“Every Day, I Remember They Destroyed My Life”

December 6th, 2023  •  Author:   Legal Action Worldwide  •  4 minute read
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“Every Day, I Remember They Destroyed My Life” 

Long-Term Physical and Psychosocial Consequences of Genocidal Sexual and Gender-Based Violence the Myanmar Military Committed against the Rohingya in its 2017 ‘Clearance Operations’  

Research Report

LAW’s multidisciplinary research seeks to understand if there is any continuing impact(s) of the sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) that was committed by the Myanmar military against Rohingya survivors to determine whether such SGBV can constitute genocide.

Context: Several international efforts since the 2017 ‘clearance operations’ have documented the perpetration of SGBV against the Rohingya. Separately, studies have analysed a broad range of mental health outcomes among the Rohingya population in the aftermath of the ‘clearance operations’ and during the accompanying humanitarian response. This research breaks new ground by exploring the connection between the SGBV experienced by Rohingya in Myanmar and their current psychological state. In essence, there is a lack of clinical evidence that delves into the enduring impact of the systematic SGBV committed against Rohingya in Myanmar, particularly in terms of its consequences for not only survivors’ mental health but also their reproductive capacity and its impact on the community as a whole.   

To shed light on these aspects, this research focused on three questions:  

  1. What is the physical and psychological impact of the SGBV during 2017 ‘clearance operations’ on Rohingya victims and survivors?  
  2. What is the impact of such SGBV on the individual survivors’ familial relations, and is there any impact on the Rohingya society?  
  3. Can SGBV against Rohingya – through its perpetration and long-term physical and psychosocial consequences – constitute a crime of genocide under the international law? 

Between August 2022 and March 2023, a multi-disciplinary team comprising psychologists, a medical doctor, and lawyers undertook the research and analysed the medical and psychosocial data collected from survivors and examined the findings within the applicable legal framework.  The research focuses on the experiences of female, male, and hijra survivors of SGBV who were forcibly displaced from Myanmar over six years ago and currently reside in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.   

Key Findings:  

  1. The research found that the scale of physical injuries from SGBV committed during the 2017 ‘clearance operations’ resulted in long-term consequences, including permanent damage to survivors’ genitalia, which has impacted their ability to procreate.
  2. All survivors described severe psychological injuries which has left them in a state of extreme emotional distress.
  3. The SGBV also damaged individual survivors’ intrafamilial relationships including their ability to be intimate with their partner, their relationship with extended family networks, and with the broader community. In particular, the use of sexual violence negatively impacted survivors’ parent-child relationships and their psychological capacity to procreate.  
  4. The research also found that the systematic nature of the SGBV was destructive to the social fabric of the community in at least three ways:
    – Firstly, severe ostracisation of the female survivors from family and kinship resulted in the loss of their cultural identity.
    – Secondly, the real and symbolic emasculation of men by instilling powerlessness and diminishing their social role.
    – Thirdly, the forced reorganisation of the Rohingya family unit and lineage, and erosion of future social alliances such as marriage within the community. 

Recommendations are as follows: 

  1. Efforts to hold Myanmar accountable for the serious international crimes against the Rohingya including SGBV, must be advanced on an urgent basis. 
  2. Improved protection measures are necessary to ensure Rohingya SGBV survivors’ continuous engagement in international justice proceedings. 
  3. Fund and establish quality and long-term specialised support for Rohingya SGBV survivors across genders. 

LAW dedicates this research to the Rohingya victims and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated in Myanmar. LAW is grateful to those who participated in this research, confided in us, and shared the harrowing experiences they suffered and continue to suffer. Their courage to speak out and pursue justice is deeply moving – we must have the courage to seek justice with them. 


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