A U.N. report released Friday charges that thousands of Rohingya children, women, and men have suffered gang rapes, killings, beatings, disappearances and other acts of cruelty at the hands of Myanmar’s police and security forces.
The report, issued by the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, documents testimony from 204 women and men who are among 66,000 Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State since Oct. 9.
“For me personally, I have not ever encountered a situation in which you have interviewed so many people in such a short period of time, who have undergone such serious violations,” said Linnea Arvidsson, mission leader of a four-member team of U.N. human rights investigators.
Arvidsson told VOA that she was “on the verge of breaking down” on the first day after having interviewed an endless stream of women who recounted horrific tales.
“Mothers who would say, ‘I was raped and my baby was crying and they slit the throat of my baby while I was being raped.’ I mean, it was horrendous.
“Frankly, it was absolutely unbearable to do the interviews,” Arvidsson said. “I cannot imagine what they have gone through when they lived through that.”
Of the 101 women interviewed, more than half reported they had been raped or suffered other forms of sexual violence.
In commenting on the report, High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said, “The devastating cruelty to which these Rohingya children have been subjected is unbearable.
“What kind of hatred could make a man stab a baby crying out for his mother’s milk?” he asked.
The investigators have concluded that Myanmar may be guilty of crimes against humanity.
A spokesman for the Myanmar government, which was provided an advance copy of the report, told VOA it will conduct its own investigation into the charges.
“We found out that what they have written in the report is quite harsh,” said Zaw Htay, spokesman for Myanmar President Htin Kyaw. “We are deeply concerned about it. Vice President U Myint Swe will lead a commission investigating these allegations as soon as possible. If the investigation finds and receives firm evidence on the allegations, we will take necessary actions.”
The Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group, have been denied citizenship by subsequent governments despite having lived in Myanmar for generations. The United Nations has referred to them as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
The investigators conducted their interviews between Jan. 8 and 23 in the Bangladeshi city of Cox’s Bazar, near the border of Myanmar. Many had fled across the border in response to a security sweep in Myanmar’s neighboring Rakhine State following a series of deadly attacks on police stations, presumably by Rohingya extremists.
All the witnesses said the abuses were committed by members of the Myanmar army, border guards and part of the regular police forces.
Many also said that the security forces were accompanied by villagers they knew, who had taken part in the raids and in the reported violations committed against the Rohingya inhabitants of Rakhine State.
Arvidsson called the level of abuse meted out to the Rohingya “unprecedented.” She said one of the most striking features of the document was the number of violations that were reported to the investigators.
“I must say we did not meet a single person out of the 204 that had not experienced some type of violation, ” she said. “Either their house had been burned or looted or a family member had disappeared or a family member had been killed.
“Basically, we did not encounter anyone that had not suffered any type of violation, which is extremely rare,” she said.
The report cites cases of hundreds of houses, schools, markets, shops, madrasas and mosques that had been burned by the army.
Stories were collected from people from villages in Rakhine State of houses being set alight while the inhabitants were inside, including elderly and disabled people; of indiscriminate killings, and of people being denied access to emergency medical care.
Many witnesses and victims described “being taunted while they were being beaten, raped or rounded up.”
High Commissioner Zeid said the perpetrators of the violations, and those who ordered them, must be held accountable.
“The government of Myanmar must immediately halt these grave human rights violations against its own people … and ensure that victims have access to justice, reparations and safety,” Zeid said.
Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the high commissioner, said “the government of Myanmar has been denying that these violations have been taking place so, we said, OK, give us access, we will go, independently assess for ourselves what has happened to them.”
She said access was denied, so her office deployed a team to the border to do its own investigation.
“The results are even more terrible than we had expected.”
Shamdasani said Zeid may call upon the Security Council or the Human Rights Council to take follow-up action based on the report.
“What is clear is that something needs to be done and the government of Myanmar has the primary responsibility to halt these military operations.”
Also on Friday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak sent a ship carrying 2,200 tonnes (2,425 tons) of food and emergency supplies to Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, according to Reuters.
The shipment, bound for Myanmar’s biggest city and port of Yangon, has been organized by Malaysian Muslim groups, as well as domestic and foreign aid groups. The ship is expected to arrive on Feb. 9 in Yangon, where it will unload 500 tonnes of supplies, organizers said, before heading to Teknaf, in Bangladesh across the border from Myanmar, where many Rohingya refugees are camped.
Myanmar has not allowed the ship to sail to Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, as organizers had hoped. Myanmar has also insisted that the aid be distributed equally to both Buddhist and Muslim communities.
“We will receive the aid [from Malaysia] at Yangon Port,” said Dr. Win Myay Aye, Myanmar’s minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement told VOA. “Then under our Ministry’s arrangement, we will send them to Rakhine State and the state government will take responsibility for distributing them to various communities mainly in Maung Taw Tsp.”
VOA Burmese Service reporters Htet Aung Khant and Nyan Win Aug contributed to this report.