After the Myanmar military launched its campaign of ethnic cleansing in August 2017, Human Rights Watch researchers spoke with Rohingya women and girls from 19 villages in Rakhine State who had been raped by security forces. We witnessed their deep pain, shame, and distress, born not only from the recent violence but also from the chronic fear, persecution, and neglect long faced by the Rohingya.

In every case of sexual violence described to us, the perpetrators were uniformed members of the security forces – mostly soldiers, some police. All but one of the rapes were gang rapes, often involving groups of soldiers who also sometimes stripped, beat, bit, laughed at, and taunted their victims. Women described soldiers in boots kicking them and beating them with rifles. Fifteen-year-old Hala Sadak had considerable scarring on her leg from where soldiers had stripped her naked and then dragged her from her home to a nearby tree where, she estimates, 10 men raped her from behind. 

We documented six cases where military units committed “mass rape” of villagers, gathering women and girls in groups and gang raping them, sometimes then locking them in shelters that they set on fire. Many rape victims were murdered.

And yet, despite the overwhelming evidence of these and other grave crimes, the Myanmar government continues to assert, as it did in its report to this Committee, that there is “no evidence to support these wild claims.” Civilian and military authorities continue to shield soldiers and their commanders from prosecution. 

Myanmar’s recent submission to the Committee of denial after denial is a dark document. It shows outrageous disrespect for survivors of rape, for the truth, and for the work of this Committee. It’s an affront to accountability for vicious crimes, and to ending the military’s use of fear – including by rape – to reach its objectives. Widespread sexual violence has long been a hallmark of the Myanmar military’s culture of abuse and impunity, and it is this profound lack of accountability which allows it to continue.

The Myanmar military’s use sexual violence – not just against the Rohingya but in other ethnic minority areas – casts a pall of fear and toxicity that extends beyond the bodies of the women and girls the soldiers attack, disrupting the progress of all women’s rights in the country.

We are here today discussing some of the worst atrocities in recent years. It’s unclear how the humanitarian crisis created by these acts will be resolved. But accountability needs to be part of any real change, and accountability begins with the truth. We are confident you will reject the hollow and dangerous denials made by Myanmar’s government and focus on facilitating a path to justice.

The Committee should provide any support it can to survivors of rape and other crimes by continuing to monitor the situation in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh and advocating for funds to ensure long-term psychosocial assistance and other support. It should also call for unimpeded access for humanitarian organizations and rights monitors in Rakhine State, andinsist that Myanmar provide full access to quality sexual and reproductive health care for Rohingya. This includes making sure such services are available and accessible to Rohingya populations, and lifting restrictions on travel and movement.

The Committee should give its political backing to the new investigative and evidence-gathering body created by the Human Rights Council. It should also ask UN Security Council members to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.