF, as well as the hundreds of TB, HIV/AIDS and other chronic suffering patients taken care of by MSF and Malteser International in Northern Rakhine State, the Myanmar government has been denying access to humanitarian aid. “There is no malnutrition, at all. As 90% of harvesting is already finished, so it has no cause to lead the children to be malnourished in this area,” said Dr. U Myat Aye who visited with the Rakhine Commission in Maungdaw recently. As a children specialist, Dr. U Myat Aye should respect the medical ethics of the four mandates of Myanmar National Health Causes. 

Abul Foyas, a staff of MHDO, is still in detention in Maungdaw custody. It is illogical to accuse him of attacking the BGP outposts. He is clearly innocent as he was on duty that week. He should be released if it is not the case that Myanmar government targets the educated Rohingya who work for INGOs. International organizations must also work to protect their employees.

The Myanmar government is the perpetrator of ethnic cleansing operations against the Rohingya. They never truly seek a sustainable resolution for the Rohingya minority. Why would they want to coordinate with any official advocate or international organisation to address the problem? It is no wonder that some of the culprits have premeditated their actions and know exactly what they are doing.

Rohingya children are pictured at the Kutupalong camp for unregistered refugees in southeastern Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, Jan. 18, 2017. Jesmin Papri/BenarNews

By Jesmin Papri
January 23, 2017

Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh -- Rohingya boys and girls as young as 11 and 12 spoke of atrocities they had witnessed that forced them to flee Myanmar’s Rakhine state in recent weeks, with some telling BenarNews they saw Burmese security personnel burn their siblings alive.

A BenarNews correspondent interviewed at least 19 children during visits to refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, a district in southeastern Bangladesh where some 65,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from Rakhine state since early October, according to U.N. estimates.

“The military whisked away my brother and killed him, set fire to our house, and tortured the women,” said Tasmin Khatun, 11, using a term that refers to the rape of women.

“We hid in the nearby jungle. I still shudder in fear when I think about it. I cannot sleep at night,” the Rohingya girl told BenarNews at the Kutupalong camp for unregistered refugees in Ukhiya sub-district.

Myanmar security forces have been accused of committing atrocities against the Rohingya population, such as targeted killings, rapes and the burning of homes, while mounting a crackdown after the killings of nine Burmese border guards by suspected militants in October.

Myanmar’s government has defended itself from widespread international criticism, denying that its forces committed such abuses against members of the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority.

Last week, BenarNews reported that 17 of 54 Rohingya women interviewed at refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar said members of the Myanmar security forces had raped them.

Thrown into flames

Rohingya youngster Abdul Malek, at the Leda refugee camp in Teknaf sub-district, said he witnessed Myanmar security personnel throw his twin siblings into the family’s burning home.

“Military threw my twin brothers into the fire. … They have been killing everybody by setting fires,” Abdul told BenarNews.

He and the rest of his family members were able to escape by jumping into a river as security forces shot at them, Abdul alleged.

Zohur Ali, 12, a refugee at the Kutupalong camp, recounted a similar incident, saying that security personnel snatched his small siblings from his mother’s lap and threw them into the flames of their home that had been set alight.

Zohur’s mother Rahima Khatun, 35, told BenarNews: “Zohur cries even while sleeping. I do not know when he will recover from this.”

Nazim Uddin, 12, whose mother died during childbirth several months ago, said he saw his father beaten and arrested by Myanmar security personnel “some days ago,” before he, four siblings and an uncle fled across the border.

Two of his siblings, 2-year-old Md Yeasin and 4-year-old Umme Salma, whom he cradled, remain traumatized, Nazim told BenarNews.

Count under way

An official with the Dhaka office of the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said it is working to verify the estimate that 65,000 Rohingya have arrived in southeastern Bangladesh since October.

This number does not include at least 300,000 Rohingya refugees who live in camps in Cox’s Bazar but who fled violence in Rakhine state years ago.

“To determine the number of the newly arrived Rohingya, we have been conducting a survey. So far, we have registered 12,000 new arrivals including 5,000 children,” the UNHCR official told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.

Ali Hossain, the deputy commissioner of Cox’s Bazar district, told BenarNews the government had yet to count the number of Rohingya “who entered Bangladesh afresh.” The government, however, has been immunizing children age 5 and younger at the camps and giving them doses of Vitamin A, he said.

Md Alam, a leader of Block B at the Leda camps, said officials were finding it difficult to feed all the children in the camp.

“Where is the time to look after the mental trouble?” he told BenarNews.

“These children are mentally devastated as they came across a horrible reality; counseling is a must for their mental recovery. But where is the opportunity? Many of them are not getting food for survival,” C.R. Abrar, an expert on refugee issues and professor at the University of Dhaka, told BenarNews.


A Rohingya baby is vaccinated at the Kutupalong camp, Jan. 18, 2017. [Jesmin Papri/BenarNews]
At least 66,000 Rohingya have fled from Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh, alleging rape, murder and torture at the hands of security forces ©STR (AFP)


By AFP
January 23, 2017

Myanmar's deputy defence chief on Monday urged the world to give his government "time and space" to solve a crisis involving the Rohingya Muslim minority amid concerns jihadists could exploit the situation.

Rear Admiral Myint Nwe told a security forum in Singapore his government is "fully aware of the growing concern about the widespread reports on (the) situation in Rakhine state" where the Rohingya live, and was committed to address the issue and punish wrongdoers.

Since October Myanmar's army has carried out "clearance operations" in the north of the western state to root out insurgents accused of deadly raids on police border posts.

At least 66,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, alleging rape, murder and torture at the hands of security forces.

Myanmar has long faced international criticism over its treatment of the Rohingya. Most people in the majority Buddhist community consider them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

"The government does not condone rights abuses against innocent civilians. Legal action will be taken in response to any substantiated claim," Myint Nwe said.

The admiral was responding to a keynote address by Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein at th Fullerton Forum organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Hishammuddin warned that the situation in Rakhine -- if not addressed properly -- could be exploited by the Islamic State group as it seeks a base in Southeast Asia.

"This horrific possibility has the potential to cause death and destruction well beyond the borders of ASEAN," he added, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Answering a delegate's question, Hishammuddin said the Rohingya issue "is going to test ASEAN solidarity... It needs to be resolved, we cannot sweep it under the carpet, it affects a lot of Muslims and it's very emotional".

Myint Nwe said both Yangon and the international community should focus on finding a "lasting solution" to the problem.

"Allowing time and space is essential for the government's efforts to bear fruit in finding a sustainable solution of this complex issue."

Hishammuddin said ASEAN -- the regional bloc to which both Malaysia and Myanmar belong -- should play a key role in working out a solution with Myanmar's leaders.

Sufia Begum, a Rohingya who crossed over to Bangladesh in December 2016, describes her experiences of fleeing her home in Rakhine State. AP/A.M. Ahad


By Sally Kantar 
January 23, 2017

As military operations in Myanmar’s Rakhine State enter their fourth month, Sally Kantar reports on the accelerated displacement of the Muslim Rohingya minority.

AMID A MILITARY campaign in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, the long-persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority are fleeing for their lives.

Myanmar’s state security forces say they are hunting for suspected militants in the northern part of Rakhine, while human rights groups and refugees say troops are conducting extrajudicial killings and committing rape and arson.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says that 65,000 displaced Rohingya have fled across the border to Bangladesh since the military campaign began in October.

The number of people internally displaced in Rakhine State is unknown, as aid agencies and journalists have been denied access to the area. But the U.N. estimates at least 130,000 vulnerable people are now stranded without support in the impoverished region, where many were already dependent on international food aid.

“Without access, we simply don’t know how many people are left in those areas,” Pierre Peron, information officer for the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told Refugees Deeply. “You have very vulnerable communities which are even more vulnerable now,” he said.

Using satellite imagery analysis, Human Rights Watch (HRW) confirmed“widespread destruction” of Rohingya villages since last October, identifying 1,500 burned buildings. The Myanmar army’s chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, denied state responsibility, suggesting that Rohingya residents had set fire to their own homes “in the hope of getting a new home” built by the army.

But rights groups say the villages appear to have been burned systematically. The affected communities lie near a main road heading westward, in line with the route of military advancement over the past months.

Government Denials

Following international criticism of the campaign, Myanmar’s government – headed by the popularly elected National League for Democracy (NLD) – formed the Rakhine State Investigation Commission in December to probe allegations of abuse. Leading the commission is military-appointed Vice President Myint Swe, himself an ex-general.

The commission published its findings in early January. It said it found no evidence of widespread malnutrition, in contrast to previous government health reports saying northern Rakhine’s Maungdaw Township had the highest malnutrition rates in the country. Instead, the commission highlighted “favorable fishing and farming conditions” in the area which they claimed continued despite the conflict.

Yet, OCHA’s Peron pointed out that more than 3,000 children living in the conflict zone were suffering from malnutrition even before security operations began.

A burned-out village of Rohingya Muslims in the western Myanmar in December 2016. In response to the criticism over persecution of the minority group, the Myanmar government allowed some news organizations to visit the conflict zone. (Kyodo)

The commission also rejected growing accusations – including from U.N.officials – of government-perpetrated crimes against the Rohingya population. John McKissick, head of the U.N. refugee agency in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh – a country home to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees – said as early as last November that he believed Myanmar’s government was carrying out “ethnic cleansing.”

The commission argued that the presence of mosques and clerics in Rakhine State served as “proof that there were no cases of genocide and religious persecution in the region.”
‘Collective Punishment’

The current operations in Rakhine State appear strategically similar to the infamous “Four Cuts” campaign, carried out by Myanmar’s army against many of the country’s armed groups and ethnic communities, beginning in the 1960s and continuing for decades. Government troops restricted groups’ access to food, funds, intelligence and new recruits by forcibly relocating villages, burning rice stores, using sexual violence and suppressing ethnic identities.

The U.N.’s McKissick believes that the military campaign is “collective punishment” of the Rohingya for the October 9 attacks on three border guard posts in northern Rakhine State that killed nine policemen.

The government said the perpetrators of the October attacks were armed with sticks and machetes. It also alleged they belonged to an international terrorist network.

The International Crisis Group warned in December that the group that reportedly claimed responsibility for the October attacks – Harakah al-Yaqin – is a “well-funded” Rohingya armed organization earning “widespread support” from Muslims in the region. But little is currently known about Harakah al-Yaqin and its capacity, other than an interviewpublished by the Dhaka Tribune, in which the leadership claims to have “25-30 members trained in modern guerrilla tactics.”

In 2015, researchers at the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development Policy noted that narratives linking the Rohingya Solidarity Organization to international terrorism had been a “convenient myth” that the state could use to garner Western backing for counterterrorism initiatives.

Yet the situation is very different today, says the Institute’s Elliot Brennan, noting that the 2015 paper warned that a continuation of government policies would only further marginalize the Rohingya and could lead to radicalization.

Some Rohingya activists expressed frustration that more attention was being paid to an apparently small militant group than the persecution of the community.

“Why do they only mention religion when talking about the Rohingya?” said Nay San Lwin, a Europe-based Rohingya activist, referring to discussions about militant groups in Myanmar. “There are predominantly Christian and Buddhist insurgencies [in Myanmar], and when [others] talk about them, religion isn’t mentioned,” he said, referring to various ethnic armed groups in eastern and northern parts of the country, some of which have thousands of troops.

Local residents walk past burned houses in Maungdaw in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, which has a large Muslim Rohingya population. They claim soldiers from the country’s armed forces burned a village in October. A number of Rohingya women there also claim to have been raped. (Kyodo)

Call for International Help

Myanmar’s estimated 1.1 million Rohingya have long faced persecution. The government – and much of the country’s Buddhist majority – refer to them as “Bengali,” implying that they are migrants from Bangladesh. A 1982 citizenship law contributed to the Rohingyas’ statelessness by excluding the group from the 135 classified “national races.”

Nobel Peace Prize winner and Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has also refrained from using the term “Rohingya.” In a December interview, she warned the international community against “drumming up calls for bigger fires of resentment” by “exaggerating” the current crisis.

Maung Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organization U.K., said the situation of the Rohingya has “gotten worse under the NLDgovernment,” referencing the ongoing military operations. The Rohingya have no one to turn to among the authorities in Myanmar to stop the atrocities, he said. “There is no way to ask for protection domestically [in Myanmar] at all,” he told Refugees Deeply.

The Rohingya are “friendless and hopeless” within Myanmar and need international action to help them, says Rohingya activist Nay San Lwin. “There have been many concerned statements from the U.N. officials, yet we are not seeing real action,” he said.

Advocacy groups such as Fortify Rights and Burma Campaign U.K. have called for an independent U.N. inquiry into abuses in Rakhine State, a movesupported by Rohingya activists. “We would like an acknowledgment of crimes against humanity. A U.N. Commission of Inquiry is the only way to bring [the Myanmar army] to justice,” Maung Tun Khin said. On January 18, more than 40 Myanmar civil society groups also joined the call for an independent investigation into the situation in Rakhine State, in order to provide the government with ”clear recommendations” on which to act.

In December, while military operations continued in Rakhine State and Rohingya poured across the border, the White House quietly eased restrictions on aid to Myanmar’s government, citing “substantial progress in improving human rights.” This U.S. policy shift, according to Nay San Lwin, “allowed the Myanmar government to continue crimes against minorities.”

He fears that the patterns of persecution against the Rohingya will intensify in coming years, leading to more widespread and permanent displacement. “[The military] are allowed to do [this], by the international community and the U.N., in their failure to act,” he said.

(Photo: MINA)

January 22, 2017

Jakarta - Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno LP Marsudi said the humanitarian assistance given by Indonesia to Rakhine State is a constructive support for inclusive development in Myanmar. 

"Indonesia chose to take constructive steps to help Myanmar in establishing peace, stability and development in Rakhine State," said Minister Retno Marsudi in a press statement in Jakarta on Sunday.

She made the statement in the handover of the humanitarian assistance to the people of Rakhine State on Saturday, January 21, 2017.

In the event, the Foreign Minister asserted that both bilaterally and through the ASEAN, Indonesia has committed to help the inclusive development in Myanmar.

The foreign minister also said that Indonesia had been following closely the developments in Rakhine since the attack on the police station on October 9, 2016, and the Indonesian government has chosen to take constructive steps.

"Within two months, I have visited Myanmar three times, not only to meet with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, but also to speak with various stakeholders to know the best way to help Rakhine State," said Foreign Minister Retno.

The foreign minister also expressed the hope that the assistance provided can be enjoyed by all communities in Rakhine State, especially the Muslim community.

Retno also expressed Indonesias commitment to continue to assist Myanmar in the medium and long term, particularly in the areas of education, health, agriculture, entrepreneurship, democracy and governance.

"Indonesia hopes the aid will help create conditions conducive to peace and stability that is needed for inclusive development in Myanmar, particularly the Rakhine State," said Retno.

President Joko Widodo had earlier seen off the direct delivery of assistance to Rakhine from Tanjung Priok port, North Jakarta, on December 29, 2016. The humanitarian aid, consisted of 10 containers of instant noodles, wheat flour, toddler food, and holsters.

The aid was received by Mynamars Minister of Social Welfare Myat Aye Win and witnessed by the Chief Minister of Rakhine U Nyi Pu. The Indonesian assistance will be distributed directly to people in need, especially in some of the refugee camps.

"The Government and people of Myanmar are very grateful and appreciate the Indonesian humanitarian assistance in support of Myanmar," said Minister Win Myat Aye.

Also present at the handover ceremony were the foreign representatives in Sittwe, among others, the consuls of India, Bangladesh and the United Nations representative in Rakhine State.
Image Credit: Niño Jose Heredia/©Gulf News

By Tariq A. Al Maeena
January 22, 2017

The organisation ought to realise that releasing statements on Muslim-related hotspots alone cannot be a key justification for its existence

There are quite a few global and regional organisations from the United Nations to Nato, the Arab League, European Union... And then we have the OIC, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

It is a member government-funded organisation, which also happens to be the second largest inter-governmental organisation after the United Nations with a membership of 57 states. The OIC was established following a summit of Muslim nations in 1969. This organisation is preordained to be the collective voice of the entire Muslim world. Its mission is “to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony among various people of the world”.

In recent times, the OIC has come under fire from many quarters for its perceived inability in addressing state-sponsored terrorism against native Muslim populations. The decades-long Israeli transgressions on Palestinian lands and more recently, the massive genocide taking place in Myanmar against the native minority Rohingya community who are predominantly Muslim in a determined drive towards total ethnic cleansing.

So what does the OIC do to address the burning issues around the globe? In the Extraordinary Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers on the situation of the Rohingya Muslim minority of Myanmar, in Kuala Lumpur last Thursday, OIC Secretary-General, Dr Yousuf Al Othaimeen declared that enough was enough.

Charging that government brutality was fanning religious hatred, Al Othaimeen declared that the Myanmar government “should also put an end to acts of aggression that have no tenable or legitimate justifications against the Muslim community”. Expressing his disappointment with Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to curb the situation against the minority Rohingya, the OIC chief stated that following her victory in the last elections, initially there was “hope that the nation would be entering the dawn of a new era for an inclusive government. The Myanmar government was expected to be responsive to the aspirations of its people without exercising any ethnic of religious segregation or discrimination”.

“Despite the progress that has been achieved in the democratic process and the transition to a new leadership, there is evidence of a sustained and organised campaign of violence and intimidation perpetrated against the Rohingya Muslims inside Myanmar. This was clearly indicated in the report issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussain last year, which documented a wide range of human rights violations and abuses against the minorities in Myanmar, particularly against the Rohingya community,” Al Othaimeen said.

Al Othaimeen insisted that the serious human rights problems identified by the United Nations in Myanmar could not be explained away as an internal matter of that country.

“I hope that all OIC member states, particularly those in Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations], will continue their efforts to urge the Myanmar authorities to allow access to humanitarian aid to the region and to allow transparent investigations to take place on the incidents of violence against Rohingya,” he concluded.

Relentless brutality

But the question here is will his words mean anything to those running the government in Myanmar? Since that statement was released, there have been countless numbers of Rohingya who have fallen victim to the ongoing and relentless brutality taking place in Myanmar. So what is the use of the OIC, an organisation whose existence has been debated before?

In 2011, a Turkish group initiated a debate that seriously questioned the utility of OIC. It asked: “While people are dying and enduring hardships across the Muslim world as a result of either occupation or foreign intervention, and their fates are being manipulated by western capitals and organisations, why has the OIC, which brings together all the Muslim states, remained silent?”

Others have charged that the OIC is nothing more than issuing a “string of resolutions on issues facing more than one billion Muslims worldwide. But meetings of Islamic countries, which have tremendous potential still to be realised, often end up as a ritualistic repetition of resolutions without any action or meaningful follow-up.”

While the OIC is a virtual non-factor in key issues concerning Muslims, like in Palestine, others wonder why Muslim countries, from Malaysia to Mauritania and from Turkey to Bosnia-Herzegovina that cover a strategic part of the world and have vast reservoirs of natural resources like oil and gas, plus billions of dollars in reserves, have yet to match their affluence with influence in international affairs.

Is it that this organisation, the OIC, has been reduced to be a money-draining ineffectual bureaucracy? Releasing statements on Muslim-related hotspots alone is not a key justification for its existence. Perhaps the money spent funding the OIC and their travel junkets would be better utilised by rehabilitating victims of oppression in the areas mentioned.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@talmaeena.

(Photo: OIC Facebook)

January 21, 2017

Myanmar rebuffed Malaysia on Saturday for organizing a meeting of Muslim governments to put pressure on Myanamar over the plight of Rohingya Muslims following a military crackdown that sent at least 66,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh.

Hosting a meeting of representatives from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on Thursday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called on Myanmar to stop attacking, and discriminating against the Rohingya minority.

Najib urged the OIC, which groups 57 Muslim nations, to act to end the unfolding "humanitarian tragedy".

In response, Myanmar, a mostly Buddhist country, said it was "regrettable" that Malaysia had called the meeting, and accused Kuala Lumpur of exploiting the crisis "to promote a certain political agenda" and disregard for the government's efforts to address it.

"The Government has been endeavoring to safeguard lives and ensure the security of the people from the violent attacks of new extremists," said Myanmar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement printed in the country's state-run daily, the Global New Light of Myanmar.

The ministry is run by Nobel Peace Prize winner and de facto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, who won 2015 elections in a landslide after decades of pro-democracy struggle, ushering in Myanmar's first civilian government for about half a century.

Myanmar authorities say the military launched a security sweep in response to what they say was an attack in October by Rohingya insurgents on border posts near Myanmar's border with Bangladesh in which nine police officers were killed.

Since then, at least 86 people have been killed and the United Nations says at least 66,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh.

Residents and refugees accuse the military of killing, raping and detaining civilians while burning villages in northwestern Rakhine State.

The government denies the accusations and insists a lawful counter-insurgency operation is underway.

About 56,000 Rohingya live in Malaysia having fled unrest and persecution in Myanmar.

Kuala Lumpur summoned Myanmar's ambassador last year to protest against the treatment of Rohingya, breaking a tradition of non-intervention by members of the Association of South East Asian Nations in each other's affairs.

Najib said it would be a disgrace if the Southeast Asian group did not do its utmost to "avert the catastrophe that has been unfolding".

On Friday, a United Nations human rights investigator criticized Myanmar's operation and urged the military to respect the law and human rights. 

(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Minister Retno LP Marsudi. (ANTARA/Suwandy)

January 21, 2017

Jakarta - The Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi proposed four actions to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to improve the situation in Rakhine, Myanmar.

According to a press release to Antara on Friday the suggestions were delivered by the minister at the Extraordinary Ministerial Conference of the OIC in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on January 19. Its aims to address the current plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar.

The first action of offering humanitarian aid and security advice, which can prevent the situation in Rakhine State from deteriorating further, can be done within the OIC according to Marsudi.

The second action is to work closely with the Myanmar government, while the third action involves cooperation with regional organizations such as ASEAN to prevent political issues from hindering all forms of assistance to Rakhine state.

Marsudi submitted a report from the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Retreat in Rangoon, which was held on December 19 last year, to highlight the desire for cooperation between OIC and ASEAN.

The Indonesian government also suggested that OIC member countries should work with Myanmar to assist with its economic development, with the possibility of assistance from the Islamic Development Bank. This is the fourth action proposed by Marsudi.

He repeated Indonesias readiness to work with all sides to find sustainable solutions to assist the Muslim communities in Rakhine State.

"The OIC can only contribute in improving the situation in Rakhine State by taking constructive and inclusive steps," he said.

Following the meeting of the OIC, the foreign ministers from its member states agreed to pass two resolutions.

The first is a report on the situation of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, whos representatives have requested for humanitarian assistance from the OIC and have asked the Myanmar government to allow access for aid.

The second is a final communique that requires OIC representatives in New York, Geneva and Brussels to periodically conduct a review on current developments in Myanmar.

The ministers also endorsed the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Palestine and Al Quds Al Sharif.

Finally, all OIC members are expected to support the outcome of the Middle East Peace Conference that was held in Paris on January 15, which called for a two-state solution in the conflict between Palestine and Israel.



BHRN Praises the OIC for Meeting on Northern Rakhine State and Calls for Further Action 

21st January 2017: London, The United Kingdom 

The Burma Human Rights Network welcomes efforts by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Government of Malaysia and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak who are holding an emergency meeting of the OIC Foreign Ministers to address the dire situation within Burma’s Northern Rakhine State. We have taken great hope from the efforts the Prime Minister has made over the past few months and wish to convey our belief that his efforts, along with those of other ASEAN nations, have truly helped reduce the suffering of the Rohingya as pressure seems to have slowed the indiscriminate attacks of the Burmese Security Forces against the Rohingya population in Burma’s Northern Rakhine State. 

The situation in the north of Myanmar’s Rakhine State has rapidly deteriorated since October. A violent and disproportionate crackdown has been unleashed on the civilian population in response to attacks on three Border Guard Police posts on October 9th and a few small skirmishes in the months that followed. Since the attacks on the police posts our organization has collected evidence of what we believe should be investigated as Crimes Against Humanity, as defined by the United Nations, carried out by Burmese Security Forces. These crimes, according to witnesses, have included rape, gang rape, sexual humiliation, murder, extra-judicial assassination, destruction of civilian property, forced displacement, torture, killing of suspects in custody and the intentional destruction of civilian food and livestock. It is clearly long past time for the world to act. 

“The OIC should support the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry into the totality of the situation in Rakhine State, including violence and human rights violations since 2012. We would like to urge the OIC to work with other countries to ensure that as long as human rights violations continue, the UN General Assembly Resolution on Burma will once again be tabled every year,” said BHRN Executive Director, Kyaw Win. 

We believe an impartial inquiry must be conducted from within the international community. We ask that the OIC and its member states offer their official support to the establishment of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into the events that have taken place in Northern Rakhine State since October 9th, 2016. We ask also that the OIC use its influence to help ensure that this Commission will be included in the next resolution on Burma at the Human Rights Council. 

While Aung San Suu Kyi established the Rakhine Advisory Commission chaired by Kofi Anan, its mandate focuses largely on poverty, assurance of basic rights and the promotion of ‘trust, harmony and reconciliation.” The existing commission does not have the mandate required by the situation in Northern Rakhine State to investigate what many believe may amount to Crimes Against Humanity by the Burmese Security Forces. Such a commission should assess the totality of the human rights violations against both Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine State since 2012, the Identity of the perpetrators, who the instigators of violence were, and a thorough assessment of which laws discriminate against the Rohingya.

Going forward it is difficult to see a peaceful resolution in Rakhine State but we believe an impartial independent investigation has the greatest chance of uncovering the truth, absolving the innocent, addressing grievances of marginalized communities and creating equitable conditions for those living in Rakhine State to move towards a more peaceful future. It is our hope that the OIC can wield its great power and influence to help initiate this process and help bring about transparency, equity and hope for those who’ve too long lived with none. 

Notes for Editors

Background on Current Situation:

On the 19th of January, 2017, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation held an emergency meeting to address the situation in Northern Rakhine State as reports of human rights abuses by Burmese Security forces continued to emerge and tens of thousands of Rohingya now displaced, homeless and without food or aid. 

Background on the Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN)

Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) works for human rights, minority rights and religious freedom in Burma. BHRN has played a crucial role advocating for human rights and religious freedom with politicians and world leaders.

Media Enquiries
Members of The Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) are available for comment and interview. 

Please contact:

Kyaw Win
Executive Director of the Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN)
T: +44(0) 740 345 2378

A Rohingya Muslim woman who says she was raped by Myanmar security forces speaks to BenarNews in Kutupalong camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Jan. 14, 2017. This photograph has been darkened to protect her identity. (Photo: Jesmin Papri/BenarNews)

By Jesmin Papri
January 21, 2017

One in three women interviewed by BenarNews this week in Bangladesh’s refugee camps for Rohingya Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar claimed they were raped by security forces before their escape.

A BenarNews correspondent, who spent four days visiting the camps in southeastern Cox’s Bazar district, reported that 17 of the 54 Rohingya women she interviewed said they were raped while Myanmar’s military launched a brutal crackdown in northern Rakhine state, after nine police officers were attacked and killed by an armed Rohingya insurgent group in October.

Numerous reports of rape and other atrocities had emerged since the post-attack crackdown, which led to some 65,000 Rohingya entering Bangladesh, but this is the first time that numbers were cited based on random surveys of the extent of sexual assaults on women.

Refugees who spoke to BenarNews also described a wide range of other abuses, including torching of their homes and animals, beatings, and killings of loved ones. 

The perpetrators, often operating at night, were members of the military or the Nadala, a uniformed paramilitary force, they said.

Setara Begum, 24, a refugee in Kutupalong camp, said security forces snatched her one night as she was eating dinner in Naisapro village, in Maungdaw district, and took her to some nearby hills where she and some other local women were “tortured by turns.”

“Failing to bear the barbaric torture, two women died there. I somehow managed to flee after being raped,” she told BenarNews.

“They stripped me, beat my breasts and body; then they did whatever they desired,” she said.

Her husband rescued her hours later. By that time, the security forces had burned their home, according to Begum. They hid in the hills for several days.

“I could not eat rice for 10 days; my three children survived eating leaves. Coming to Bangladesh, they can eat here,” said Begum, who crossed the border on Jan. 13.

‘Crude denial games’

Myanmar has come under international fire over the alleged mistreatment of the ethnic minority. On Thursday, representatives of 57 Muslim nations held an extraordinary meeting in Kuala Lumpur to focus on the humanitarian crisis gripping the Rohingya Muslim community.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak warned that Islamic extremists could use the plight of the Rohingya, who are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh by Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority population, as a way to radicalize the minority group, which is denied basic rights.

A commission appointed by the government of Myanmar has rejected accusations that its military was committing genocide in Rakhine villages, which have been closed to Western journalists and human rights investigators. 

But earlier this month, in a rare official acknowledgment of the security forces’ abuses, several police officers were detained over a video that appeared to show policemen beating Rohingya during a security operation.

The U.N. human rights envoy to Myanmar Yanghee Lee met privately in Naypyidaw Wednesday with de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi to discuss the violence in Rakhine state and reports of security forces committing the atrocities.

“Aung San Suu Kyi and her government apparently lack the political will to confront its security forces about their actions,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), calling for an independent, international investigation of the allegations of rights abuses in Rakhine.

HRW’s own investigations have uncovered that numerous women have suffered rape and sexual violence at the hands of the security forces, “yet the government continues its crude denial games rather than seriously investigating these grave rights abuses,” Robertson told BenarNews.

The 17 women who were said they were raped ranged in age from 16 to 31. They gave their full names to BenarNews.

‘They pushed me with guns’

Nur Jahan, 31, another refugee who spoke to BenarNews, said she was raped three weeks after soldiers took her husband from their home. He remains missing.

“On December 14 last year, two [military personnel] tightly caught me and the other raped me; thus all of the three violated me inside my room. I got unconscious; I do not know whether more people raped me,” said Jahan, from Naisapro Noarbil village in Maungdaw.

She said she reported her ordeal to a local leader when he visited the village; after he left, the military encircled her house. She went into hiding and fled to Bangladesh, where she said she received medical treatment. 

“My body got swollen due to their torture. I was admitted to the hospital as I could not bear the pain,” she said. 

Senoara Begum, 19, living in the Leda refugee camp, said she was heavily pregnant when she was raped. She cradled her baby, born after she arrived in Bangladesh, as she spoke.

“They pushed me with guns. I was pregnant for eight months at the time but they did not spare me, and bit my cheek,” she said. A human bite mark was visible on the left side of her face.

“They held [my husband] and took him away. Then they took me away to a room and raped me,” she said.

Many rape victims: UN worker

Officials and workers at non-governmental organization said it was difficult to track large numbers of new arrivals at the camps, but confirmed large numbers of rape reports.

“Generally it is true that raped women are coming every day. A lot of the raped women also don’t disclose rape issues, because of shame. But I can say the number of rapes is really huge,” Tayeb Ali, leader of the Kutupalong unregistered Rohingya camp, told BenarNews.

“Every day, new Rohingya are taking shelters in almost each of the houses of this unregistered Rohingya camp. Out of them, the number of raped women is huge. Along with old Rohingya, we are providing primary treatment to new Rohingya too,” said Samira Akter, with the medical NGO Bangladesh German Shompreeti (BGS) at Leda camp. 

Prior to the influx of Rohingya following the recent violence, about 35,000 refugees lived in two UN-registered refugee camps and 300,000 more in vast unregistered settlements immediately adjacent, where homes are constructed of bamboo and plastic and roughly 5,000 people have access to a single water source and latrine, as witnessed by a BenarNews correspondent.

“The number of new Rohingya only in this camp is more than thirty thousand. Out of them, a lot of women are rape victims. The nature of the torture on them is very cruel,” a worker with the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) in Noyapara Rohingya Camp told BenarNews on condition of anonymity. “There are also incidents of abortions and miscarriages due to the rape of pregnant women.”

Rohingya Exodus