Interviews with health workers who have treated Rohingya survivors in Bangladesh corroborate allegations of sexual violence by the Myanmar military
A new report from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has documented widespread sexual violence committed by the Tatmadaw, the armed forces of Myanmar, and Myanmar security forces against the Rohingyas.
The massive campaign of violence in August 2017 drove more than 720,000 Rohingya into neighbouring Bangladesh.
Doctors, nurses, mental health experts, and other health professionals, who provided direct medical services to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps, gave accounts of the huge physical and psychological toll of sexual and gender-based violence on Rohingya women, girls, men, boys, and transgender and gender fluid people.
The research builds on PHR’s work documenting human rights violations in Myanmar for more than 15 years.
Following the August 2017 “clearance operation” carried out by Myanmar security forces and Rakhine Buddhist civilians in Rohingya villages across Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State, PHR teams conducted forensic examinations of survivors in what is now the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar.
The research teams gathered qualitative and quantitative data documenting the grave human rights violations committed against the Rohingya by Myanmar armed forces, including long-term disabilities resulting from the 2017 attack.
PHR’s new report, “Sexual Violence, Trauma, and Neglect: Observations of Health Care Providers Treating Rohingya Survivors in Refugee Camps in Bangladesh,” presents qualitative data gathered through interviews with 26 health care workers from a variety of humanitarian organizations -- who provided direct care to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh for some period between August 2017 and August 2020.
PHR sought the perspective of health care workers in order to provide an independent corroboration of the patterns of violence sustained by the Rohingya community and to avoid potentially re-traumatizing interviews with survivors.
“These narratives from health care professionals are critical in providing additional evidence of the patterns of sexual and gender-based violence suffered by Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar at the hands of the Tatmadaw,” said Ranit Mishori, PHR’s senior medical advisor, professor of family medicine at Georgetown University, and co-author of the report.
“Health workers’ testimonies of the behavioural and mental health status of Rohingya survivors tell us that these egregious acts of violence had a deep and long-lasting impact on survivors, significantly traumatizing them even years after the initial event,” she added.
Accounts from health care workers cited in the report also revealed chronic barriers to access to health care among Rohingya refugees, particularly regarding response to sexual and gender-based violence and associated impacts on physical, mental, and behavioural health.
The report reinforces PHR’s calls on the Myanmar government to launch immediate investigations of grave human rights violations against the Rohingya perpetrated by the Tatmadaw and Myanmar security forces, and to hold those responsible accountable for the atrocities they have committed.
“Perpetrators of this degree of vicious and unrelenting violence must be held accountable and persecuted to the fullest extent of international law,” said Karen Naimer, PHR’s director of programs.
“The torment, suffering, and injustices the Rohingya have endured are unfathomable. These accounts bolster the need for action by the government of Bangladesh and humanitarian partners to ensure that trauma-informed, survivor-centered treatment and support is accessible to survivors as they try to rebuild their lives,” she added.
The report includes a series of recommendations to the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh, humanitarian agencies, donors, and local service providers; and the international community.