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Rohingya families arrive at a UNHCR transit centre near the village of Anjuman Para, Cox’s Bazar, south-east Bangladesh after spending four days stranded at the Myanmar border with some 6,800 refugees. (Photo: UNHCR/Roger Arnold)

By UN News
May 11, 2018

Late last year, as violent repression in Myanmar sent Rohingyas fleeing to safety in Bangladesh, women from the mainly Muslim minority were subjected to what a United Nations official called “a frenzy of sexual violence”.

Now, a surge in births among these women is imminent, according to aid officials working in the vast refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar region. And in possibly thousands of cases, aid workers believe, the pregnancies resulted from rape — a source of silent anguish among the mothers and likely stigma for the newborns.

With the monsoon season fast approaching in Bangladesh, United Nations agencies and their partners are struggling to protect nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees from disaster and disease. Providing proper medical care in the camps is a severe challenge at best, and one made more difficult by the wrenching legacy of sexual violence.

The displaced population includes an estimated 40,000 pregnant women, UN officials estimate, many of whom are expected to give birth in coming weeks. An unknown but significant share of these pregnancies, aid officials believe, resulted from rapes committed by members of the Myanmar army and allied militants.

Pregnancies resulting from “what we believe could have been a frenzy of sexual violence in August and September last year could come to term very soon”, Andrew Gilmour, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, told UN News. “So, we are expecting a surge of births.”

In March, Mr. Gilmour travelled to Cox’s Bazar on Bangladesh’s south-east coast, where the refugees have settled in camps and makeshift clearings after escaping violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Pregnant women fear stigma

Fearing stigma, sometimes feeling depressed or shamed, pregnant refugee women are often reluctant to admit that they were raped, according to medical and aid workers in the camp. But these workers, from non-governmental groups, told Mr. Gilmour that “they can just see from the faces of the girls who are pregnant that something terrible happened”, he reported.

“And there is no joy whatsoever,” he said, “and nor is there any talk of a husband, either back home or with them in the camps.”

While more than 200,000 were already living in neighbouring Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands more fled across the border since last August as violence spiralled in northern Rakhine state.

Rohingya homes were looted, villages razed and civilians killed in what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said appeared to be: “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. As in many past and current conflicts, women and girls were priority targets.

Women 'profoundly traumatized'

The latest UN report on conflict-related sexual violence, issued in March, charged that members of the Myanmar Armed Forces, at times acting jointly with local militias, used rape, gang rape, forced public nudity and other sexual attacks as part of a strategy to drive the Rohingya from their homes.

Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, flew to Bangladesh in November to meet with refugees. All the Rohingya women and girls that she spoke to, she said, reported either enduring sexual violence or witnessing it.

“I met a number of profoundly traumatized women who related how their daughters were allegedly raped inside their home and left to perish when the houses were torched,” Ms. Patten told the Security Council.

“Some witnesses reported women and girls being tied to either a rock or a tree before multiple soldiers literally raped them to death,” she said. “Many reported having witnessed family members, friends and neighbours being slaughtered in front of them. The two words that echoed across every account I heard were ‘slaughter’ and ‘rape’.”

Ms. Patten had dispatched an expert team ahead of her visit, comprising representatives of a UN inter-agency network that advocates for ending conflict-related sexual violence and supporting survivors.

Her Chief of Staff, Tonderai Chikuhwa, who headed that mission, said it was among the most shocking he has experienced. With a continuing influx of desperate refugees, he recalled, the trauma was “so visceral, so raw, so immediate”.

Sexual violence in conflict, such as rape as a weapon of war, is “the most underreported human rights violation”, Mr. Chikuhwa said in an interview with UN News.

The cycle of sexual violence and stigma is a repeating one in conflicts around the world, and even has intergeneration impacts, he said.

In Bosnia, he noted, Ms. Patten met with survivors of wartime sexual violence that occurred 20 years before. The grown children of those survivors still suffered from the stigma of their origins, leaving some of them to “live on the margins of society”, he said.

In Bangladesh, Mr. Chikuhwa said, there are now fears that women and children in the camps could fall victim to traffickers. That’s one of the major concerns that Ms. Patten is looking into during a follow-up mission to Cox’s Bazar this week, he noted.

Monsoon rains inflict further hardship

Although the monsoon season in Bangladesh does not officially start until June, heavy rains and winds earlier this month had Rohingya children scuttling to the roofs of their family shelters to keep the plastic sheeting from blowing away.

And while Bangladesh has been praised for its support for the refugees, conditions in Cox’s Bazar remain challenging due to the sheer number of people crammed into what is now the world’s largest refugee camp.

Mr. Gilmour fears monsoon conditions could inflict further hardship on Rohingya women who have already suffered immensely and who now lack access to adequate medical services as they approach childbirth.

“It will be even harder for them when the rains prevent access because there will be serious flooding, we fear,” he said. “There may be landslides, there may be a cholera outbreak, there may be many things that will make it even harder for the girls to get the medical attention they so desperately need,” he said.

Women and girls who have been raped also need to see that justice is served.

Though difficult to achieve, it is not impossible, as proven by the 2016 conviction of former Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba for crimes committed by forces under his command in the Central African Republic.

The UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, as well as UN tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, have also prosecuted sexual violence cases.

Mr. Gilmour said the Rohingya refugees, themselves, have made accountability a pre-condition for returning to Myanmar.

“Obviously, they don’t want to go back if they feel that the soldiers who may have raped them, killed their relatives, burned their houses, are going around with impunity and liable to do something similar again,” he said.

“But on top of that, in a more general sense, it is vital that there is accountability,” he said, “to send a message to other people who might be tempted to carry out such horrific crimes in the future.”

Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel as members of the Myanmar security forces stand guard in Inn Din village September 2, 2017. REUTERS

By Wa Lone, Kyaw Soe Oo, Simon Lewis, Antoni Slodkowski 
February 8, 2018

INN DIN, Myanmar -- Bound together, the 10 Rohingya Muslim captives watched their Buddhist neighbors dig a shallow grave. Soon afterwards, on the morning of Sept. 2, all 10 lay dead. At least two were hacked to death by Buddhist villagers. The rest were shot by Myanmar troops, two of the gravediggers said.

“One grave for 10 people,” said Soe Chay, 55, a retired soldier from Inn Din’s Rakhine Buddhist community who said he helped dig the pit and saw the killings. The soldiers shot each man two or three times, he said. “When they were being buried, some were still making noises. Others were already dead.” 

The killings in the coastal village of Inn Din marked another bloody episode in the ethnic violence sweeping northern Rakhine state, on Myanmar’s western fringe. Nearly 690,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled their villages and crossed the border into Bangladesh since August. None of Inn Din’s 6,000 Rohingya remained in the village as of October. 

The Rohingya accuse the army of arson, rapes and killings aimed at rubbing them out of existence in this mainly Buddhist nation of 53 million. The United Nations has said the army may have committed genocide; the United States has called the action ethnic cleansing. Myanmar says its “clearance operation” is a legitimate response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents. 

Rohingya trace their presence in Rakhine back centuries. But most Burmese consider them to be unwanted immigrants from Bangladesh; the army refers to the Rohingya as “Bengalis.” In recent years, sectarian tensions have risen and the government has confined more than 100,000 Rohingya in camps where they have limited access to food, medicine and education. 

Reuters has pieced together what happened in Inn Din in the days leading up to the killing of the 10 Rohingya – eight men and two high school students in their late teens. 

Until now, accounts of the violence against the Rohingya in Rakhine state have been provided only by its victims. The Reuters reconstruction draws for the first time on interviews with Buddhist villagers who confessed to torching Rohingya homes, burying bodies and killing Muslims. 

This account also marks the first time soldiers and paramilitary police have been implicated by testimony from security personnel themselves. Members of the paramilitary police gave Reuters insider descriptions of the operation to drive out the Rohingya from Inn Din, confirming that the military played the lead role in the campaign. 

Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel in Inn Din village September 1, 2017. REUTERS


The slain men’s families, now sheltering in Bangladesh refugee camps, identified the victims through photographs shown to them by Reuters. The dead men were fishermen, shopkeepers, the two teenage students and an Islamic teacher. 

Three photographs, provided to Reuters by a Buddhist village elder, capture key moments in the massacre at Inn Din, from the Rohingya men’s detention by soldiers in the early evening of Sept. 1 to their execution shortly after 10 a.m. on Sept. 2. Two photos – one taken the first day, the other on the day of the killings – show the 10 captives lined up in a row, kneeling. The final photograph shows the men’s bloodied bodies piled in the shallow grave. 

The Reuters investigation of the Inn Din massacre was what prompted Myanmar police authorities to arrest two of the news agency’s reporters. The reporters, Burmese citizens Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were detained on Dec. 12 for allegedly obtaining confidential documents relating to Rakhine. 

Then, on Jan. 10, the military issued a statement that confirmed portions of what Wa Lone, Kyaw Soe Oo and their colleagues were preparing to report, acknowledging that 10 Rohingya men were massacred in the village. It confirmed that Buddhist villagers attacked some of the men with swords and soldiers shot the others dead. 

The statement coincided with an application to the court by prosecutors to charge Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act, which dates back to the time of colonial British rule. The charges carry a maximum 14-year prison sentence. 

But the military’s version of events is contradicted in important respects by accounts given to Reuters by Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim witnesses. The military said the 10 men belonged to a group of 200 “terrorists” that attacked security forces. Soldiers decided to kill the men, the army said, because intense fighting in the area made it impossible to transfer them to police custody. The army said it would take action against those involved. 

Buddhist villagers interviewed for this article reported no attack by a large number of insurgents on security forces in Inn Din. And Rohingya witnesses told Reuters that soldiers plucked the 10 from among hundreds of men, women and children who had sought safety on a nearby beach. 

Scores of interviews with Rakhine Buddhist villagers, soldiers, paramilitary police, Rohingya Muslims and local administrators further revealed: 

- The military and paramilitary police organized Buddhist residents of Inn Din and at least two other villages to torch Rohingya homes, more than a dozen Buddhist villagers said. Eleven Buddhist villagers said Buddhists committed acts of violence, including killings. The government and army have repeatedly blamed Rohingya insurgents for burning villages and homes. 

- An order to “clear” Inn Din’s Rohingya hamlets was passed down the command chain from the military, said three paramilitary police officers speaking on condition of anonymity and a fourth police officer at an intelligence unit in the regional capital Sittwe. Security forces wore civilian clothes to avoid detection during raids, one of the paramilitary police officers said. 

- Some members of the paramilitary police looted Rohingya property, including cows and motorcycles, in order to sell it, according to village administrator Maung Thein Chay and one of the paramilitary police officers. 

- Operations in Inn Din were led by the army’s 33rd Light Infantry Division, supported by the paramilitary 8th Security Police Battalion, according to four police officers, all of them members of the battalion. 


Michael G. Karnavas, a U.S. lawyer based in The Hague who has worked on cases at international criminal tribunals, said evidence that the military had organized Buddhist civilians to commit violence against Rohingya “would be the closest thing to a smoking gun in establishing not just intent, but even specific genocidal intent, since the attacks seem designed to destroy the Rohingya or at least a significant part of them.” 

Evidence of the execution of men in government custody also could be used to build a case of crimes against humanity against military commanders, Karnavas said, if it could be shown that it was part of a “widespread or systematic” campaign targeting the Rohingya population. 

Kevin Jon Heller, a University of London law professor who served as a legal associate for convicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, said an order to clear villages by military command was “unequivocally the crime against humanity of forcible transfer.” 

In December, the United States imposed sanctions on the army officer who had been in charge of Western Command troops in Rakhine, Major General Maung Maung Soe. So far, however, Myanmar has not faced international sanctions over the violence. 

Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has disappointed many former supporters in the West by not speaking out against the army’s actions. They had hoped the election of her National League for Democracy party in 2015 would bring democratic reform and an opening of the country. Instead, critics say, Suu Kyi is in thrall to the generals who freed her from house arrest in 2010. 

Asked about the evidence Reuters has uncovered about the massacre, government spokesman Zaw Htay said, “We are not denying the allegations about violations of human rights. And we are not giving blanket denials.” If there was “strong and reliable primary evidence” of abuses, the government would investigate, he said. “And then if we found the evidence is true and the violations are there, we will take the necessary action according to our existing law.” 

When told that paramilitary police officers had said they received orders to “clear” Inn Din’s Rohingya hamlets, he replied, “We have to verify. We have to ask the Ministry of Home Affairs and Myanmar police forces.” Asked about the allegations of looting by paramilitary police officers, he said the police would investigate. 

He expressed surprise when told that Buddhist villagers had confessed to burning Rohingya homes, then added, “We recognize that many, many different allegations are there, but we need to verify who did it. It is very difficult in the current situation.” 

Zaw Htay defended the military operation in Rakhine. “The international community needs to understand who did the first terrorist attacks. If that kind of terrorist attack took place in European countries, in the United States, in London, New York, Washington, what would the media say?” 


Inn Din lies between the Mayu mountain range and the Bay of Bengal, about 50 km (30 miles) north of Rakhine’s state capital Sittwe. The settlement is made up of a scattering of hamlets around a school, clinic and Buddhist monastery. Buddhist homes cluster in the northern part of the village. For many years there had been tensions between the Buddhists and their Muslim neighbors, who accounted for almost 90 percent of the roughly 7,000 people in the village. But the two communities had managed to co-exist, fishing the coastal waters and cultivating rice in the paddies. 

In October 2016, Rohingya militants attacked three police posts in northern Rakhine – the beginning of a new insurgency. After the attacks, Rohingya in Inn Din said many Buddhists stopped hiring them as farmhands and home help. The Buddhists said the Rohingya stopped showing up for work. 

On Aug. 25 last year, the rebels struck again, hitting 30 police posts and an army base. The closest attack was just 4 km to the north. In Inn Din, several hundred fearful Buddhists took refuge in the monastery in the center of the village, more than a dozen of their number said. Inn Din’s Buddhist night watchman San Thein, 36, said Buddhist villagers feared being “swallowed up” by their Muslim neighbors. A Buddhist elder said all Rohingya, “including children,” were part of the insurgency and therefore “terrorists.” 

On Aug. 27, about 80 troops from Myanmar’s 33rd Light Infantry Division arrived in Inn Din, nine Buddhist villagers said. Two paramilitary police officers and Soe Chay, the retired soldier, said the troops belonged to the 11th infantry regiment of this division. The army officer in charge told villagers they must cook for the soldiers and act as lookouts at night, Soe Chay said. The officer promised his troops would protect Buddhist villagers from their Rohingya neighbors. Five Buddhist villagers said the officer told them they could volunteer to join security operations. Young volunteers would need their parents’ permission to join the troops, however. 

The army found willing participants among Inn Din’s Buddhist “security group,” nine members of the organization and two other villagers said. This informal militia was formed after violence broke out in 2012 between Rakhine’s Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, sparked by reports of the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by three Muslim men. Myanmar media reported at the time that the three were sentenced to death by a district court. 

Inn Din’s security group built watch huts around the Buddhist part of the village, and its members took turns to stand guard. Its ranks included Buddhist firefighters, school teachers, students and unemployed young men. They were useful to the military because they knew the local geography, said Inn Din’s Buddhist administrator, Maung Thein Chay. 

Most of the group’s 80 to 100 men armed themselves with machetes and sticks. They also had a handful of guns, according to one member. Some wore green fatigue-style clothing they called “militia suits.” 


In the days that followed the 33rd Light Infantry’s arrival, soldiers, police and Buddhist villagers burned most of the homes of Inn Din’s Rohingya Muslims, a dozen Buddhist residents said. 

Two of the paramilitary police officers, both members of the 8th Security Police Battalion, said their battalion raided Rohingya hamlets with soldiers from the newly arrived 33rd Light Infantry. One of the police officers said he received verbal orders from his commander to “go and clear” areas where Rohingya lived, which he took to mean to burn them. 

The second police officer described taking part in several raids on villages north of Inn Din. The raids involved at least 20 soldiers and between five and seven police, he said. A military captain or major led the soldiers, while a police captain oversaw the police team. The purpose of the raids was to deter the Rohingya from returning. 

“If they have a place to live, if they have food to eat, they can carry out more attacks,” he said. “That’s why we burned their houses, mainly for security reasons.” 

Soldiers and paramilitary police wore civilian shirts and shorts to blend in with the villagers, according to the second police officer and Inn Din’s Buddhist administrator, Maung Thein Chay. If the media identified the involvement of security personnel, the police officer explained, “we would have very big problems.” 

A police spokesman, Colonel Myo Thu Soe, said he knew of no instances of security forces torching villages or wearing civilian clothing. Nor was there any order to “go and clear” or “set fire” to villages. “This is very much impossible,” he told Reuters. “If there are things like that, it should be reported officially, and it has to be investigated officially.” 

“As you’ve told me about these matters now, we will scrutinize and check back,” he added. “What I want to say for now is that as for the security forces, there are orders and instructions and step-by-step management, and they have to follow them. So, I don’t think these things happened.” 

The army did not respond to a request for comment. 

A medical assistant at the Inn Din village clinic, Aung Myat Tun, 20, said he took part in several raids. “Muslim houses were easy to burn because of the thatched roofs. You just light the edge of the roof,” he said. “The village elders put monks’ robes on the end of sticks to make the torches and soaked them with kerosene. We couldn’t bring phones. The police said they will shoot and kill us if they see any of us taking photos.”

The night watchman San Thein, a leading member of the village security group, said troops first swept through the Muslim hamlets. Then, he said, the military sent in Buddhist villagers to burn the houses. 

“We got the kerosene for free from the village market after the kalars ran away,” he said, using a Burmese slur for people from South Asia. 

A Rakhine Buddhist youth said he thought he heard the sound of a child inside one Rohingya home that was burned. A second villager said he participated in burning a Rohingya home that was occupied. 


Soe Chay, the retired soldier who was to dig the grave for the 10 Rohingya men, said he participated in one killing. He told Reuters that troops discovered three Rohingya men and a woman hiding beside a haystack in Inn Din on Aug. 28. One of the men had a smartphone that could be used to take incriminating pictures. 

The soldiers told Soe Chay to “do whatever you want to them,” he said. They pointed out the man with the phone and told him to stand up. “I started hacking him with a sword, and a soldier shot him when he fell down.” 

Similar violence was playing out across a large part of northern Rakhine, dozens of Buddhist and Rohingya residents said. 

Data from the U.N. Operational Satellite Applications Programme shows scores of Rohingya villages in Rakhine state burned in an area stretching 110 km. New York-based Human Rights Watch says more than 350 villages were torched over the three months from Aug. 25, according to an analysis of satellite imagery. 

In the village of Laungdon, some 65 km north of Inn Din, Thar Nge, 38, said he was asked by police and local officials to join a Buddhist security group. “The army invited us to burn the kalar village at Hpaw Ti Kaung,” he said, adding that four villagers and nearly 20 soldiers and police were involved in the operation. “Police shot inside the village so all the villagers fled and then we set fire to it. Their village was burned because police believed the villagers supported Rohingya militants – that’s why they cleaned it with fire.” 

A Buddhist student from Ta Man Tha village, 15 km north of Laungdon, said he too participated in the burning of Rohingya homes. An army officer sought 30 volunteers to burn “kalar” villages, said the student. Nearly 50 volunteered and gathered fuel from motorbikes and from a market. 

“They separated us into several groups. We were not allowed to enter the village directly. We had to surround it and approach the village that way. The army would shoot gunfire ahead of us and then the army asked us to enter,” he said. 

After the Rohingya had fled Inn Din, Buddhist villagers took their property, including chickens and goats, Buddhist residents told Reuters. But the most valuable goods, mostly motorcycles and cattle, were collected by members of the 8th Security Police Battalion and sold, said the first police officer and Inn Din village administrator Maung Thein Chay. Maung Thein Chay said the commander of the 8th Battalion, Thant Zin Oo, struck a deal with Buddhist businessmen from other parts of Rakhine state and sold them cattle. The police officer said he had stolen four cows from Rohingya villagers, only for Thant Zin Oo to snatch them away. 

Reached by phone, Thant Zin Oo did not comment. Colonel Myo Thu Soe, the police spokesman, said the police would investigate the allegations of looting. 


By Sept. 1, several hundred Rohingya from Inn Din were sheltering at a makeshift camp on a nearby beach. They erected tarpaulin shelters to shield themselves from heavy rain. 

Among this group were the 10 Rohingya men who would be killed the next morning. Reuters has identified all of the 10 by speaking to witnesses among Inn Din’s Buddhist community and Rohingya relatives and witnesses tracked down in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Five of the men, Dil Mohammed, 35, Nur Mohammed, 29, Shoket Ullah, 35, Habizu, 40, and Shaker Ahmed, 45, were fishermen or fish sellers. The wealthiest of the group, Abul Hashim, 25, ran a store selling nets and machine parts to fishermen and farmers. Abdul Majid, a 45-year-old father of eight, ran a small shop selling areca nut wrapped in betel leaves, commonly chewed like tobacco. Abulu, 17, and Rashid Ahmed, 18, were high school students. Abdul Malik, 30, was an Islamic teacher. 

According to the statement released by the army on Jan. 10, security forces had gone to a coastal area where they “were attacked by about 200 Bengalis with sticks and swords.” The statement said that “as the security forces opened fire into the sky, the Bengalis dispersed and ran away. Ten of them were arrested.” 

Three Buddhist and more than a dozen Rohingya witnesses contradict this version of events. Their accounts differ from one another in some details. The Buddhists spoke of a confrontation between a small group of Rohingya men and some soldiers near the beach. But there is unanimity on a crucial point: None said the military had come under a large-scale attack in Inn Din. 

Government spokesman Zaw Htay referred Reuters to the army’s statement of Jan. 10 and declined to elaborate further. The army did not respond to a request for comment. 

The Rohingya witnesses, who were on or near the beach, said Islamic teacher Abdul Malik had gone back to his hamlet with his sons to collect food and bamboo for shelter. When he returned, a group of at least seven soldiers and armed Buddhist villagers were following him, these witnesses said. Abdul Malik walked towards the watching Rohingya Muslims unsteadily, with blood dripping from his head. Some witnesses said they had seen one of the armed men strike the back of Abdul Malik’s head with a knife. 

Then the military beckoned with their guns to the crowd of roughly 300 Rohingya to assemble in the paddies, these witnesses said. The soldiers and the Rohingya, hailing from different parts of Myanmar, spoke different languages. Educated villagers translated for their fellow Rohingya. 

“I could not hear much, but they pointed toward my husband and some other men to get up and come forward,” said Rehana Khatun, 22, the wife of Nur Mohammed, one of the 10 who were later slain. “We heard they wanted the men for a meeting. The military asked the rest of us to return to the beach.” 


Soldiers held and questioned the 10 men in a building at Inn Din’s school for a night, the military said. Rashid Ahmed and Abulu had studied there alongside Rakhine Buddhist students until the attacks by Rohingya rebels in October 2016. Schools were shut temporarily, disrupting the pair’s final year. 

“I just remember him sitting there and studying, and it was always amazing to me because I am not educated,” said Rashid Ahmed’s father, farmer Abdu Shakur, 50. “I would look at him reading. He would be the first one in the family to be educated.” 

A photograph, taken on the evening the men were detained, shows the two Rohingya students and the eight older men kneeling on a path beside the village clinic, most of them shirtless. They were stripped when first detained, a dozen Rohingya witnesses said. It isn’t clear why. That evening, Buddhist villagers said, the men were “treated” to a last meal of beef. They were provided with fresh clothing. 

On Sept. 2, the men were taken to scrubland north of the village, near a graveyard for Buddhist residents, six Buddhist villagers said. The spot is backed by a hill crested with trees. There, on their knees, the 10 were photographed again and questioned by security personnel about the disappearance of a local Buddhist farmer named Maung Ni, according to a Rakhine elder who said he witnessed the interrogation. 

Reuters was not able to establish what happened to Maung Ni. According to Buddhist neighbors, the farmer went missing after leaving home early on Aug. 25 to tend his cattle. Several Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya villagers told Reuters they believed he had been killed, but they knew of no evidence connecting any of the 10 men to his disappearance. The army said in its Jan. 10 statement that “Bengali terrorists” had killed Maung Ni, but did not identify the perpetrators. 

Two of the men pictured behind the Rohingya prisoners in the photograph taken on the morning of Sept. 2 belong to the 8th Security Police Battalion. Reuters confirmed the identities of the two men from their Facebook pages and by visiting them in person. 

One of the two officers, Aung Min, a police recruit from Yangon, stands directly behind the captives. He looks at the camera as he holds a weapon. The other officer, police Captain Moe Yan Naing, is the figure on the top right. He walks with his rifle over his shoulder. 

The day after the two Reuters reporters were arrested in December, Myanmar’s government also announced that Moe Yan Naing had been arrested and was being investigated under the 1923 Official Secrets Act. 

Aung Min, who is not facing legal action, declined to speak to Reuters. 


Three Buddhist youths said they watched from a hut as the 10 Rohingya captives were led up a hill by soldiers towards the site of their deaths. 

One of the gravediggers, retired soldier Soe Chay, said Maung Ni’s sons were invited by the army officer in charge of the squad to strike the first blows. 

The first son beheaded the Islamic teacher, Abdul Malik, according to Soe Chay. The second son hacked another of the men in the neck. 

“After the brothers sliced them both with swords, the squad fired with guns. Two to three shots to one person,” said Soe Chay. A second gravedigger, who declined to be identified, confirmed that soldiers had shot some of the men. 

In its Jan. 10 statement, the military said the two brothers and a third villager had “cut the Bengali terrorists” with swords and then, in the chaos, four members of the security forces had shot the captives. “Action will be taken against the villagers who participated in the case and the members of security forces who broke the Rules of Engagement under the law,” the statement said. It didn’t spell out those rules. 

Tun Aye, one of the sons of Maung Ni, has been detained on murder charges, his lawyer said on Jan. 13. Contacted by Reuters on Feb. 8, the lawyer declined to comment further. Reuters was unable to reach the other brother. 

In October, Inn Din locals pointed two Reuters reporters towards an area of brush behind the hill where they said the killings took place. The reporters discovered a newly cut trail leading to soft, recently disturbed earth littered with bones. Some of the bones were entangled with scraps of clothing and string that appeared to match the cord that is seen binding the captives’ wrists in the photographs. The immediate area was marked by the smell of death. 

Reuters showed photographs of the site to three forensic experts: Homer Venters, director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights; Derrick Pounder, a pathologist who has consulted for Amnesty International and the United Nations; and Luis Fondebrider, president of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, who investigated the graves of those killed under Argentina’s military junta in the 1970s and 1980s. All observed human remains, including the thoracic part of a spinal column, ribs, scapula, femur and tibia. Pounder said he couldn’t rule out the presence of animal bones as well.

The Rakhine Buddhist elder provided Reuters reporters with a photograph which shows the aftermath of the execution. In it, the 10 Rohingya men are wearing the same clothing as in the previous photo and are tied to each other with the same yellow cord, piled into a small hole in the earth, blood pooling around them. Abdul Malik, the Islamic teacher, appears to have been beheaded. Abulu, the student, has a gaping wound in his neck. Both injuries appear consistent with Soe Chay’s account. 

Forensic pathologist Fondebrider reviewed this picture. He said injuries visible on two of the bodies were consistent with “the action of a machete or something sharp that was applied on the throat.” 

Some family members did not know for sure that the men had been killed until Reuters returned to their shelters in Bangladesh in January. 

“I can’t explain what I feel inside. My husband is dead,” said Rehana Khatun, wife of Nur Mohammed. “My husband is gone forever. I don’t want anything else, but I want justice for his death.” 

In Inn Din, the Buddhist elder explained why he chose to share evidence of the killings with Reuters. “I want to be transparent on this case. I don’t want it to happen like that in future.” 

(GRAPHIC - Burned to the ground:

(GRAPHIC - Massacre in Myanmar:

Reporting by Wa Lone, Kyaw Soe Oo, Simon Lewis and Antoni Slodkowski; editing by Janet McBride, Martin Howell and Alex Richardson.

In this Friday Nov. 24, 2017, photo, Mohammadul Hassan, 18, is photographed in his family’s tent in Jamtoli refugee camp in Bangladesh. Hassan still bears the scars on his chest and back from being shot by soldiers who attempted to execute him. More than 650,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar since August, and many have brought with them stories of atrocities committed by security forces in Myanmar, including an Aug. 27 army massacre that reportedly took place in the village of Maung Nu. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

By Todd Pitman 
December 21, 2017

UKHIA, Bangladesh — For six hours he hid in an upstairs room, listening to the crackle of gunfire and the screams of people being slaughtered outside his Myanmar home.

With every footstep that drew near, every cry that pierced the air, 52-year-old Bodru Duza braced for the soldiers to find him, to kill him like all the others who had fled to his compound that morning seeking a safe place to shelter. They were being blindfolded and bound, marched away in small groups, then butchered and shot as they begged for their lives.

What had started out as a quiet Sunday in northwestern Myanmar had spiraled into an incomprehensible hell — one of the bloodiest massacres reported in the Southeast Asian nation since government forces launched a vicious campaign to drive out the country’s Rohingya minority in late August.

By the time it was over, there was so much blood on the ground, it had pooled into long rivulets across the uneven earth, among bits of human flesh and the fragments of shattered skulls.

When Duza finally dared to emerge from his hiding place, he wondered how anyone could have survived.

The compound he grew up in was now consumed by an ethereal silence. His wife, daughter, and five young sons were nowhere to be seen. And as he crept toward a backdoor to escape, he stumbled upon the corpse of an unknown boy sprawled on the floor.

“Oh Allah!” he thought. “What have they done to us? What have they done to my family?”

Duza’s family belonged to the ethnic Rohingya Muslim community, which has long been persecuted and denied basic rights in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. They lived in the village of Maung Nu, where at least 82 Rohingya are believed to have been murdered on Aug. 27.

The massacre was part of a streak of violence that started before dawn two days earlier, when Rohingya insurgents staged an unprecedented wave of 30 attacks on security posts across Rakhine state. At least 14 people were killed.

The assaults triggered one of the greatest catastrophes the Rohingya have ever known: an army counter-offensive that has left hundreds of villages burned and driven 650,000 refugees into Bangladesh. The aid group Doctors Without Borders estimates 6,700 Rohingya civilians were killed in the first month of reprisals alone, and human rights groups have documented three large-scale massacres.

The Associated Press has reconstructed the massacre at Maung Nu as told by 37 survivors now scattered across refugee camps in Bangladesh. Their testimony and exclusive video footage from the massacre site obtained by AP offer evidence, also documented by the United Nations and others, that Myanmar armed forces have systematically killed civilians.

Myanmar’s military did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story, and the government — which prohibits journalists from independent travel to northern Rakhine State — did not reply to an AP request for a visit. The army has insisted in the past that not a single innocent has been slain.

For as long as anyone could remember, there was only one place in Maung Nu that was truly considered safe. It was a large two-story residence shared by two of the village’s most prominent businessmen — Duza and his brother Zahid Hossain.

Built on a hillside more than half a century ago, the vast home was known for its three-foot-thick walls of hardened mud, which many believed to be bullet-proof and virtually impossible to burn. That mattered in Rakhine state, where the Rohingya population lived in fear of both the military and the area’s ethnic Rakhine Buddhists. Although the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for decades, they are still seen as foreign invaders from Bangladesh who are intent on stealing land.

Despite the tensions, Hossain worked extensively with local army commanders, trading cows and rice and jointly operating a brick-making factory. Both brothers were charismatic, educated and popular. Duza, an affable man who was well-known throughout the area, had previously served as village administrator for 12 years. Many people assumed that neither he nor his compound would be harmed.

After insurgents launched their first attacks a year ago, the government had imposed strict new measures aimed at curbing militant activity. Islamic schools were closed, a curfew was put in place, and authorities ordered the removal of fences and even shrubbery so security forces could see inside private compounds.

But Maung Nu, a village of about 2,000 people also known as Monu Para, remained peaceful. Duza and his brother counted their blessings. They were among the village’s wealthiest men. They owned scores of cows and buffalo, and vast acres of rice.

Soon, it would all be gone.

A few hours after midnight on Aug. 25, fierce volleys of gunfire woke the residents of Maung Nu. Rohingya militants had launched a surprise assault on a Border Guard Police post in Hpaung Taw Pyin, less than a kilometer (a mile) to the north.

The fighting lasted until dawn. According to the government, two officers and at least six of the assailants died.

That morning a commander from the army’s Light Infantry Battalion 564, based just south of Maung Nu, called the local district administrator, Mohamed Arof, furious.

“Why didn’t you tell us about these attacks?” the commander demanded.

“I didn’t know anything about it,” replied Arof, a Rohingya. “I only heard the shooting, like you.”

The same day, police snatched Arof’s 15-year-old son from a rice paddy and took him to their camp, where he was hung with a rope along with three other teenagers, according to Arof and several witnesses. It’s unclear why the teens were killed, but word of their deaths spread quickly.

Fearing more reprisals from security forces, most of Hpaung Taw Pyin’s residents fled. Hundreds of them walked to the homes of friends and relatives in Maung Nu, in the hope they would be safe there.

And for a day, they were.

On Aug. 27, bursts of gunfire echoed across Maung Nu again. This time only the army was shooting.

Several military trucks parked on the village’s main road around 9 a.m. and began disgorging troops who fanned out on foot, firing into the air. Peering out a window of her home, 35-year-old Jamila Begum spotted several armed soldiers crossing her yard carrying coils of nylon rope.

Jamila Begum, 35, cries when talking about how members of Myanmar’s armed forces killed her son and husband.

Hundreds of people were already on the move, seeking the closest refuge — the hillside compound of Duza and Hossain, which included half a dozen other homes belonging to their relatives and a large rectangular pond. Begum’s family joined them.

Other residents were being rounded up by force and ordered to head to the compound. Some cowered inside their homes, wondering what to do. One of them, 18-year-old Mohammadul Hassan, put a woman’s veil over his face when troops burst through the front door of his home, guns drawn.

Hassan immediately recognized one of the soldiers — a skinny army staff sergeant named Baju who was well-known in the village. A member of the 564th Battalion, Baju had lived in the area for 15 years and spoke the Rohingya dialect, according to numerous villagers. Duza said Baju was also a frequent visitor to his home.

When the soldiers discovered Hassan hiding among several female relatives, they became enraged. He was dragged outside along with two of his brothers, shoved to the ground and kicked until blood poured from his left eye.

As troops ripped clothes off the women and seized their valuables, the three brothers were stripped and tied up. The soldiers marched them to Duza’s compound naked, at gunpoint, the sunbaked dirt road burning their bare feet.


Duza had never seen people so scared.

As the number of Rohingya hiding on his property rose into the hundreds, his wife, a warm woman with an easy smile named Habiba, turned to him and asked, “What’s happening? What’s going on?”

The answer came when dozens of helmeted soldiers in olive green uniforms arrived around 11 a.m., accompanied by several border guard police.

Their entrance set off a new panic. A few men in Duza’s house locked the main wooden doors and climbed the stairs to a balcony, where most of the males already had gathered.

Before joining them, Duza pulled Habiba aside.

“Please take care of our daughter and our sons.”

So many people were crammed into their house by then, though, that Habiba soon lost track of all but one child.

Outside, a soldier’s voice rose above the others. It was Baju, and he was calling on everyone to come out, assuring them they would not be harmed. As the minutes passed and nobody emerged, the calls turned menacing, and the sergeant threatened to burn the compound to the ground.

Several bursts of gunfire rang out and a young boy was struck in the forehead. The women recoiled in horror as he lay motionless before them, the back of his skull blown apart.

Seconds later, soldiers broke down the doors and began dragging people out, separating the men from the women.

Mothers and elderly women were ordered onto their knees. Some tried to push back when troops ripped off their headscarves and tore at their clothes. The soldiers first demanded their cell phones, then grabbed at exposed breasts as they snatched gold earrings, necklaces and wads of cash.

About 20 or 25 of the women — mostly attractive and young — were taken away. They were never seen again. The rest eventually were driven, along with their children, into a pair of houses on the property.

The soldiers bound the men’s hands behind their backs and ordered them into the dirt courtyard in front of the house, where they were forced face down onto the stifling ground. Most were blindfolded with masking tape or veils taken from the women. A handful who tried to resist were thrown off the balcony head-first.

Troops started to walk across the sea of people, grinding boots into their heads and beating them with rifle butts. Some of the soldiers cursed their prisoners, calling them dirty “kalar,” a derogatory word for Muslims that is frequently used in Myanmar.

Duza’s brother, Hossain, begged for the violence to stop.

“Why are you doing this?” he cried. “Why are you tying us up?”

There was no answer.

Around noon, a senior officer called a commander on his phone. The officer said they had rounded up 87 men.

“What should we do with them?”

The call ended shortly afterward, and the officer barked an order to his troops.

“Let us begin.”


Duza watched through a slit in a closed window as a soldier plunged a long knife into his brother’s neck in front of their house. When two of Hossain’s sons got up and tried to run, soldiers opened fire.

Duza stepped back in shock. He scrambled to an upstairs room and crawled into the only place he could think of to hide: a foot-high space under a large wooden container normally used to store rice. He covered his legs with rice sacks and curled into a ball, trying to disappear.

Outside, screams like he’d never heard before reverberated across the courtyard.

Several soldiers hammered four-inch nails into the temples of three men on the ground with the butts of their rifles. Four other men were decapitated, including a prominent gray-bearded mullah, according to Begum.

Shafir Rahman, 50, describes how he watched a soldier hammering a four-inch nail into the side of a man’s head with a rifle butt.

Then a pair of soldiers — one was Baju — descended on her husband. With two-foot-long machetes, they hacked into his neck from both sides. He crumpled in the dirt, gagging on blood.

Gasping for breath, Begum stumbled toward the door. She wanted to rush to his side, to help him, to be with him — to die.

But the women in the house pulled her back.

“You can’t go,” one said, as Begum collapsed, weeping. “If you go out there, they’ll kill all of us.”

While women rocked back and forth, several children began praying. In the courtyard, they could hear people begging for their lives.

“Please Allah!” Please help us!”

“We’re dying!”

When Begum rose to look out the window again, she saw her 16-year-old son dragged away by the collar of his shirt and tied to a tree, screaming, “I didn’t do anything!”

The gunshots rang out. Begum could not bear to look.


As the afternoon wore on, the carnage became more methodical.

Men and teenage boys were taken away in small groups and killed by firing squads near a forested area on the edge of the property. In some cases, a soldier blew a whistle beforehand, signaling for them to begin.

Other troops wrapped corpses in orange and green tarps and transported them downhill in three-wheeled push-carts to a pair of army trucks parked on the road. Several witnesses reported seeing soldiers digging pits and dumping bodies into them.

When Mohammad Nasir was marched to the killing ground with six others, he saw more than a dozen cadavers crumpled there under the trees. As those beside him braced for death and called out Islamic creeds — “There is no god but Allah! Mohamed is his prophet!” — Nasir wriggled loose and ran.

He made it to the far side of a small ravine before the first burst of gunfire rang out. Half an hour later, when he had run out of breath, he realized he had been shot in the elbow.

Mohammadul Hassan was taken to a pond just east of the main house. Soldiers ordered him to kneel with his two brothers, then shot them all from behind and rolled them over to make sure they were dead. When Hassan unexpectedly opened his eyes, an officer sitting on the bank walked casually forward and fired a single rifle shot into his chest. Hassan later regained consciousness, stumbled away, and survived.

That afternoon, soldiers began searching the compound for men. At one point, Baju grabbed Duza’s 9-year-old son Mohamed Ahasun, and demanded to know where his father was.

The boy said Duza had left four days earlier for another village. Baju slapped him, but let him go.

In the tiny, darkened crawl space upstairs, Duza’s mind had gone numb. He kept telling himself: “It has to stop ... This has to end somehow.” Praying for survival, he waited for the soldiers to discover him, to drag him out by the feet.

Bodru Duza, 52, demonstrates how he hid in his house.

But they never did. And when the guns finally fell silent, he crept slowly downstairs, and slipped away.

For the next two weeks, he traveled alone, joining the hordes of Rohingya bound for Bangladesh. They crossed streams and forests and mountains, and finally the Naf River, which separates the two countries.

When Duza got out of a boat and stepped onto Bangladeshi soil, he looked back toward Myanmar and saw half a dozen columns of smoke curling skyward from burning Rohingya homes. His family, he thought, was surely dead.


There is no way to independently confirm the death toll in Maung Nu. But one handwritten tally seen by The AP details the names, ages and professions of 82 people, most of them men and boys from Maung Nu and Hpaung Taw Pyin, who family members say were killed.

They are farmers and students, carpenters, businessmen and teachers. The youngest is seven years old; the oldest, 95.

According to Arof, the village administrator, at least 200 more remain missing and are feared dead.

Most of the survivors struggle to understand why so many of their neighbors were slaughtered. Arof said the army falsely believed they were supporting the insurgency, but something much deeper had driven the killing. The massacres reported since August have stood out for their high casualty toll, their ferocity, and the methodical way in which they were carried out.

“You have to understand ... they hate us,” Arof said. “This didn’t only happen in our village, it happened everywhere.”

In the end, Duza was one of the luckiest survivors.

After weeks spent imagining another life without a family, he found a newly-arrived refugee with a Myanmar phone and asked to use it.

Bodru Duza, 52, third from right, kisses his sons as he sits for a portrait with members of his family in a tent in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh.

He dialed his wife Habiba’s number. A young girl answered.

He could barely believe it. It was his 14-year-old daughter, Taslima.

As tears welled in his eyes, Duza asked about the rest of his family. “Are they with you? Are they alive?”

“Yes papa! Yes!” Taslima replied. “We’re here! Everybody is fine.”

Duza’s family had been elsewhere in the compound when he fled. It would take them six more weeks to make the journey to Bangladesh.

When the family reunited in a refugee camp, Duza broke down as he hugged his wife and squeezed the children he never thought he’d see again. They had lost so much -- their friends and relatives, their home, their savings, their future -- but they had somehow found each other.

“It felt like living in another world,” Duza said. “It felt like a new life.”

December 19, 2017

Hundreds Killed, Raped in Tula Toli

Rangoon – The Burmese army carried out systematic killings and rape of several hundred Rohingya Muslims in Tula Toli village in Rakhine State on August 30, 2017, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The massacre was part of the military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing that has forced more than 645,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh since late August.

The 30-page report, “Massacre by the River: Burmese Army Crimes against Humanity in Tula Toli,” details the security force attack on several thousand villagers in Tula Toli, known officially as Min Gyi. Human Rights Watch documents how security forces trapped Rohingya villagers along a riverbank and proceeded to kill and rape men, women, and children, and torch the village.

“The Burmese army’s atrocities at Tula Toli were not just brutal, they were systematic,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Soldiers carried out killings and rapes of hundreds of Rohingya with a cruel efficiency that could only come with advance planning.”

The report draws on interviews in Bangladesh with 18 Rohingya survivors from Tula Toli, as well as Human Rights Watch’s broader investigation into the Burmese military’s operations against Rohingya villages, including interviews with more than 200 Rohingya refugees since September.

Military operations were launched following August 25 attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on security force outposts. On the morning of August 30, hundreds of uniformed Burmese soldiers and armed ethnic Rakhine villagers arrived in Tula Toli. Rohingya villagers, including residents of neighboring areas who had escaped to Tula Toli following attacks on their towns in previous days, fled to the wide bank of the river that borders the village on three sides. Many villagers told Human Rights Watch that the ethnic Rakhine local chairman had told them to gather at the beach, where he said they would be safe.

Security forces then surrounded the area, shooting at the gathered crowd and those attempting to flee. They separated men and women, holding the women and children under guard in shallow water while systematically shooting the men or hacking them to death with knives. Shawfika, 24, who saw her husband and father-in-law killed, said the killings on the beach went on for hours:

They just kept catching men, making them kneel down and killing them. Then they put their bodies on a pile. First they shot them, and if they were still alive they were killed with machetes.… It took them one-and-a-half hours to carry all the bodies.

By the afternoon, hundreds had been killed on the riverbank. Soldiers and Rakhine villagers burned the bodies in deep pits dug in the sand, in an apparent effort to destroy evidence of the killings.

Survivors described young children being pulled away from their mothers and killed – thrown into fires or the river, or beaten or knifed to death on the ground. Hassina Begum, 20, tried to hide her 1-year-old daughter, Sohaifa, under her headscarf, but a soldier noticed. “He took my daughter from me and threw her alive into the fire,” she said. “What could I do?… He had a knife in his hand and a rifle over his shoulder.”

Soldiers brought women and children to nearby houses in small groups, where many were raped and sexually assaulted, stabbed, and beaten. Nine women and girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they were raped or sexually assaulted, and witnessed the rape of others. Afterward, soldiers locked the houses and set them on fire, leaving the women and children inside, most unconscious or dead. Shawfika described escaping the burning house:

I woke up and realized I was in a pool of sticky blood. I tried to wake the others up but they didn’t move. Then I broke through the [bamboo] wall and escaped.… All the houses in the area were on fire. I could hear women screaming from some of the other houses. They could not escape from the fires.

Shawfika, like many other women interviewed, was the only survivor from the group of eight women and children whom soldiers forced into the house. Witness accounts suggest that the pattern of rape and killings in the houses was repeated many times.

Satellite imagery analyzed by Human Rights Watch confirms that the Rohingya villages of Tula Toli and nearby Dual Toli were completely destroyed by arson – a total of 746 buildings – while the neighboring non-Rohingya villages remain intact. An estimated 4,300 Rohingya villagers lived in Tula Toli prior to the attack.

The Burmese military and government have repeatedly denied allegations of security force violations. On November 13, a Burmese army investigation team issued a report asserting that security forces had committed no abuses during the Rakhine State operations, and that there were “no deaths of innocent people.”

Yet accounts from Tula Toli support the conclusion that since August 25, the Burmese military has committed abuses against the Rohingya that amount to crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, persecution, and forced deportation. The report includes lists of numerous families decimated in the Tula Toli attack, with names of more than 120 killed, recounted by those who were often the sole survivors from their family. A report released on December 12 by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) found that at least 6,700 Rohingya died due to violence in the month after military operations began in late August, based on mortality surveys conducted in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

The Burmese government should immediately cease its campaign of ethnic cleansing and urgently provide unimpeded access to Rakhine State for humanitarian aid groups and the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission. The UN Security Council and concerned governments should impose targeted sanctions on Burmese military leaders and key military-owned enterprises, including travel bans and restrictions on access to financial institutions, as well as a comprehensive military embargo on Burma.

“The UN and foreign governments need to ensure that those responsible for these grave abuses are held accountable,” Adams said. “Condemnations are not enough to bring justice to the victims of Tula Toli. Concerted international action is needed now.”

Survivors of the Tula Toli massacre in Rakhine State, Burma. © 2017 Anastasia Taylor-Lind for Human Rights Watch

Testimonies From the Report

The soldiers separated the men from the women and the children. They put the women and children near the bank of the river, and they put the men in a different place on the beach. Some of the men were seated, others were trying to run away in fear. They were being slaughtered, killed with shovels and the army was also shooting them and killing them with sharp weapons.… They dug a big hole and then also used the natural holes in the beach to put bodies in, and then they burned them with gasoline. I saw them slide the bodies in.
–Rajuma Khatoum, 35
Between 7 and 10 soldiers took us to a room in a house. I could hear women and girls screaming from the other rooms. They first took my child and threw him down on the ground. He was still alive then, and I had to watch as they slaughtered him. The children of the other two women were killed the same way. A few minutes later, they took the bodies of the children and threw them on a fire outside. 
Then the soldiers raped all three of us women. I was on my back [being raped] for an hour. It was four or five soldiers.… They beat us all until we were half dead, and then they set the house on fire. I saw that one of the corners of the bamboo wall had a hole in it. I made it bigger by kicking it, and I escaped from the house. No one else came out of that house. They all burned to death inside.
–Rajuma Begum, 20
About 10 soldiers took us away [to a house].… If they found children alive, they shot them or beat them to death. When we first entered, we couldn’t even really enter the room because of the number of bodies already there, there were so many. 
One of the soldiers had a big wooden stick, and he hit me on the head and knocked me semi-unconscious. Then they were hitting the children. They stripped us naked, searching for our valuables. It is all blurry, but I remember them beating my 10-year-old sister-in-law – they hit her in the head with a big stick. Her face was swelling up and she was just screaming loudly in pain. Then she was just breathing loudly, and then she was barely breathing. And then she died. 
The house was already on fire when I woke up. I saw another woman on fire. She tried to stand up, but she fell down again. Burning objects were falling on us from the roof. So I stood up and stepped over the bodies of the others, and broke the [bamboo] wall with my leg and escaped. The other woman burned to death inside. Only I managed to escape, no one else came out alive from the house.
–“Fatima,” 15
All four of my children were with me. I was holding them. They smashed the baby first, then they killed the two boys, first hitting them with sticks and then with machetes.… I was unconscious, and when I woke the house was fully on fire. It was when the fire was already burning my legs and my body that I came to. I broke through the wall, and my daughter was already outside. I tried to go back to get the bodies of my children, but they were already on fire so we had to leave them.  
–Mumtaz Begum, 30
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.”

Rohingya Exodus