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Myanmar’s Hollow Denial of Rape of Rohingya

Overwhelming Evidence of Military Role in Hundreds of Sexual Assaults

A Rohingya woman walks through Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, March 22, 2018. © 2018 Reuters

Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, the government of Myanmar denies their armed forces raped Rohingya women and girls in a campaign of ethnic cleansing that forced more than 740,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee the country since late 2017.

In a long-delayed submission to the United Nations women’s rights committee this week, Myanmar said there was “no evidence to support these wild claims” – a darkly risible denial to a very painful truth. The overwhelming evidence compiled by Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations, the media, and the UN uncovered gruesome accounts of rape, killings, and other crimes against humanity in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. A UN-backed fact-finding mission said the atrocities included genocidal acts.  

Hundreds of Rohingya women and girls have said they were raped. I spoke to dozens of them. They risked both renewed trauma and stigma – with little real hope of remedy – to tell their stories. A 15-year-old girl, for instance, said soldiers dragged her out of her hut, tied her to a tree, and then raped her.

In November 2017, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) requested that Myanmar submit a report on the situation of women and girls from northern Rakhine State by May 2018.

Nearly eight months after the deadline, the government finally submitted its report, denying the allegations. It noted that six rape cases had been filed – all from before the 2017 operations – but “there have been no evidence and sufficient grounds to convict anyone.”

Accountability begins with truth. Amidst one of the worst atrocities in recent years, governments should stand with the victims – particularly the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya now living in difficult conditions in Bangladesh refugee camps.

Concerned governments should ensure that survivors of rape and other grave abuses have access to psychosocial support and other assistance. They should give their political backing to the new investigative and evidence-gathering body created by the Human Rights Council. And they should press UN Security Council members to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.

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