The UN Security Council has failed to prevent the Rohingya refugee crisis, and the 15-member body must refer sexual violence and other crimes against the ethnic group to the International Criminal Court, a Rohingya lawyer said at an UNSC debate.
“Where I come from, women and girls have been gang-raped, tortured and killed by the Myanmar army, for no reason other than for being a Rohingya,” Razia Sultana said on behalf of non-governmental organisations during a Security Council open debate on prevention of sexual violence in conflict.
The debate, addressed by Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten was held as the Council prepares for a visit later this month to Myanmar and its neighbouring Bangladesh, which hosts hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees.
Sultana urged the Council members to meet with women and girl survivors during the visit. Since August last year, more than 6,70,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar. “This is the fastest refugee movement since the Rwanda genocide,” Sultana said. “However, the international community, especially the Security Council, has failed us. This latest crisis could have been prevented if the warning signs since 2012 had not been ignored,” she added.
This year’s UN Secretary-General’s report on sexual violence in conflict lists the Myanmar military for the first time.
Refer to ICC
Sultana said the Council must refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court, the world’s top criminal court, without delay. “The Myanmar military is listed for the first time in this year’s Secretary General’s report on sexual violence in conflict. In light of this and the ongoing impunity of the army, the Security Council must refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court without delay for the horrific crimes committed against the Rohingya as well as for violations against other ethnic groups,” she said.
Sultana said her own research and interviews provide evidence that government troops raped well over 300 women and girls in 17 villages in Rakhine state. With over 350 villages attacked and burned since August 2017, this number is likely to be only a fraction of the total. “Girls as young as six were gang-raped,” she said.
Mohammed told the Council that this year, in Myanmar and many other conflict situations, the threat and the act of sexual violence has, once again, been used as a “tactic to advance military, economic and ideological objectives.”
“And, once again, it has been a driver of massive forced displacement,” she added. “Let us intensify our efforts to end the horrific litany of sexual violence in conflict so that women, girls, men and boys have one less burden to bear as they work to rebuild shattered lives.”
A decade ago, the Council adopted the groundbreaking resolution 1820, which elevated the issue of conflict-related sexual violence onto its agenda, as a threat to security and impediment to peace. It seeks to “debunk the myths that fuel sexual violence,” and rejects the notion of rape as an “inevitable byproduct of war” or mere “collateral damage”. Since then, the issue has been systematically included in peacekeeping missions.
But “it is clear that words on paper are not yet matched by facts on the ground. We have not yet moved from resolutions to lasting solutions,” Patten said. “It is a travesty and an outrage that not a single member of the ISIL or the Boko Haram has yet been convicted for sexual violence as an international crime,” she said.
As recommendations, she called on the international community to establish a reparations fund for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, while stressing the need for a more operational response to stigma alleviation, as well as the need to marshal sustained funding for the gender-based response.
A concept note circulated in advance of this meeting asked delegates to share national experiences regarding specific measures taken to prevent conflict-related sexual violence, particularly long-term initiatives focused on women’s empowerment, advancing gender equality, and ensuring that perpetrators of sexual violence were brought to justice.
The note also posed several other discussion questions, including one about how the Council — when establishing and renewing the mandates of UN peacekeeping and political missions, as well as relevant sanctions regimes — can more effectively promote gender equality, the empowerment of women in conflict and post-conflict situations, and accountability for sexual violence crimes.