No reason to hide our faces
The above image shows a group of very young Rohingya women, some as young as 14, who shared with me their stories of murder and rape. They took off their niqab declaring their dignity had been taken by the Burmese army, and that they had been shamed and abused in front of their families and communities. Many had family members, including babies and young children, butchered in front of them. They argued that they saw no reason now to hide their faces when it comes to telling the world what happened to their homes and loved ones in Myanmar.
In early January 2017, the Aung San Suu Kyi government surprisingly took action against soldiers who had been depicted on video beating up members of a Rohingya family. An investigation was announced concerning that specific case. No investigations had previously been announced to hold individual soldiers or officers to account despite scores of far more serious allegations of widespread murder, burnings and rape of Rohingya in Rakhine state. Tellingly, the government appointed Rakhine State Investigation commission has been labelled a "whitewash" by human rights organisations. In this context, the testimonies of these Rohingya women who have come to Bangladesh point to continued sex crimes and killings in Rakhine state perpetrated by the Myanmar security forces.
In early February 2017, a UN report detailed "Devastating cruelty against Rohingya children, women and men." Based on over 200 interviews the report was introduced thus in an OHCHR news bulletin:
"Mass gang-rape, killings – including of babies and young children, brutal beatings, disappearances and other serious human rights violations by Myanmar's security forces in a sealed-off area north of Maungdaw in northern Rakhine State have been detailed in a new UN report issued Friday based on interviews with victims across the border in Bangladesh."
The persecution of Rohingya is Myanmar is not a new development. As has been argued by many, most recently by Azeem Ibrahim in his book "The Rohingyas - Inside Myanmar's Hidden Genocide" ( 2016), the reality facing the Rohingyas is the threat of genocide.
They taunted me and tortured me. They put pictures of my rape on the internet. Even the people of my neighbourhood tormented me a lot.
As recent arrivals, these women and their families will not be registered by the Bangladesh government. They face an uncertain future like other unregistered Rohingya. Begging, depending on aid and potentially becoming victims of trafficking. They will receive no psychological support for the traumas they experienced.
Already a virulent anti-Rohingya sentiment has taken hold of parts of society in southern Bangladesh. Rohingya, it is claimed, are involved in all forms of crime including theft, drugs and terrorism. Rohingya apparently cause environmental destruction, and they run off with Bangladeshi women etc. The list of allegations is long. Indeed I spoke to individuals who said the Rohingya must have brought Burmese wrath upon themselves by engaging in disreputable behaviour.
Driving in the environs of Ukhiya, one can't help but notice the presence of women, infants, children and elderly men sitting by the roadside throughout the day and even late at night. The children sit obediently by their guardians and sometimes appear dazed or lethargic. They stretch out their hands as cars and other vehicles drive past them. These are the recent arrivals to Bangladesh - driven out by the murderous mayhem initiated in Myanmar last year. Their high visibility has sadly not engendered empathy and solidarity with the Rohingya people amongst the locals. Instead it has resulted in many Bangladeshis welcoming astonishing reports that the government of Bangladesh is considering moving Rohingya to a remote island called Hatiya in Noakhali.
The following short film was filmed in the makeshift refugee camps of southern Bangladesh and in Oxford.