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Maung Zarni, leader of the Free Rohingya Coalition, speaks at a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo on Thursday. | CHISATO TANAKA

By Chisato Tanaka, Published by The Japan Times on October 25, 2018

A leader of a global network of activists for Rohingya Muslims on Thursday called on Japan to actively speak out against the alleged abuse and genocide against Myanmar’s ethnic minority by the country’s military and strongly criticized Tokyo for its relative silence on a crisis that has become a major international concern.

“There are 400 villages burned to the ground … Japan cannot be so out of line from the reality. Rohingyas are treated as guilty (just) because they exist,” Maung Zarni, leader of the Free Rohingya Coalition, said at a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo.

Around 723,000 Rohingya people fled to neighboring Bangladesh in the year after violence broke out in the Rakhine state in the Buddhist-majority country in August 2017, according to the UNHCR, the U.N.’s refugee agency. More than 40 percent of them were under age 12.

In September this year, a U.N. fact-finding mission released a report on the situation, saying that the armed forces of Myanmar are the main perpetrator of the “gross human rights violations and international crimes” committed in Rakhine and other states.

Zarni, who is visiting Japan to give speeches about the plight of the Rohingya people, said international intervention is imperative and Japan could take a leading role as the world’s third-biggest economy.

“Japan can simply say we are going to have a policy review,” he said, signaling his frustration with the Asian country, which he views as not doing enough to address the humanitarian crisis.

Michimi Muranushi, an international politics professor at Gakushuin University who will be giving lectures with Zarni, told The Japan Times that the Japanese government appears to be avoiding the use of the term “Rohingya” in consideration of the fact the Myanmar government does not recognize the people as citizens.

“The government has been really strict about not using that word,” said Muranushi, noting that it instead has usually referred to the people as “Muslims in the Rakhine state.”

Zarni argued that a language encyclopedia published by the Myanmar government says that “irrefutably and unequivocally, and officially, Rohingya people are an official ethnic minority who have ancestral lands in the northern Rakhine state of Myanmar” and that the Southeast Asian country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi also “has access to this document.”

When Suu Kyi visited Japan earlier in the month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a joint news conference that he values her efforts “to cope with a difficult agenda,” including economic reforms and “issues related to Rakhine state.” Abe also said the refugee issue poses a “very complex and grave” problem, and Japan will extend assistance to help them return to Myanmar and resettle there.

The Japanese government is reportedly said to be considering accepting more refugees who have fled their home to neighboring countries for resettlement. Zarni said Abe should accept more Rohingya people as they could become “assets,” for example by becoming part of the country’s workforce, which is experiencing shortages as Japan struggles with a graying population and declining birthrate.
Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar wait to carry food items from Bangladesh's border toward a no man's land where they set up refugee camps in Tombru, Bangladesh, Sept. 15, 2017.

By William Gallo
September 25, 2018

Activists are criticizing a long-awaited U.S. State Department investigation into the Myanmar military campaign against Rohingya Muslims, saying the United States should to take a firmer stance on what the activists see as genocide. 

The State Department report, released late Monday, blames Myanmar's military for an "extreme, large-scale, widespread" campaign of violence against the Rohingya ethnic minority group over the past two years.

The report, based on interviews with more than 1,000 Rohingya refugees in neighboring Bangladesh, documented graphic descriptions of torture, rape and mass killing in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state.

In some cases, Myanmar soldiers threw infants and small children into open fires and burning huts, witnesses told State Department investigators. Others said they saw soldiers ripping fetuses out of the bellies of pregnant mothers.

The State Department concedes the campaign was "well-planned and coordinated." But, notably, the report makes no determination that any of the violence amounts to genocide or crimes against humanity, and it recommends no specific action.

"This is extremely disappointing for those of us who have no other country to look to but the United States to do something humane and compassionate and principled," said Maung Zarni, a British-Burmese academic and author of The Slow-Burning Genocide of Myanmar's Rohingya.

"This is not like Rwanda or other places where post facto people realized that genocide happened. This is still ongoing," Zarni said.

The press office of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, weighed in as well:
Human Rights Watch (HRW) chided the State Department for being "silent on action" and said the U.S. government should follow up the report by imposing new sanctions against those responsible. 

"The State Department's report, confirming the systematic brutality of the Burmese military operations, should jolt the U.S. into action," Sarah Margon, Washington director at HRW, said.

In August, the U.S. sanctioned four Myanmar military and police commanders for their involvement in what the State Department then referred to as "ethnic cleansing" in Rakhine state. 

The latest report, however, did not use the phrase "ethnic cleansing." But the State Department, in an nonattributed statement, said the investigation's findings "fully support that conclusion" and insisted it would be used to inform future U.S. policy.

"U.S. efforts have been and remain focused on addressing the underlying conduct, encouraging steps that will improve the situation for all people in Burma and those displaced in Burma, and promoting accountability for those responsible for these crimes," the statement said.

Effect of terminology

The term ethnic cleansing carries less weight in international law than do the terms genocide or crimes against humanity. The Trump administration is reportedly divided about whether to apply those labels, in part because some fear it could compel the U.S. to intervene.

Rohingya refugee women hold placards as they take part in a protest at the Kutupalong refugee camp to mark the one-year anniversary of their exodus from Myanmar, in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Aug. 25, 2018.

British author Zarni stressed that intervention does not have to take the form of bombs or even U.N. peacekeepers. It could instead mean the deployment of temporary human rights observers or civilian advisers to Myanmar's government, he added. 

"No one is calling for military intervention. But people want some sort of international mechanism to provide safety for those inside the country and for those who may return," he said. "These are things that need to be discussed — not simply being scared of needing to bomb."

A U.N.-mandated fact-finding mission in August recommended that Myanmar generals be investigated for genocide and crimes against humanity. It said that estimates of 10,000 deaths were "conservative." More than 725,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh over the past year.

Myanmar's military-dominated government denies oppressing the Rohingya. It claims it is responding to a series of attacks by Rohingya militants on police stations.

The Rohingya have long complained of discrimination in Myanmar, including being refused citizenship.

VOA's Cindy Saine contributed to this report.

By Abdul Aziz
August 28, 2018

The UN likened the Aug 25 crackdown in the Rakhine state to genocide

The Rohingyas have announced to observe August 25 as the "genocide day," a year after a Myanmar military crackdown forced more than 700,000 members of the ethnic minority to flee the Rakhine state.

The announcement came from protest rallies by the Rohingyas at Ukhiya and Teknaf on Saturday.

A group calling itself the "Free Rohingya Coalition" has been campaigning to highlight the last several days of the barbarity and atrocity of the August 25, 2017 attack on the minority.

In the declaration letter, the Rohingyas said Myanmar since had been continuing oppression of the predominantly Muslim community after cancelling their citizenship in the ‘80s. Nobel laureates Amratya Sen and Desmond Tutu have called last year’s crackdown on the minority genocide.

“We (the Rohingyas) are joining voices with them and declaring it as genocide,” the declaration said.

Despite having lived for generations in Myanmar, Naypyidaw does not recognize the Rohingyas as citizens and dubs them ‘Bangalis’ to imply that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

State-sponsored discrimination against the minority stretches back decades. The latest crackdown in the Rakhine state has been likened to genocide by the UN.

KutupalongBottoli Rohingya camp leader Mohammad Idris said the Myanmar military killed their people, raped the women and girls and burned their homes to ground, forcing them to flee. “August 25 was the beginning of a dark chapter. We will observe it as the ‘genocide day’ every year,” he said.

Ukhiya’sBalukhali Rohingya camp leader Ayub Majhi said, they plan to observe the ‘genocide day’ even after going back home. “We want to live in our homeland with dignity,” he added.

Kutupalong camp’s management committee general secretary Nur Mohammad said the declaration of all the Rohingya people.

“The Myanmar military has been attacking and oppressing the Rohingya people in the Rakhine state using various excuses. It has killed thousands of people since August 25. So, we will observe the day as ‘genocide day’,” he said.

By Safvan Allahverdi
July 31, 2018

'We keep saying 'never again', but it keeps happening,' says US representative to UN Economic and Social Council

WASHINGTON -- The world has failed to end the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, where hundreds of thousands of people were driven from their homes by fire, rape and murder, a U.S. envoy said Monday. 

Ambassador Kelley Currie, the U.S. Representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, said the world has said "never again" many times over the past 70 years in places like Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, calling it a "sad irony."

She was speaking at a panel hosted by Washington-based think tank the Heritage Foundation.

"These places haunt us for our collective failure," said Currie. 

Currie, who also specializes in humanitarian assistance and human rights, emphatically highlighted the world's failure to stop the violence against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.

"We all watched in August 2017, September 2017, week by week in horror," she said, referring to two major attacks against Rohingya Muslims conducted by Myanmar’s military.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, more than 750,000 refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community, according to Amnesty International.

At least 9,400 Rohingya were killed in Rakhine from Aug. 25 to Sept. 24 last year, according to Doctors Without Borders.

In a report published last December, the global humanitarian group said the deaths of 71.7 percent or 6,700 Rohingya were caused by violence. They include 730 children below the age of 5.

The U.S. envoy urged Myanmar’s government to provide Rohingya Muslims safe return to their homes and grant them citizenship, access to school, places of worship and medical care.

She added the refugees and those who are still hiding in Myanmar must know that their return will be safe and voluntary.

She noted that Rohingya Muslims must be confident that they will not face the same abuses that drove them from their homes.

Currie also called on the Myanmar government not to confine the returnees to camps or ghettos as second-class citizens and to respect their freedom of movement and basic human rights along with their rights of citizenship.

On whether she believes the efforts of the U.S. and other major countries are enough to stop the persecution of Rohingya, she said the U.S. was the "single largest donor" helping Rohingya through financial assistance and is working with both Bangladesh and Myanmar to stop “shockingly vicious” military operations of the Burmese military.

The U.S. also imposed a visa ban, restrictions on members of the military and held Burmese military generals who took part in the violence responsible, she said.

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

The UN documented mass gang rapes, killings -- including of infants and young children -- brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by security personnel.

In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.

Secretary-General António Guterres (center) meets with Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. (Photo: UNFPA Bangladesh/Allison Joyce)

Published by UN News on July 11, 2018

Painting a grim picture of villages being burned to the ground and other “bone-chilling” accounts he heard from Rohingya refugees who fled violence in Myanmar, the UN chief has called on the world to answer their calls for help with real action. 

“Small children butchered in front of their parents. Girls and women gang-raped while family members were tortured and killed,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said Tuesday in a Washington Post opinion piece, adding: “Nothing could have prepared me for the bone-chilling accounts.”

The continuing plight of nearly one million Rohingya refugees driven from their homes in Myanmar was the focus of Mr. Guterres’ trip along with Jim Yong Kim, the President of the World Bank Group, during a visit last week to Bangladesh – the country where they have found safe-haven.

Since late August 2017, widespread and systematic violence against Myanmar’s mainly-Muslim minority Rohingya, has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes in Rakhine state for Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar area, just across the border.

Prior to that, well over 200,000 Rohingya refugees were sheltering in vast, makeshift camps in Bangladesh as a result of earlier displacements.

In his Washington Post opinion piece, the UN chief recalled one Muslim man he met who broke down in tears, describing how his eldest son was shot dead in front of him.

The man’s mother was brutally murdered and his house was torched to ashes. He then took refuge in a mosque but was discovered by soldiers who abused him and burned the Koran.

“These victims of what has been rightly called ethnic cleansing are suffering an anguish that can only stir a visitor’s heartbreak and anger,” continued Mr. Guterres.

“Their horrific experiences defy comprehension, yet they are the reality for nearly one million Rohingya refugees.”

The Rohingya have suffered a pattern of persecution — lacking even the most basic human rights, starting with citizenship — in their native Myanmar.

The Secretary-General explained that systematic human rights abuses by Myanmar’s security forces over the past year were “designed to instill terror in the Rohingya population, leaving them with a dreadful choice: stay on in fear of death or leave everything simply to survive.”

While Bangladesh’s resources are stretched to the limits, wealthier countries are closing their doors to outsiders.

“The Government and people of Bangladesh have opened their borders and hearts to the Rohingya,” Mr. Guterres said, adding that such compassion and generosity “show the best of humanity and has saved many thousands of lives.”

A Rohingya boy walks up steps in a rain-damaged section of the Chakmarkul refugee settlement. (Photo: UNHCR/Caroline Gluck)

A global response needed

A Global Compact on Refugees is being finalized by UN Member States, seeking to ensure that, among other things, front-line countries, like Bangladesh, are not alone in responding fleeing waves of humanity.

Meanwhile, the UN and humanitarian agencies are working flat-out alongside the refugees themselves and host communities to improve conditions.

“But far more resources are desperately needed to avert disaster and to give fuller expression to the principle that a refugee crisis calls for a global sharing of responsibility,” stressed the UN chief, pointing that only 26 per cent of an $1 billion international humanitarian appeal has been funded.

This shortfall means that malnutrition prevails in the camp, access to water and sanitation is iffy, refugee children are missing basic education and inadequate measures are left to alleviate the monsoon risk.

“Makeshift homes hastily built by the refugees on arrival are now threatened by mudslides, requiring urgent action to find alternative sites and build stronger shelters,” he detailed.

Mr. Guterres spoke of his visit to Bangladesh, saying “the Rohingya people need genuine assistance.”

The crisis will not be solved overnight, yet the situation cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.

Unless the root causes of the violence in Rakhine state are addressed comprehensively, hatred will continue to fuel conflict.

“The Rohingya people cannot become forgotten victims. We must answer their clear appeals for help with action,” concluded the UN chief.
Rohingya girls carry firewood on their heads as they make their way through Kutupalong refugee camp, June 28, 2018, in Bangladesh.

By Lisa Schlein | Published by Voice of America on July 4, 2018

GENEVA — U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein reports thousands of Rohingya refugees continue to flee violence and persecution in Myanmar. Speaking Wednesday before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, he presented a grim assessment of the situation of the Muslim minority in the country’s Rakhine state.

In his presentation, Zeid accused the authorities in majority-Buddhist Myanmar of trying to whitewash their treatment of the Rohingya people. In recent months, he says Myanmar has challenged allegations its security forces have engaged in an ethnic cleansing campaign that has sent more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing to Bangladesh.

He said Myanmar authorities also are trying to convince the world they are willing to allow the refugees to return to their homes and that it is safe for them to do so. Zeid disputes these assertions. He says he has evidence that the few people who have returned to Rakhine of their own accord have been imprisoned and ill-treated.

Since the start of this year, Zeid said more than 11,400 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar and more continue to flee. He said dozens of others have departed by boat for Malaysia and Indonesia, and some reportedly having died en route.

“All the newly arrived refugees who have been interviewed by OHCHR [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] described continuing violence, persecution and human rights violations, including killings and the burning of Rohingya homes.... No amount of rhetoric can whitewash these facts. People are still fleeing persecution in Rakhine - and are even willing to risk dying at sea to escape,” he said. 

Zeid urged the U.N. Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court to investigate all allegations of crimes against humanity and genocide perpetrated against the Rohingya.

Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar, Kyaw Moe Tun, tore into Zeid’s statement, calling it flawed, full of incomplete and misleading information. He blamed the deteriorating security situation in northern Rakhine on attacks against the government by ARSA, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which he calls a terrorist group. He said his government was setting up a Commission of Inquiry to look into allegations of abuse against the Rohingya.

High Commissioner Zeid said Myanmar indulges in what he called a “pattern of investigative whitewash."

In this Tuesday, June 26, 2018, photo, “A,” a 13-year old Rohingya Muslim girl who agreed to be identified by her first initial, peers from behind a partition in her family’s shelter in Jamtoli refugee camp in Bangladesh. Two months earlier, soldiers had broken into her home back in Myanmar and raped her, an attack that drove her and her terrified family over the border to Bangladesh. Ever since, she had waited for her period to arrive. Gradually, she came to realize that it would not. The pregnancy was a prison she was desperate to escape. The rape itself had destroyed her innocence. But carrying the baby of a Buddhist soldier could destroy her life. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

By Kristen Gelineau
Associated Press
July 5, 2018

UKHIYA, Bangladesh — Tucked away in the shadows of her family’s bamboo shelter, the girl hid from the world.

She was 13, and she was petrified. Two months earlier, soldiers had broken into her home back in Myanmar and raped her, an attack that drove her and her terrified family over the border to Bangladesh. Ever since, she had waited for her period to arrive. Gradually, she came to realize that it would not.

For the girl, a Rohingya Muslim who agreed to be identified by her first initial, A, the pregnancy was a prison she was desperate to escape. The rape itself had destroyed her innocence. But carrying the baby of a Buddhist soldier could destroy her life.

More than 10 months have passed since Myanmar’s security forces launched a sweeping campaign of rape and other brutalities against the Rohingya, and the babies conceived during those assaults have been born. For many of their mothers, the births have been tinged with fear — not only because the infants are reminders of the horrors they survived, but because their community often views rape as shameful, and bearing a baby conceived by Buddhists as sacrilege.

More than 10 months have passed since Myanmar’s security forces launched a sweeping campaign of rape and other brutalities against the Rohingya, and the babies conceived during those assaults have been born. (July 5)

Theirs is a misery spoken of only in murmurs. Some ended their pregnancies early by taking cheap abortion pills available throughout the camps. Others gave birth to unloved babies; some agonized over whether to give them away. One woman was so worried about her neighbors discovering her pregnancy that she suffered silently through labor in her shelter, stuffing a scarf in her mouth to swallow her screams.

In Bangladesh’s overcrowded refugee camps where shelter walls are made of hole-pocked plastic and sounds travel easily across the tree-stripped hills, A knew that hiding her pregnancy would be difficult and hiding a wailing newborn impossible.

She worried that giving birth to this child would leave her so tainted that no man would ever want her as his wife. In a panic, she told her mother, who swiftly took her to a clinic for an abortion. But A was so frightened by the doctor’s description of possible side effects that she thought she would die.

And so she retreated to her shelter, where she tried to flatten her growing belly by wrapping it in tight layers of scarves. She hid there for months, emerging only to use the latrine a few meters away.

There was nothing to do but wait with dread for the baby who symbolized the pain of an entire people to arrive.


For the women who became pregnant during last year’s wave of attacks in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, to speak the truth is to risk losing everything. Because of that, no one knows how many rape survivors have given birth. But given the vastness of the sexual violence, relief groups had braced for the worst: a spike in deliveries from traumatized women, and scores of babies left abandoned in the camps that are home to around 900,000 Rohingya refugees.

By June, though, the birth rate in medical clinics had remained relatively steady, and only a handful of babies have been found left behind. Aid workers began to suspect that many women had quietly dealt with their pregnancies themselves.

“They will not come forward for antenatal checkups — they will try to hide their pregnancy,” says Medecins Sans Frontieres midwife Daniela Cassio, a sexual violence specialist. “I’m sure many have also died during the pregnancy or during the delivery.”

Yet sprinkled throughout the sprawling camps, you will find women who have grown weary of the silence. Ten such women and girls agreed to interviews with The Associated Press. They consented to be identified in this story by their first initials only, citing fear of retaliation from Myanmar’s military.

The monsoon rains thundering down on the roof of A’s shelter threaten to drown out her words. Her voice still has a childlike softness, and when she speaks of the soldiers who raped her, it fades to a whisper.

Already, several men who had shown interest in marrying her have walked away when they’ve learned about the attack. Her parents worry no man will ever want her. And yet, with their blessing, she leans in close to share her story.

“I want justice,” she says, anxiously turning a plastic cup over and over in her hands. “That’s why I’m talking to you.”


To understand the fear that drove some of these women underground, enter the stifling shelter where M lives.

She sits on a mat, sweating and scratching at the angry scar on her breast left by the soldier who bit her. The baby who was the product of that attack wails in his 8-year-old sister’s arms. The little girl tries to hand the infant off to her mother, but M dismisses them both with a wave of her hand.

“I don’t want to carry him anymore,” M says. “I don’t love him.” And so the girl gently places the screaming infant into a hammock crafted out of a rice sack and twine.

M’s husband is not home to help. He rarely is, she says. Ever since she told him of her rape and pregnancy, he has wanted little to do with her.

Her nightmare began the way it did for so many Rohingya women: With scores of soldiers swarming her village in August, shortly after Rohingya insurgents attacked several police posts. The details of her assault follow a pattern documented last year in an investigation by the AP. That investigation, based on interviews with 29 rape survivors, an examination of medical records and testimony from doctors, concluded the rapes of Rohingya women were sweeping and methodical.

From inside her house, M heard a rattle of gunfire and a chorus of screams. She looked outside and saw soldiers setting fire to homes. Her two daughters fled, but by the time M made it out the door with her 2-year-old son, six soldiers were waiting. One snatched the wailing boy from her arms, strangled him, and threw his lifeless body to the ground.

The soldiers forced her back into the house. When she saw them undoing their pants, she pressed her hands over her eyes. They stomped on her stomach and feet, and one after another they raped her. She felt like she was dying.

Two days passed before her husband found her and carried her to the mountains, and then across the border to Bangladesh. He asked her if the soldiers had raped her. Too ashamed to tell him the truth, she said they had only beaten her.

After two months, her period still hadn’t arrived. She felt dizzy and nauseous, and craved sour foods like tamarind, just as she had with her other pregnancies.

Terrified of how her husband would react, she said nothing. Another two months passed and she began to feel movements deep inside her. She knew she couldn’t hide the pregnancy much longer.

One night, she was too sick to make him rice for dinner. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked.

The truth spilled out: “I was raped by six soldiers. And I’m pregnant.”

Her husband offered no comfort, only blame. He demanded to know why she hadn’t run away from the soldiers. He told her he could never have sex with her again. And then he asked if he could marry another woman.

“You are useless to me,” he said.

M pleaded with him not to leave her, told him she needed help with their girls. And so he stayed, though he treated her like she was invisible. At night, she curled up in the corner of their shelter with her daughters; he slept along an adjacent wall.

“M” who says that her life is meaningless, sits in her shelter. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

With her other pregnancies, she excitedly counted the days until delivery. With this baby, she paid no attention to her due date. She felt detached from the life growing inside her.

Her contractions began late one night. She labored quietly for hours, until her screams awakened her husband. She told him to find a local birthing assistant to help her. He did, and then left.

When the infant finally arrived, he looked nothing like her other children. In his eyes, she saw her rapists. To look at him was to relive her attack, over and over again.

Her husband returned hours after the birth. He said nothing to her, and ignored the baby. He wouldn’t help her clean up the mat she’d given birth on, and she was in too much pain to clean it herself. She lay on it for days, until one of her daughters came to her aid.

The baby’s cries just made her angry. She found herself crying all the time, too.

Before the rape, her husband was loving and kind. Now, he leaves their shelter early in the morning and doesn’t return until midnight. He is often irritable and impatient with her. He has never kissed the boy, or cuddled him.

“M” sits in her shelter, uninterested in her baby boy who had awoken from his sleep. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E) 

She didn’t bother to name the child until a community leader told her to. She chose the first name that popped into her mind. It means nothing to her, she says. And neither does the boy.

She doesn’t want to give him to a foster family. Her only other son was killed in the attack. So she takes care of this new boy in the hopes that one day, he will take care of her.

For now, she pretends to love him. After all, she says, he is just a baby. This is not his fault.

Nor is it hers, though she still berates herself for the rape. She questions her decision not to run from the house sooner, though running faster probably would not have saved her.

She spends much of her days lying on a mat, praying for Allah to end her life.

“I don’t have any money to buy anything. I am always depressed. My husband doesn’t love me. I want to die as soon as possible,” she says, weeping.

“My life is meaningless.”

“M” lays on the floor of her shelter, uninterested in her baby boy who had awoken from his sleep. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)


For some rape survivors, the idea of giving birth to a child conceived by someone other than a Muslim felt like a fate worse than death. So they turned to clinics and makeshift pharmacies set up in the camps for abortion drugs they hoped could end their agony.

The pain of D’s rape was so severe that she had to wrap a supportive scarf around her battered pelvis to endure the dayslong walk to Bangladesh. Yet through it all, she survived. When she discovered she was pregnant, she wished she had not.

She was a widow, and to give birth to a child without a husband was to invite admonishment. She quickly sought out a pharmacy to find the drugs that would induce an abortion.

As she swallowed the first tablet, she cried and prayed to Allah. But nothing happened. So she bought more medicine, taking pill after pill until, at last, her stomach twisted with intense cramps and heavy blood began to flow. Her relief was instant.

“I felt that I had found a new world,” she says. “I would have taken poison if I had to give birth to that baby because it is a big shame for me. People would criticize me.”

Others, though, found surprising support. So certain was T that her husband would divorce her, that she waited a month to tell him about her pregnancy. Her heart hammered the day she revealed the truth. When she did, her husband began to cry, and so did she.

“It’s not your fault,” he reassured her. “Maybe it was your fate that this happened to you. You didn’t want this.”

She had no idea she could go to a hospital for an abortion. But one day, she met an aid worker who was walking through the camps looking for pregnant women in distress. The aid worker provided her with abortion drugs. T took the pills, then visited a religious leader who performed a ceremony that he said would remove the baby. When she began to bleed, she felt as if a dirtiness inside her had been washed clean.

Slowly, a few women have forgiven themselves, though there was never anything to forgive. H, who also had an abortion, was once so ashamed of her pregnancy that she told no one. Now, though, she has begun to share her story with others, and has focused her fury on the men who brutalized her. She did nothing to invite their violence, she says. So why should she feel ashamed?

In Myanmar, where the Rohingya people have few rights and Rohingya women even less, she had no voice. Here, she says, she feels she can finally speak.

“I don’t want to hide anymore,” she says.


“A,” a 13-year old Rohingya Muslim girl adjusts her headscarf in her family’s shelter. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

The moment that A had long feared arrived one day in May. After months of isolation, her contractions had finally begun.

She was still a child herself, overwhelmed with uncertainty over what to expect. And she cringed at the thought of what others would say.

For hours, she labored on the floor of her shelter, her mother and grandmother by her side, until at last, she pushed out a baby girl.

She looked down at the infant and began to shake. She felt like she was going into shock.

The baby was fat and strong, with a round face and small eyes. As A gazed at her child, she saw beauty. But she also saw pain.

She knew she could not keep the girl.

Her father hurried to a clinic run by a relief group and asked them to take the baby away. An hour after A gave birth, an aid worker arrived to retrieve the infant.

She held her daughter in her arms and began to cry. She kissed her head and her tiny hands. And then she handed the baby over.

She doesn’t know who is caring for her baby now, but groups like Save the Children and UNICEF have found Rohingya families within the camps who are willing to take in such children. The organizations have placed around ten babies with new families, says Krissie Hayes, a child protection in emergencies specialist with UNICEF.

For now, A tries to imagine what her future will be like. She hopes someone will marry her one day, and give her more babies. She hopes for a sewing machine, so she can earn money mending clothes.

Sometimes, she says, an aid worker stops by the shelter to show her photos of her daughter, so she can see that she is safe and well.

“Even though I got this baby from the Buddhists, I love her,” she says. “Because I carried her for nine months.”

For her, giving the baby away was the right decision. It was the only decision.

But she aches for her still.

UNHCR/Roger Arnold
A Rohingya woman crosses the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh near the village of Anzuman Para in Palong Khali.

Published by UN News on June 19, 2018

Despite challenges brought on by the arrival of the monsoon season this month, United Nations agencies in Bangladesh continue to support nearly one million Rohingya refugees, including thousands of victims of sexual violence.

Members of the mainly-Muslim minority community began fleeing Myanmar’s Rakhine state last August following a military crackdown targeting extremists, during which homes were destroyed, men and boys killed, and countless women and girls raped.

In early May, UN News published a special report highlighting the concerns being voiced by several leading UN officials over the legacy of what Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, described as a “frenzy of sexual violence”.

On Tuesday, the world marks the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, and we have been finding out how some of the survivors have been coping, now that dozens of children of rape have been born – and what UN agencies are doing to provide them with vital services and support.

“Sameera” (not her real name) is among the Rohingya refugees now sheltering in the crowded camps of the Cox’s Bazar region in south-eastern Bangladesh.

The 17-year-old had only been married for a couple of months when her husband was killed.

She was raped just days after his death, when three soldiers showed up at her door, together with two other Rohingya girls, who were also raped.

“As I will give birth to the baby, he or she will be mine, no matter who the father is,” she told the UN Children’s Fund(UNICEF).

‘Forgotten victims of war’

Since August, more than 16,000 babies have been born in the refugee camps, according to the UN agency.

It is difficult to determine exactly how many were conceived through rape, said Pramila Patten, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

“You also have the stigma of a pregnancy as a result of rape which makes it very hard for (women) to come out openly with the fact of their pregnancy,” she told UN News last month, shortly after returning from a mission to the Kutupalong camp, one of the largest refugee camps in the world.

“And in fact, there are many reports from local Rohingyas that many girls, especially young adolescents, are actually hiding the fact of their pregnancy and will never seek medical care, for example, for the delivery.”

UNICEF has collected testimonies from several women and girls like “Sameera,” whose children are among what UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called the “forgotten victims of war.”

Conceived through conflict-related rape, these boys and girls grow up struggling with their identity, or fall victim to stigma and shame. At the same time, their mothers are marginalized or even shunned by their communities.

For the past three years, the UN has designated 19 June as the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict to promote solidarity with survivors.

Ms. Patten’s office is co-hosting an event at UN Headquarters in New York to mark Tuesday’s international day, where strategies will be discussed on how to change the perception that these children and their mothers are somehow complicit in crimes committed by the groups that violated them.

Midwives and monsoons

Back in Bangladesh, the arrival of the monsoon winds and rains just over a week ago is making life even more difficult for the Rohingya refugees and the humanitarians assisting them.

More than 720,000 Rohingya have arrived in Cox’s Bazar as of the end of May, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), joining some 200,000 others who had fled earlier waves of persecution and discrimination.

UN agencies are responding to the overwhelming needs, though a $951 million humanitarian plan is less than 20 per cent funded.

Since the start of the crisis, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has deployed 60 highly skilled midwives to the area who are also trained in clinical management of rape and family planning counselling. 

Nineteen women-friendly spaces have also been created in the camps.

UNFPA said key among “protection challenges” is scaling up assistance to survivors of gender-based violence, and other vulnerable populations, including through psychosocial support and counselling, and psychological first aid.

So far, 47,000 Rohingya mothers-to-be have received antenatal check-ups while 1,700 babies were safely delivered in clinics supported by the Fund.

UNFPA recently Tweeted that its midwifery and reproductive health services were still available “24/7” even though there was no electricity in the camps. 

“Midwives and case workers have weathered the storms and walked on slippery and waterlogged roads to our facilities,” its office in Bangladesh further reported.

UNICEF/Brian Sokol
Sitting in her bamboo and plastic shelter in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, Rohingya refugee, Maryam, recounts the events that forced her from her home in Myanmar following a sexual assault that left her pregnant at 16 years old.

Reluctance to return 

Meanwhile, an agreement signed earlier this month by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the UN Development Fund (UNDP) and the Government of Myanmar could pave the way for thousands of Rohingya to return home.

It also will give the two UN entities access to Rakhine State.

Knut Ostby, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, said the most important conditions for the safe and voluntary return of the refugees are citizenship rights and an end to violence.

Though resident in Myanmar for centuries, the mostly Muslim Rohingya are stateless.

“There will need to be programmes for reconciliation, for social cohesion. And these will have to be linked to development programmes. It is not enough to deal with this politically,” he told UN News.

However, Rohingya women and girls are wary about going back to Myanmar, according to Ms. Patten.

“They would be prepared to return only if they have full citizenship rights, but they doubt whether that’s possible. They are very realistic about it,” she said, while also echoing their concerns about safety.

“They all seem to request some kind of a UN mission presence in Myanmar should they go back. But they do not look very hopeful. It’s not the first time that there has been this kind of exodus. And for them, there’s simply no trust.”

Ms. Patten said overall, the Rohingya refugees are pinning their hopes on possible action by the UN Security Council.

A delegation of the 15 ambassadors travelled to Bangladesh and Myanmar just ahead of her visit to Cox’s Bazar.

“Now they put a face to the Security Council,” she said. “And they are expecting no less that the members of the Security Council translate their shock and their outrage into concrete action.”

Published by Anadolu Agency on June 16, 2018

Maung Zarni says 'UN needs to stop promoting Myanmar’s lies – such as bypassing the calls for ICC-led accountability'

ANKARA -- The United Nations should “stop promoting Myanmar lies,” an international expert wrote in an analytical piece for Anadolu Agency. 

Maung Zarni, coordinator for strategic affairs at the Free Rohingya Coalition, wrote: “In the face of Myanmar’s ongoing international crimes against Rohingyas as a people, inside Myanmar and in the refugee camps in Bangladesh -- all under Suu Kyi’s watch, and with her complicity -- UN needs to stop promoting Myanmar’s lies -- such as bypassing the calls for ICC-led accountability in order to support its ‘fragile democratic transition’.” 

"The UN must not allow Suu Kyi to form yet another whitewash ‘inquiry commission’ within Myanmar’s fundamentally dysfunctional criminal justice system equipped with neither conceptual tools for atrocity crimes nor judicial independence. 

“No political regime, civilian or military, that commissions international crimes against its own national minorities should be given the benefit of the doubt when its smooth-talking Oxford-educated politician says it is on the path towards incremental liberalization and constructive resolution of the crisis confronting a people whose existence she herself denies,” he added. 

‘Aung San Suu Kyi held accountable’

“Today, I want Aung San Suu Kyi held accountable for her wilful collusion with Myanmar military leaders in the latter’s crimes against the entire ethnic community,” Zarni added. 

“Suu Kyi’s crimes are no longer her studied silence or failure to extend her government’s primary responsibility to extend the benefit of ‘peace and security’ to the Rohingya people,” he wrote. 

Earlier this month, Zarni wrote in another analytical piece that Rohingya survivors of the Myanmar genocide are demanding a UN security force to guarantee their safe return to their homelands, terming the new agreement signed between Myanmar and the UN as inadequate. 

On June 6, the Myanmar government signed an agreement with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), allowing them to get involved in the much-delayed repatriation process.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, more than 750,000 refugees, mostly children, and women, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community, according to Amnesty International.

At least 9,400 Rohingya were killed in Rakhine from Aug. 25 to Sept. 24 last year, according to Doctors Without Borders.

In a report published recently, the humanitarian group said the deaths of 71.7 percent or 6,700 Rohingya were caused by violence. They include 730 children below the age of 5.

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

The UN documented mass gang rapes, killings -- including of infants and young children -- brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by security personnel. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.

Rohingya refugees gather in the “no man's land” behind Burma's border with Bangladesh on April 25. (Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images)

By Shibani Mahtani
June 12, 2018

Last week, the United Nations inked a deal with the government of Burma to begin the long process of resettling some of the 700,000 Rohingya refugees who fled their homes for neighboring Bangladesh after a brutal military campaign last year.

The Burmese government promoted the agreement as proof that it is doing right by the Rohingya, a persecuted minority that is denied citizenship rights and freedom of movement in Burma. The United Nations has celebrated it as a major first step that would help secure the future of the Rohingya in Burma. 

But no outside observers are able to verify the claims: The agreement has been kept unusually secret. 

The three parties that signed the memorandum of understanding — the U.N. refugee agency, or UNHCR; the U.N. Development Program; and the Burmese government — have declined to make the text of the agreement available to those who have asked to see it, including journalists, other U.N. officials and U.N. donor countries such as the United States.

Nongovernmental organizations, including Refugees International, have urged that the text be made public and warned in a statement that “conditions for Rohingya in Myanmar remain appalling,” referring to Burma by its official name. A statement from about two dozen Rohingya organizations across the world also raised concerns about keeping the text secret.

“All previous records showed that the U.N. agencies, including UNHCR as the agent of the interest of the international community, could not provide adequate protection to the Rohingya returnees due to obstinacy of the Myanmar government,” the groups said. “We are intrinsically aware of the false promises of the Myanmar authorities who are characterized by cheating and brutality.”

A Western diplomat closely following the negotiations said the United Nations has withheld the text of the agreement at the request of the Burmese government and called the lack of transparency “problematic.” The diplomat, who was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, spoke on the condition of anonymity. A spokesman for the Burmese government could not be reached to comment. 

In response to questions from The Washington Post, Knut Ostby, the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator in Burma, said the UNHCR, the UNDP and Burma's government are in “discussion about publicly releasing the contents of the MoU.”

“Such a decision would require consent of all three parties,” he added.

Negotiations between the U.N. agencies and the Burmese government took about four months, with especially heated discussions about the issues of citizenship and identity for the Rohingya. Most Burmese, including Aung San Suu Kyi and other government officials, do not even use the term “Rohingya.” The U.N. news release on the resettlement agreement referred to the group as “refugees in Bangladesh.”

Ostby said in an interview before the signing of the agreement last week that both sides eventually agreed that the Rohingya need to have “an identity and need to exist as normal people.”

He also said that the agreement specifies that the Rohingya need to be able to live in safety and be provided basic services, including access to work and shelter. “We have requested and agreed that there should be a clear and predictable pathway to citizenship,” Ostby said.

But no details have been provided by the United Nations, which will not be handling the citizenship verification process, or the Burmese government. And a statement from Suu Kyi’s office on the repatriation agreement simply refers to the Rohingya community as “displaced persons” rather than using the word “Rohingya.”

In an interview with the Japanese broadcaster NHK, Suu Kyi pointed to the agreement as a sign that Burma's government has “carried out all [their] responsibilities” toward the refugees, and she urged the international community to study its text — the same text that has not been made public.

The Rohingya refugees themselves doubt that the government can ensure their safety. Many fled amid atrocities that allegedly included rape, torture and extrajudicial killings at the hands of the Burmese military, carried out in response to attacks by a militant group on police posts in Rakhine state.

The United Nations has not negotiated with the refugees themselves on the terms of their resettlement but says it can do so now because it will be granted access to northern Rakhine, where the attacks occurred. The area was all but sealed off after the violence in August.

“We have not been in a position to negotiate with refugees before this, but UNHCR will now be in a position to have these conversations,” Ostby added.
Rohingya Exodus