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‘A Calculated Tool of Terror’

Rohingya refugees cross the Naf River with an improvised raft near Teknaf, Bangladesh, November 12, 2017. (Mohammad Ponir Hossain / Reuters)

Stories about the Rohingyas are hard to read. Hard to write, too. I wrote one earlier this year, here. I thought of it when reading a headline yesterday: “Out of the shadows: Rohingya rape survivors’ babies arrive.” The article, from the Associated Press, is here.

The Rohingyas are the people in western Burma who have been savaged by the Burmese military, in concert with ultra-nationalists. Here is a part of my piece dealing only with rape:

Mass murder aside, the reports of rape are especially horrifying, perhaps. They are copious, seeming to be without end. One could go into revolting detail, but one line from one report may suffice: “The rape of Rohingya women by Myanmar’s security forces has been sweeping and methodical.” (If you can bear the article, it is here.) The U.N.’s leading official on sexual violence, Pramila Patten, described rape as “a calculated tool of terror aimed at the extermination and removal of the Rohingya as a group.”

This problem pre-dates Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise to power, as the Rakhine problem in general does. In 2011, speaking to the Nobel Women’s Initiative, Aung San Suu Kyi said, “Rape is rife. It is used as a weapon by armed forces to intimidate the ethnic nationalities and to divide our country.”

Recently, however, the Burmese government has labeled reports of rape “fake.” Indeed, Aung San Suu Kyi herself has apparently used the new Americanism “fake news.” According to reports, she has used it about stories from Rakhine in general. In that state, a border official, Phone Tint, was asked about rape. He answered, “These women were claiming they were raped, but look at their appearances. Do you think they are that attractive to be raped?”

When you write about the Rohingyas and the violence done to them, beware: The worst of your readers will say one of two things — “Fake news” or “They had it coming.” As President Trump’s trade adviser said on television about the prime minister of Canada, “There’s a special place in hell . . .”

There are some people in the world who deal with rape victims, and this is one of the hardest jobs you could ever choose. One who has chosen it is Denis Mukwege, a doctor in Congo. I interviewed him once. Read about him here. The Rohingyas could use a hundred Mukweges, who are not available.

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