Myanmar’s military committed “systematic” abuses against Rohingya Muslims during recent operations in troubled Rakhine State, according to a report released Monday.
The rape of more than 70 Rohingya women and girls by Myanmar security forces was witnessed since early October, according to the report based on interviews with 21 Rohingya women who fled from the Maungdaw area to neighboring Bangladesh.
Almost all the women interviewed lost their husbands, and half of them their children, in acts of appalling cruelty, reported the Kaladan Press Network, an independent non-profit Rohingya news agency based in Bangladesh.
The government has said at least 106 people have been killed in a security operation launched after fatal attacks on police outposts Oct. 9 near the border.
However, Rohingya advocacy groups claim around 400 Rohingya -- described by the United Nations as among the most persecuted groups worldwide -- were killed, women raped and Rohingya villages torched.
“Of the 21 women interviewed, 15 women, from eight villages, had either personally experienced or witnessed sexual violence,” said Monday’s report, providing horrifying details of atrocities by Myanmar soldiers and police.
“At least 70 women and girls were seen either being raped, being taken away to be raped, or found after being raped by groups of soldiers and militia.”
It added that such incidents mostly occurred when the women were gathered at gunpoint in large groups outside their villages.
The report underlined that similarities in the women’s testimony show a clear pattern of abuses against civilians on a widespread scale, providing “strong evidence that the abuses are being committed systematically, with full command responsibility”.
It exposes official cover-up of the atrocities, reporting that villagers were rounded up by troops and forced to testify in front of video cameras that it was alleged Rohingya militants who had committed abuses against them.
“The Myanmar authorities are hiding the truth at every level,” Razia Sultana, a Rohingya lawyer who conducted interviews for the report, said in a press release.
“The Myanmar government must stop denying the atrocities, and hold their military to account.”
Of the interviewed women, 13 recounted violence against their children -- including a 1-year-old boy whose throat was slit, a 1-year-old girl who was thrown into a burning building and several boys who have gone missing.
Myanmar’s government has previously denied such allegations against soldiers and police, but launched an investigation after the UN published a report earlier this month stating that rights violations against Rohingya civilians could amount to crimes against humanity.
Following growing local and international pressure, Myanmar announced Feb. 15 the end of military operations in the area, but a military spokesman later said clearance operations had yet to be halted.
“There will be regular security operations. Ceasing military operations [in the area] is information I am not aware of,” Gen. Aung Ye Win told the Irrawaddy online magazine on Feb 16.