Rohingya crisis: Rape as a weapon of war in Rakhine

Written by Afrose Jahan Chaity | Published on: September 25, 2017

The conspicuously low number of young girls among refugees bears testament to the use of rape as a weapon of war in Rakhine

Raped, burned, killed
Rape, a war crime, is being used as an instrument of terror in the ethnic cleansing being carried out by the Myanmar army in Rakhine AFP
In the Rohingya camps of Bangladesh, there are very few teenage girls. Over 429,000 Rohingya refugees have entered Bangladesh since a military crackdown began there in August. Unicef says 60% of the recent influx is aged below 18.

However, as this correspondent noticed, older teenage girls were very few. Most girls who had made it here were younger, under 10 or 12, or older women with children.

The testimony of some survivors may provide some clue as to what may have happened to the girls.

“They killed my son, cut him into pieces in front me and gang-raped my younger daughter. Then they threw me out of my house and burnt her alive,” said Rahima Begum, a refugee sheltered in Nayapara, south of Cox’s Bazar.

She spoke with a stony countenance. Hers was a large family, and nine members had managed to flee from their home in Hajipara in the Maungdaw district of Rakhine.

“They entered my house where I was talking to my daughter Sabekunnahar and my son Rahmatullah, my two youngest children,” Rahima said, describing the attack on their home by Myanmar soldiers and Rakhine men 20 days ago.

The soldiers and the Rakhine men started setting fire to the other houses around the yard.

“They kicked my son Rahmatullah out of the house. One of my sons managed to flee with my sick husband, elder son managed to flee with his wife, son and one of his twin daughters, but the other twin was burnt alive. They shot dead my other son Hamid,” said Rahima.

“I begged to them to spare my 18-year-old daughter. Two of them held my daughter, others beat me. I was crying in pain and watching my daughter get gang-raped,” Rahima said.

“They stripped her naked, beat her and raped her. There were six of them and when one of them would rape my daughter, the others would cheer him on.”

Rahima’s voice became strained, but it seemed that her tears had run out.

Taking a deep breath, she said: “They threw me out of my house and burnt my daughter alive in front of me.

“My daughter was so beautiful. I could not save her from them, they burned her in flames. I did not hear her screaming, maybe she had accepted that she was going to die,” said Rahima.

United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten said this week she was “gravely concerned” about security operations in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Survivors have described sexual violence being used as a “calculated tool of terror to force targeted populations to flee”, she said.

The Tulatoli village, immediately east of Bangladesh’s border, was one of the worst victims of large-scale massacres in the military operation against Rohingya villages.

Nurul Hakim was among about 20 or so fortunate enough to have survived the massacre. He told this correspondent that the soldiers had picked out all the beautiful teenagers and killed them.

“They picked up beautiful girls from our village between 12 and 20 years old, then they were tortured and raped by the Army and the Rakhine,” he said.

“Those girls were killed and then they locked them in a house and set fire to it,” he said.

This correspondent met a 16-year-old girl in a health camp for refugees in Kutupalong. She said she was from Buthidung. Asked if she was raped, the girl at first denied vehemently. Then she began to cry.

“I have been told that if anyone knows that I was gang-raped, no one will marry me and my life will be destroyed. What should I do? This is not my fault and I have not done anything wrong,” she said between gasps.

Soldiers picked her out, along with other girls and they were forced to strip at gunpoint.

The victim told the Dhaka Tribune: “When I was trying to flee with other women of my village, they found us and picked out around 20 girls. They told us to get naked in front of everyone at gunpoint and we did.

“Then they told us to bend down and they raped one after another. They raped us in front of all the villagers. Then they started shooting. I managed to flee and ran to save my life,” she said.

At least two to three people raped each of the girls in the line, she said.

She walked for 12 days to reach Bangladesh without any food.

Nur Ayesha, who is six months pregnant, witnessed her elder sister getting raped and killed. She is from Maungdaw.

“A group of Rakhine men came to our house in the afternoon. We were sitting together. They asked for water. When my sister got up to bring water they took her one-year-old son and threw him into the pond,” she said.

“Then they told her to get naked in front of everyone and to go inside the house. Seven of them went inside the house and raped her brutally. But they did not kill her as it was getting dark, so she survived.”

Nur Ayesha’s cousin, who is 12 years old, was also gang-raped and is under treatment in Kutupalong.

Mobile medical teams from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have so far treated 23 rape victims, according to Arunn Jegan, the project coordinator for MSF emergency response.

The low number of victims taking treatment may not be any indication of how many were actually raped.  Officials from a clinic run by the UNHCR at the Leda refugee camp, told the AFP that there were rape victims among the refugees who came in October last year who would come forward months later.

Many women have yet to admit to being raped, they believe.

A 12-year-old girl was found waiting in line at a meal kitchen for the refugees in Kutupalong. The girl had a raw wound around her neck.

She said she was caught by Rakhine men in Pansi, Buthidaung.

It seemed that the child does not understand what rape is. She said they hurt her.

“They caught me while fleeing. Their camp was just next door from our village. They hurt me and tied a rope around my neck. They held one end of the rope and spun me around just like a fan. After that I cannot remember anything.”

The girl had thought she died. When she opened her eyes she started running towards Bangladesh. After eight days of running, all alone and hungry, she swam across the Naf River to get to Bangladesh.

This article was first published in Dhaka Tribune