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UN blacklists Myanmar military for sexual abuse of Rohingya population

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks at a conference at the United Nations Office in Geneva, on April 3, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

A report by the United Nations has blacklisted Myanmar’s military for carrying out widespread sexual violence as a strategy to terrorize the Rohingya Muslim population and to drive them out of the land they lived in western Myanmar.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ report is due to be presented to the UN Security Council on Monday, but an advance copy has been obtained by the Associated Press.

According to the AP, Guterres says in the report that Myanmar’s armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw, are “credibly suspected” of having used sexual assault, including rape, “in the course of military clearance operations in October 2016 and August 2017.”

The state-sponsored violence against the Rohingya began over allegations that some members of the persecuted minority had attacked military forces. A second alleged attack led to intensified violence. The government, in the meantime, claimed “clearance” operations were underway against “terrorists.”

Hundreds of thousands of the Muslims have fled to neighboring Bangladesh. Their villages, already burnt in the violence, have since been bulldozed to make room for Buddhist settlers shuttled from elsewhere in Myanmar to repopulate the area and make a possible return of the Muslims impossible. 

International medical staff and others in Bangladesh have confirmed that many of the almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled the state-sponsored violence in Myanmar “bear the physical and psychological scars of brutal sexual assault,” the UN report says.

“The widespread threat and use of sexual violence was integral to this strategy, serving to humiliate, terrorize and collectively punish the Rohingya community, as a calculated tool to force them to flee their homelands and prevent their return,” Guterres said.

A Rohingya woman queues at a relief center at the Jamtoli refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on November 28, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The UN chief says most victims were “politically and economically marginalized women and girls” concentrated in remote, rural areas and refugee camps with the least access to services for the displaced.

“Violence was visited upon women, including pregnant women, who are seen as custodians and propagators of ethnic identity, as well as on young children, who represent the future of the group,” Guterres says in the report. “This can be linked to an inflammatory narrative alleging that high fertility rates among the Rohingya represent an existential threat to the majority [Buddhist] population.”

The report is to be discussed during a Security Council meeting on preventing sexual violence in conflict on Monday.

The report came as Myanmar announced that the first family from the nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees was repatriated from Bangladesh to a camp in Rakhine. The UN, however, has warned that condition are not currently “conducive to a voluntary, dignified and sustainable return.”

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement late last year to repatriate some 750,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees who have crossed the border since August 25, 2017, to escape a brutal crackdown by the military.

The repatriation was delayed due to a lack of preparation as well as protests staged by Rohingya refugees against the plan to send them back to Myanmar while conditions were not safe for their return.

Myanmar’s government troops have been committing killings, making arbitrary arrests, and carrying out arson attacks in Muslim villages in Rakhine over the last year and a half.

The UN stops short of officially designating the purge of Muslims from Myanmar as “genocide,” but it has reiterated that the crackdown, which has seen many people killed, lots of homes and villages torched, and women raped by the military and Buddhist mobs, is a textbook example of “ethnic cleansing.”

The Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations but are denied citizenship and are branded illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which likewise denies them citizenship. The Myanmarese state has consistently denied the widespread and documented accounts of violence against the Rohingya.

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