Sexual violence by Myanmar’s military against Muslim Rohingya amounts to war crimes, a U.N. report said on Thursday, adding that conditions are not favorable for refugees to return to the country.
The U.N. Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar said “soldiers routinely and systematically employed rape, gang rape and other violent and forced sexual acts against women, girls, boys, men and transgender people in blatant violation of international human rights law.” It added that the military “must stop using sexual and gender-based violence to terrorize and punish ethnic minorities.”
“Many of these acts amount to crimes under international law, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide,” the mission said in a statement.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since the Myanmar military launched a crackdown on the minority group in August 2017. A fresh push to repatriate some of the refugees fell flat on Thursday, with no one turning up to travel on five buses and 10 trucks laid on by Bangladesh. They are refusing to return without guarantees for their safety and a promise that they will at last be given citizenship by Myanmar, a Rohingya leader said in a statement.
In a speech in New York, Radhika Coomaraswamy, who took part in the U.N. Fact-Finding Mission, said “conditions were not favorable” for a safe repatriation.
“People will not return to their villages,” she said, adding that “the silence must be broken” surrounding cases of sexual violence against men, boys and transgender people.
The mission said it had interviewed hundreds of survivors and witnesses of sexual abuse in Kachin and Shan States in the north, and in Rakhine state in western Myanmar. It will present its final report to the U.N. Human Rights Council next month.
The Rohingya are not recognized as an official minority by the Myanmar government, which considers them Bengali interlopers despite many families having lived in the country for generations.