The Cable

Gruesome New Details on The Ethnic Cleansing in Myanmar No One Is Talking About

Myanmar is carrying out ‘devastating cruelty’ against minority group, U.N. charges.


It’s a U.N. report U.N. officials themselves call revolting and unbearable. Myanmar’s security forces killed, gang-raped, and tortured hundreds of Rohingya Muslims in a wave of unprecedented violence, according to a new U.N. report released Friday. Victims included children and babies as young as eight months.

In recent months, Myanmar security forces stepped up their efforts to clear the ethnic group from the country’s borders — in a campaign of “area clearance operations” — to historic levels in terms of both scale and brutality.

“The ‘area clearance operations’ have likely resulted in hundreds of deaths and have led to an estimated 66,000 people fleeing into Bangladesh and 22,000 being internally displaced,” the new U.N. report said.

A U.N. human rights research team wrote the report after interviewing hundreds of Rohingya who Myanmar security forces drove to neighboring Bangladesh.

The U.N. human rights office called the accounts “revolting.” Of the 101 women interviewed, over half told the U.N. team they had been sexually assaulted, raped, or gang-raped. One gang-rape victim was 11 years old. Another was nine months pregnant. The U.N. also received reports of Myanmar security forces killing children aged six and younger with knives.

“The devastating cruelty to which these Rohingya children have been subjected is unbearable,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement. “What kind of ‘clearance operation’ is this? What national security goals could possibly be served by this?” he added. In December, John McKissick, head of the UN High Commission for Refugees, labeled the operations, which first started in October, “ethnic cleansing.”

The Rohingya, numbering 1.1 million people in the country’s western Rakhine state, are loathed by the rest of the population and live in apartheid conditions. They’ve been called “the most persecuted minority in the world.”

Despite its brutality, the military’s campaign against the Rohingya is widely popular in Myanmar. The military claims it is fighting a Rohingya rebel insurgency, which restored the military’s popularity in the public’s eye.

One of Myanmar’s most prominent political figures, Aung San Suu Kyi, a recipient of the Nobel-Peace Prize, is facing increasing international criticism for staying quiet on the plight of Myanmar’s Muslim population — though it’s unclear how much clout she has with the military.

She refused U.N. requests to gain full access to its Rakhine state, where most of the violence reportedly took place. After the report’s release on Friday, Suu Kyi vowed to launch an investigation into the crimes and “take all necessary action” against abusers.

On Sunday, one of the country’s top legal advisers and a prominent member of Myanmar’s minority Muslim community, Ko Ni, was shot dead after speaking out about atrocities against the Rohingya. At the time he was shot, Ko Ni was holding his grandson.

This article has been updated.

Photo credit: MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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