Having had their dignity compromised by the Myanmar security forces, more than a dozen Rohingya young women abandoned their niqab while sharing stories of murder and rape with Shafiur Rahman, an independent documentary maker
The victims described to the UK-based film maker how they had been shamed and abused in front of their families and communities during the army’s four-month-long “clearance operations” in Rohingya-dominated Rakhine State.
Many of the women had their family members, including babies and young children, butchered in front of them.
They argued that they now had no reason to veil their faces while telling the world what happened to their homes and loved ones in Myanmar.
In December 2016 and January, Shafiur recorded the testimonies from registered and unregistered refugee settlements in Ukhiya and Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar, where over 70,000 Rohingya Muslims have taken shelter since October 2016.
In early January, once a video of soldiers beating up members of a Rohingya family gained global notice, the Aung San Suu Kyi-led government finally announced they would launch an investigation.
Previously, individual soldiers or officers were never taken to task despite scores of serious allegations of widespread arson, murder and rape of the Rohingyas in Rakhine State.
Human rights organisations have pointedly labelled the government-appointed Rakhine State investigation commission a “whitewash.”
“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,” Shafiur describes.
In early February, a UN report detailed “devastating cruelty against Rohingya children, women and men.” Based on over 200 interviews, the report was introduced by an OHCHR news bulletin as: “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 the Rohingyas in Myanmar is not a new development. Most recently, Azeem Ibrahim, in his book “The Rohingyas – Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide” (2016), joins the much debated conversation regarding the reality the Rohingyas are facing: the threat of a genocide.
As recent arrivals, these women and their families would not be registered by the Bangladesh government.
“They face an uncertain future like other unregistered Rohingyas. Begging, depending on aid and potentially becoming victims of trafficking. They will receive no psychological support for the traumas they experienced,” Shafiur says.
Already a virulent anti-Rohingya sentiment has taken hold in some parts in southern Bangladesh. Some claim Rohingyas are involved in all forms of crime including theft, drugs and terrorism.
Other allegations are that Rohingyas apparently cause environmental destruction and they elope with Bangladeshi women. The list is never-ending.
“I even spoke to individuals who believe the Rohingyas must have brought Burmese wrath upon themselves by engaging in disreputable behaviour,” the film maker says.
Driving in the environs of Ukhiya, “one can’t help but notice the presence of women, infants, children and elderly men sitting at the roadside throughout the day and late into the 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 or solidarity among the locals. “Instead, it has resulted in many Bangladeshis welcoming astonishing reports that the government of Bangladesh is considering moving the Rohingyas to a remote island in Hatia, Noakhali.”