Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has conspicuously avoided talking about reports of Rohingya Muslim women and girls being raped by military forces and Buddhist militia in the western Rakhine State during a recent meeting with a senior UN official.
UN special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, raised the issue with Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s state counselor, when the former traveled to Myanmar in mid-December, according to an internal memo seen by The Guardian.
Rohingya people, who according to the UN are “the world’s most persecuted minority,” have been subject to state-sponsored violence since late last year. A crackdown accompanied by a military siege has been ongoing since then. That violence intensified in August 24, and more than 655,000 Rohingya people have fled the violence to Bangladesh ever since.
Over the past three months, government troops, apart from raping, have been committing killings, making arbitrary arrests, and carrying out mass arson attacks to destroy houses in predominantly-Rohingya villages in Rakhine.
Avoidance, and denial
In a letter sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Patten wrote last week that Suu Kyi had refused to engage in “any substantive discussion” of reports that soldiers, border guard police, and Buddhist militias have been carrying out “widespread and systematic” sexual violence in Rakhine.
“The meeting with the state counselor was a cordial courtesy call of approximately 45 minutes that was, unfortunately, not substantive in nature,” she wrote.
Instead of discussing the reports directly, Suu Kyi told Patten that she would be able to have “a number of good meetings” with senior Myanmar officials.
In those meetings, with the representatives of the military and civilian government, Patten was told that reports of atrocities were “exaggerated and fabricated by the international community.”
She said they even accused those who fled to Bangladesh of having affiliation “with terrorist groups, and did so to evade law enforcement.”
Myanmar’s military has totally cleared itself of any wrongdoing in an internal investigation it says it has carried out. The army denies that it has killed any Rohingya people, raped, any women and girls, or burned down houses and mosques in their villages.
Widespread reports, including by Western journalists, and eyewitness accounts point exactly to the contrary.
While in Myanmar, Patten also met the man who headed the internal investigation by the military, Lt-Gen Aye Win.
She explained that the investigation, carried out on some Rohingya people by “armed men in uniform,” clearly occurred “under coercive circumstances.”
“Accordingly, over 800 interviews yielded zero reports of sexual or other violence against civilians by the armed and security forces,” she said.
A recent investigation conducted by the Associated Press found that Muslim women and girls have been subjected to “methodical” and “sweeping rape by Myanmar soldiers. The probe was conducted based on interviews with 29 Rohingya women and girls, who survived sexual assault and have managed to take refuge in neighboring Bangladesh.
Each and every woman described that she had been attacked by groups of men. They said the rape was often coupled with other forms of extreme violence. They said the attackers wore military-style uniforms, generally dark green or camouflage.
Patten had already described sexual violence as “clearly a driver” for Rohingya Muslims to flee Myanmar.
Two foreign journalist held in drone case to be freed
In a separate development, police in Myanmar said they would drop a case against two journalists who had been detained in October because of filming with a drone near Myanmar’s parliament building in the capital, Naypyitaw.
Myanmarese senior police officials had ordered that charges against the two foreign nationals — Cameraman Lau Hon Meng of Singapore and reporter Mok Choy Lin of Malaysia — be dropped, said police Lieutenant Tun Tun Win.
The two were detained along with a local journalist, Aung Naing Soe, who was working as their interpreter, and driver Hla Tin late in October.
The four are currently serving two-month sentences for violating an aircraft law, with further charges pending. But police said charges would be dropped and the four would be freed.