In its report to the Human Rights Council in September 2018 (hereinafter “the 2018 Report”), the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (hereinafter “The Mission”) concluded that “rape and other sexual violence have been a particularly egregious and recurrent feature of the targeting of the civilian population in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States since 2011”.
The Mission found that sexual and gender-based violence was a hallmark of the Tatmadaw’s operations in northern Myanmar and in Rakhine. These violations, for most part perpetrated against ethnic women and girls, were used with the intent to intimidate, terrorise and punish the civilian population and as a tactic of war. The Tatmadaw was overwhelmingly the main perpetrator.
Two years after the “clearance operations” against the Rohingya population in Rakhine, and one year since the publication of the Mission’s findings, accountability for these egregious acts remains elusive. The Mission felt compelled to issue this thematic report, further exposing these grave violations that the Mission considers amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide.
In examining the situation of sexual and gender-based violence in Myanmar, the Mission also reviewed the situation of gender inequality in Myanmar more broadly. It found a direct nexus between the lack of gender equality more generally within the country and within ethnic communities, and the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence. Impunity for gender-based violence in Myanmar is exacerbated by underlying gender inequality. Ethnic women and girls are doubly victimised: as women and girls and as members of ethnic minority communities.
In its 2018 report, the Mission found that men and boys have also been victims of sexual and gender-based violence by security forces. On 23 April 2019, in its resolution 2467, the Security Council recognized that sexual and gender-based violence also targets men and boys in armed conflict and post-conflict settings, as well as in the context of detention settings, and in the context of those associated with armed groups. Violent conflict impacts men, women, boys, girls and those with diverse gender identities differently. While there is an increasing awareness of the importance of gender in efforts to build sustainable peace, much of the focus has been on women and girls. The experiences of men and boys have not been understood well. Against this background, the Mission conducted further investigations into the situation of sexual and gender-based violence against men and boys in the context of Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts and found that they have been subjected to sexual and gender-based violence, especially in the context of detention settings. The physical and psychological consequences are severe and far-reaching, exacerbated by the stigma attached to male rape.
The Mission also gathered information about the situation of people from the transgender community, in particular transgender Rohingya. It found that transgender women have suffered sexual and gender-based violence, including rape by the Tatmadaw and Border Guard Police.
Rohingya women, men and boys have also been traumatised through the forced witnessing of sexual and gender-based violence inflicted on their relatives and community members, with severe long-term mental effects.
The Mission found that sexual and gender-based violence is also perpetrated by ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in northern Myanmar, although to a significantly lesser extent than that perpetrated by the Tatmadaw. The Mission gathered information about rape and sexual violence, including sexual harassment of women and girls by EAOs. Accountability for these crimes is also inadequate in most cases, as EAOs rely on their traditional justice systems, ill-suited to provide justice to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
Conflicts impact different genders differently. Myanmar is no exception to this rule. The Mission found the gendered impact of Myanmar’s conflicts to be multi-faceted, while invariably taking a heavy toll on women and girls. In northern Myanmar, women and girls have borne the brunt of violations, including sexual and gender-based violence, as well as a wide spectrum of violations of their basic economic and social rights against the backdrop of existing gender inequality. In Rakhine, Rohingya women have been subjected to grave sexual and gender-based violence, including gang rape, rape and mutilation. Their situation is exacerbated by gender inequality and wide-spread discrimination against Rohingya, affecting rehabilitation and redress.
The Mission found that the obstacles to accountability for sexual and gender-based violence in Myanmar are many. To date, no senior Tatmadaw officer has been held accountable for the widespread sexual and gender-based violence committed against the Rohingya during the 2016 and 2017 “clearance operations”. Some of the obstacles are legal. The Government has also yet to show the necessary political will and courage to effectively address the systemic nature of sexual and gender-based violence committed by its security forces.
The Mission concludes this report with a set of recommendations building on its 2018 report specifically aimed at accountability, rehabilitation and redress for victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
No perpetrator of rape, gang rape and other sexual and gender-based violence should go unpunished. No victim of these crimes should be deprived of justice. Accountability is as urgent a priority today as ever. This report is a call to action to the Government of Myanmar, to all parties to the conflicts and to the international community to hold perpetrators of rape and other forms of sexual violence to account.
Download full report here.