In Myanmar, hundreds of Rohingya women have been raped with the aim to marginalize the minority group. Some say sexual violence is used as a tool to commit genocide. While cases of abuse are being reported on a daily basis, the international community has largely ignored the conflict.

By Dania K. Putri, volunteer of the Mukwege Foundation

Mohsena Begum saw how soldiers raided her village and slit the throats of the four village chiefs. She experienced how men and women were separated. The 20 year old woman, who belongs to the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, was raped. Her husband was killed. After being sexually assaulted, she took her son to the hills where they eventually found their way to a refugee camp in Bangladesh, she told the Independent.

Begum is one of hundreds of Rohingya women who were captured and raped amid the ongoing ethnically motivated violent campaign allegedly committed by the security forces of Myanmar. At least 30.000 Rohingya Muslims have been displaced in Rakhine state since October, according to the UNHCR, the refugee agency of the United Nations.

Conflict in Myanmar

The recent conflict erupted in 2012, when clashes between local insurgents and government forces began to escalate amid growing anti-Muslim sentiment among Buddhist nationalists in Rakhine. The Rohingya people have long been regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and denied basic rights by the government of Myanmar, including citizenship.

More than 100 women have been raped during the raid in Karyiprang, a witnesses told the Guardian . “From among us the soldiers separated around 15 younger ‘good-looking’ women and took them away to an unknown place” said Sayeda Khatun, who was more than 5-months pregnant at the time of the attack.

She told the Guardian she was in a group of about 15 older women who were raped in that courtyard by the soldiers. Another woman explained how hundreds of women who had fled their homes ended up as victims of forced marriage and prostitution.

Is sexual violence against Rohingya women used as a means of genocide?

These shared experiences vividly illustrate the horror faced by Rohingya women as primary targets of mass rape and sexual violence, which, some have argued, is part of an ongoing genocidal campaign.

In the wake of recent accounts of murder, rape, and arson, rights groups condemned the government of Myanmar for neglectfully overlooking what could amount to crimes against humanity – thus, systematic attacks on the civilian population.

The government has rejected any wrongdoing and instead considered raids in Rakhine to be necessary anti-terrorism efforts particularly following an attack on border guards on 9 October attack, which was reportedly led by Rohingya militias.

The international community, too, has largely ignored the conflict.

While the UN Security Council and governments have remained silent, the conflict has attracted the attention at the regional level. Malaysia and Indonesia have pushed for an investigation led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak refered to the persecution of Rohingya Muslims as a form of genocide.

International community should act in Myanmar

However, the prosecution of large-scale and systematic sexual violence crimes is challenging. Since the 1990s, sexual violence crimes have been recognized as forms of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide under international law. However as illustrated by the experiences of the international courts, very few perpetrators have been found guilty of sexual violence crimes.

These issues need to be discussed as a matter of high importance not only by regional actors such as ASEAN, but also at the international level. The UN and national government should follow through with concrete action: publicly condemning the abuses would make it clear that acts of sexual violence are not acceptable and contribute to the prevention of more bloodshed in the region.


Dania K. Putri is a freelance researcher and activist from Indonesia. Her work mainly focuses on drug policy, social conflict, and more recently on gender and sexuality.


Photo: Aung San Suu Kyi, state counsellor of Myanmar, is criticized for ignoring the Rohingya crisis. Photo: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

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