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Rohingya Muslims suffer in Aung San Suu Kyi's Myanmar

Sufia Begum, a Rohingya who crossed over to Bangladesh from Myanmar's Rakhine state in November. AP

By Robbie Gamer 
February 8, 2017

It's a United Nations report that its officials themselves call revolting and unbearable. Myanmar's security forces killed, gang-raped, and tortured hundreds of Rohingya Muslims in a wave of unprecedented violence, according to a new UN report earlier released this month. Victims included children and babies as young as 8 months.

In recent months, Myanmar security forces stepped up their efforts to clear the ethnic group from the country's borders – in a campaign of "area clearance operations" – to historic levels in terms of scale and brutality.​

"The 'area clearance operations' have likely resulted in hundreds of deaths and have led to an estimated 66,000 people fleeing into Bangladesh and 22,000 being internally displaced," the new UN report says.

A UN human rights research team wrote the report after interviewing hundreds of Rohingya who Myanmar security forces drove to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Rohingya in the Kutapalong refugee camp in Bangladesh in January. More than 65,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar since October last year, after the Burmese army launched a campaign it calls "clearance operations".Allison Joyce

The UN human rights office called the accounts "revolting". Of the 101 women interviewed, over half told the UN team they had been sexually assaulted, raped, or gang-raped. One gang-rape victim was 11 years old. Another was nine months pregnant. The UN also received reports of Myanmar security forces killing children aged 6 and younger with knives.

"The devastating cruelty to which these Rohingya children have been subjected is unbearable," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement. "What kind of 'clearance operation' is this? What national security goals could possibly be served by this?" he added. In December, John McKissick, head of the UN High Commission for Refugees, labelled the operations, which first started in October, "ethnic cleansing."

Military backed

The Rohingya, numbering 1.1 million people in the country's western Rakhine state, are loathed by the rest of the population and live in apartheid conditions. They've been called "the most persecuted minority in the world".

Despite its brutality, the military's campaign against the Rohingya is widely popular in Myanmar. The military claims it is fighting a Rohingya rebel insurgency, which restored the military's popularity in the public's eye.

A Rohingya woman feeds her one-month-old baby at an internal displacement camp in Sittwe, Myanmar. Getty Images

Myanmar's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, a recipient of the Nobel peace prize, is facing increasing international criticism for ignoring the plight of Myanmar's Muslim population – though it's unclear how much authority she has over the military.

She refused UN requests to gain full access to its Rakhine state, where most of the violence reportedly took place. After the report's release last Friday, Ms Suu Kyi vowed to launch an investigation into the crimes and "take all necessary action" against abusers.

On Sunday, one of the country's top legal advisers and a prominent member of Myanmar's minority Muslim community, Ko Ni, was shot dead after speaking out about atrocities against the Rohingya. At the time he was shot, Ko Ni was holding his grandson.

UNHCR: "The devastating cruelty to which these Rohingya children have been subjected is unbearable." AP

Robbie Gamer is associate director of the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Brent Scowcroft Centre on International Security

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