Many of the women had their family members, including babies and young children, butchered in front of them
More than a dozen young women, some as young as 14, took off their niqab declaring their dignity had been taken by the Myanmar Army while sharing their stories of murder and rape with Bangladesh-origin documentary film maker Shafiur Rahman.
They also described to the UK-based film maker how they had been shamed and abused in front of their families and communities during the army’s four-month-long “clearance operations” in Rohingya-dominated Rakhine State.
Many of the women had their family members, including babies and young children, butchered in front of them.
They argued that they saw no reason now to hide their faces when it came to telling the world what happened to their homes and loved ones in Myanmar.
Shafiur recorded the testimonies in December and January from registered and unregistered refugee settlements in Ukhiya and Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar, where over 70,000 Rohingya Muslims have taken shelter since October.
In a 9:53-minute video, the women disclose to the world the horrendous stories which Shafiur later uploaded in an online platform.
In early January 2017, the Aung San Suu Kyi-led government surprisingly took action against soldiers who had been depicted on video beating up members of a Rohingya family. An investigation was announced regarding the specific case.
No investigations had previously been announced to hold individual soldiers or officers to account despite scores of far more serious allegations of widespread murder, burnings and rape of the Rohingyas in Rakhine State.
Tellingly, the government-appointed Rakhine State investigation commission has been labelled a “whitewash” by human rights organisations.
“In this context, the testimonies of these Rohingya women who have come to Bangladesh point to continued sex crimes and killings in Rakhine State perpetrated by the Myanmar security forces,” Shafiur describes.
In early February, a UN report detailed “devastating cruelty against Rohingya children, women and men.” Based on over 200 interviews, the report was introduced thus in an OHCHR news bulletin: “Mass gang-rape, killings – including of babies and young children, brutal beatings, disappearances and other serious human rights violations by Myanmar’s security forces in a sealed-off area north of Maungdaw in northern Rakhine State have been detailed in a new UN report issued Friday based on interviews with victims across the border in Bangladesh.”
The persecution of the Rohingyas in Myanmar is not a new development. As has been argued by many, most recently by Azeem Ibrahim in his book “The Rohingyas – Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide” (2016), the reality the Rohingyas are facing is the threat of a genocide.
As recent arrivals, these women and their families would not be registered by the Bangladesh government, Shafiur says.
“They face an uncertain future like other unregistered Rohingyas. Begging, depending on aid and potentially becoming victims of trafficking. They will receive no psychological support for the traumas they experienced,” he adds.
Already a virulent anti-Rohingya sentiment has taken hold in some parts in southern Bangladesh. Rohingyas, it is claimed, are involved in all forms of crime including theft, drugs and terrorism.
Other allegations say Rohingyas apparently cause environmental destruction, and they run off with Bangladeshi women. The list of allegations is long.
“Indeed I spoke to individuals who said the Rohingyas must have brought Burmese wrath upon themselves by engaging in disreputable behaviour,” the film maker says.
Driving in the environs of Ukhiya, “one can’t help but notice the presence of women, infants, children and elderly men sitting by the roadside throughout the day and even late at night. The children sit obediently by their guardians and sometimes appear dazed or lethargic.
“They stretch out their hands as cars and other vehicles drive past them. These are the recent arrivals to Bangladesh – driven out by the murderous mayhem initiated in Myanmar last year.”
Their high visibility has sadly not engendered empathy and solidarity with the Rohingya people amongst the locals. “Instead, it has resulted in many Bangladeshis welcoming astonishing reports that the government of Bangladesh is considering moving the Rohingyas to a remote island called Hatia in Noakhali.”