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Rohingya mother

A Rohingya mother and child in Unchiprang refugee camp, Bangladesh.  (Photo: Roger Arnold/UNHRC)

After Hearing Accounts of Sexual Violence, UN Official to Bring Rohingya Case to ICC

Survivors who fled Myanmar told UN representative Pramila Patten about their experiences with "gang-rape by multiple soldiers, forced public nudity and humiliation, and sexual slavery in military captivity"

Jessica Corbett

After hearing personal accounts of torture and sexual violence from survivors, a senior United Nations official on Sunday vowed to raise the issue of persecution of the Rohingya people in Myanmar with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"Sexual violence is being commanded, orchestrated, and perpetrated by the Armed Forces of Myanmar," said Pramila Patten, special representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict. "When I return to New York I will brief and raise the issue with the prosecutor and president of the ICC whether they [Myanmar's military] can be held responsible for these atrocities."

Patten, who said about $10 million in immediate aid is needed to provide necessary services for survivors of gender-based violence, spoke to the media in the Bangladeshi capital on Sunday after a three-day trip to camps located near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. During her trip, as Reuters reports, "she met women and girls who are among hundreds of thousands of Rohingya that have sought refuge in Bangladesh following a crackdown by Myanmar's military on the predominantly Muslim minority."

"The forms of sexual violence we consistently heard about from survivors include gang-rape by multiple soldiers, forced public nudity and humiliation, and sexual slavery in military captivity," Patten said. "Rape is an act and a weapon of genocide."

"The widespread threat and use of sexual violence was a driver and 'push factor' for forced displacement on a massive scale," Patten added, "and a calculated tool of terror aimed at the extermination and removal of the Rohingya as a group." 

The U.N. estimates some 600,000 Rohingya have fled to the neighboring nation since late August, and recent reports from Myanmar suggest that the flow of refugees over the Bangladeshi border is unlikely to slow down any time soon. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported earlier this week that "children and women have made up more than half of the total population" of those who have fled.

Among the Rohingya refugees living in border camps, the U.N. office found that several are struggling with serious health problems or disabilities, and there are high proportions of elderly people, unaccompanied and separated children—including some of who are taking care of younger siblings—and single mothers who are "holding their families together with little support in harsh camp conditions."

"The burden is too heavy to be borne by the government of Bangladesh alone," Patten said Sunday. "We need full funding for this humanitarian crisis from the international donor community."

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