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    Is the Burmese Military Keeping Rohingya Women As Sex Slaves?

    Regiment 207’s military camp a few miles from Sittwe. 

    By Assed Baig
    April 12, 2013

    Burma’s Muslims are still having a pretty awful time
    of it. Last year, the country’s Buddhist majority launched a series of attacks
    on the minority Rohingya Muslim population, supposedly because they’re not
    “ethnically pure”. The attacks have continued this year and now include
    the general Muslim population, as well as the ethnic Rohingyas, getting their
    homes burned down and heads smashed in by marauding gangs of vicious Buddhists.

    After monitoring the plight of the Rohingya and the
    two incidents of violence against them in June and Octoberlast year, I decided
    to fly out to Burma in wary anticipation of another round of trouble. The
    problem was that I had no money, no commission, no media organisation backing
    me and the mainstream media had pretty much stopped reporting on the issue.
    When I turned to the public to help fund my trip, the response was overwhelming
    (turns out people do have an interest in helping to expose the extended violent
    persecution of vulnerable minorities) and they collectively helped me raise
    enough money to go.    

    We stayed in Sittwe, the main city in Arakhan state,
    which is where the majority of the Rohingya camps are situated. Travelling past
    the police check points every morning and into the Rohingya camps, it felt like
    being transported into a parallel world where suddenly it’s fine to forget
    about your obligations as a human to not be an unscrupulous bully to a group of
    people just because they originally come from somewhere different to you. The
    Rohingya Muslims aren’t recognised as citizens of Burma, meaning they have no
    rights and very littleaccess to education and healthcare.

    A Rohingya boy at an unregistered internally displaced
    person camp in Arakhan state.

    While in Sittwe, some of my contacts told me about
    Rohingya women being kept at a military base. I tracked down some of the
    eyewitnesses, but I needed to get close to the camp to confirm what I’d heard.
    Bear in mind that taking pictures and video of a Burmese military base
    obviously isn’t something to be taken lightly, and the people who’d agreed to
    take me there risked their lives if they were caught.

    The evidence I obtained during my week in Sittwe
    strongly implies that the Burmese military is imprisoning Rohingya women from
    the Arakhan region and using them as sex slaves. That evidence has been passed
    on to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a United Nations agency
    dealing with labour issues, who have lodged a complaint to the Burmese
    government and launched an investigation in an attempt to rescue the women.

    Eyewitness testimony of a military camp situated a few
    miles from Sittwe town (and home to Regiment 270) describes around 20 women and
    three children under the age of eight being held at the camp. One of the
    witnesses, Amina (name changed), described walking past the camp when she heard
    voices calling out to her. The imprisoned women asked Amina if she was Muslim;
    she is.    

    “Please help us. If you can help us escape from here
    you will go to jannah (heaven),” one woman told her. “Many military men come,
    we can’t breathe. We want to become Muslim again. If we stay like this we will
    go to hell.” The intended meaning of what was said was, Amina felt, clear:
    these women are being raped, and they don’t have to say it explicitly for
    anyone to understand what’s taking place.

    The prisoners asked Amina to pass the message on to
    someone who could help. “Our parents can’t find us,” they added.

    A Rohingya woman at a medical clinic. Photo by Dougal

    The women only managed to speak to Amina because it
    was Burmese Independence Day and the soldiers were away. “We’ve been arrested
    here for quite a long time now. They have left us today because they have a
    special visitor,” they told Amina. The women continued, telling Amina that if
    the word was spread too much that the military would kill them, as well as
    warning her that she was at risk of being killed herself if she was spotted
    talking to them.

    Amina saw three children inside the camp. Two of them
    popped their heads up on the windowsills and one came up to the fence so that
    Amina could pass through some vegetables she’d collected. “The women were
    crying,” she told me. “Some of them called me daughter, others called
    me sister.”

    Amina described some of the women as pregnant, which
    could indicate that they’ve been prisoners since the June or October violence
    and have become pregnant during their imprisonment. Information relayed from
    various sources indicates that local villagers are aware that women are being
    kept as prisoners but are too scared to speak out. And as Rohingya aren’t
    recognised as citizens of Burma – and therefore have no rights – it’s fair to
    assume that the punishment inflicted on them for making these kinds of allegations
    wouldn’t exactly be regulated.

    A Rohingya burnt to the ground in Arakhan state. Photo
    by Spike Johnson.

    An 18-year-old Rohingya man I interviewed described
    another camp 20 minutes away (which is home to the medical regiment), where
    another woman was apparently being held under similar conditions. He was one of
    around 14 rice paddy workers who went to speak Rakhine with the woman, the
    language spoken by the Buddhist population of Arakhan. The woman replied,
    “Don’t speak Rakhine with me any more, I am Muslim and a prisoner here.”

    She then told the men her father’s name and where she
    was from. They asked her what she was doing at a military camp if she was
    Muslim, and if she was ready to come with them. She replied, “I have two
    children,” implying that her children are being used to keep her at the camp.
    This evidence has also been passed on to the ILO.

    I tracked down other eyewitnesses, but they were
    mostly too afraid to speak. One woman who’d seen the women imprisoned at
    Regiment 270’s camp initially agreed to speak to me, but backed out after her
    husband threatened to divorce her if she spoke to any journalists about the
    situation. The Rohingya have no rights or official form of protection, and
    those who do speak to journalists are risking their lives, so the reluctance to
    divulge what they know is perfectly understandable.

    The last known sighting of these women was at the end
    of March and it’s uncertain whether they’re still alive. It’s also uncertain if
    the women are still at the camp or have been split up into different camps. But
    what is certain is that there are innocent Rohingya women being held captive by
    the Burmese military and plenty of locals know about it, only it’s impossible
    for them to do anything about it without the threat of losing their lives.

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