Hala Sadak, a 15-year-old Rohingya girl from the village of Sin Thay Pyin in Myanmar, was taken from her home, dragged naked behind a tree, and raped by ten men. Fatama Begum, from the village of Chut Pyin, was stabbed and raped by five men. Moments before, they shot and killed her brother. A day later, they returned to burn down her village. Rabia Abdul, pregnant, was raped by at least four men, which caused her to fall unconscious and later miscarry her unborn child.
These horrific accounts were revealed in a Thursday report published by Human Rights Watch, which found Burmese security forces had “committed widespread rape” against Rohingya women and girls as part of a brutal ethnic cleansing that has forced more than 600,000 Rohingyas to flee their homes.
“After the fourth rape I went black,” Abdul said. “[T]here was so much bleeding and then two hours later the baby came out. It died right after.”
All of these women have at least one thing in common: their rapist wore a Burmese security forces uniform.
Myanmar’s military insists its campaign is a “clearing operation” of Rohingya insurgents responsible for an attack against security forces in August, but more than 50 direct accounts from rape victims interviewed by Human Rights Watch and hundreds more from local NGOs tell a brutal story of weaponized sexual assault.
“Soldiers beat women and girls with fists or guns, slapped them, or kicked them hard with boots,” the report notes. “In two cases women reported that their attackers laughed at them during the gang rapes. More frequently attackers threatened their victims either verbally or through actions such as putting a gun to their heads.”
“In every rape case described to Human Rights Watch, the perpetrators were uniformed members of Burmese security forces,” the report added.
Human Rights Watch noted they only documented one case of sexual assault against a male, though social stigma could prevent Rohingya men from speaking out.
For decades, the Rohingya ethnic minority in Myanmar has faced persecution and human rights violations at the hands of the Burmese government. In the last year, they’ve been subjected to mass killings and having their homes razed by arson.
The United Nations has called the crisis in Myanmar a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The United States Holocaust Museum went a step further Wednesday, stating in their new report, there was “mounting evidence” of genocide.
“State security forces opened fire on Rohingya civilians from the land and sky,” the report stated. “Soldiers and knife-wielding civilians hacked to death and slit the throats of Rohingya men, women, and children, and Rohingya civilians were burned alive.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Myanmar Wednesday, lifting the hopes of activists and aid workers that the U.S. might pressure the country’s leaders to end the brutal campaign. Tillerson met with both Myanmar’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing, and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. In a joint press conference, Tillerson said the U.S. would consider individual sanctions, though the diplomat kept his statement conditional and vague.
“All of that has to be evidence based,” Tillerson said. “If we have credible information that we believe to be very reliable that certain individuals were responsible for certain acts that we find unacceptable, then targeted sanctions on individuals very well may be appropriate.”