The Rohingya women traumatised by mass rape

by Cristel Amiss of Black Women’s Rape Action Project & Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape. Published 17 March 2018 in Morning Star (see morningstar.online.co.uk)

A new report, Rape by Command published by Kaladan Press Network, documents mass violence against women and girls by the Myanmar military, in its 2017 purge of Rohingya people across northern Rakhine State.

We met Pippa Curwen, a human rights defender, who helped publish the research. She has been involved in life-saving work on the Thai-Myanmar (formerly Burma) border for over a decade.

The chief researcher of the report is lawyer Razia Sultana, a former teacher. She interviewed 36 survivors – 24 women and 12 men who had just arrived on the border with Bangladesh having fled for their lives.  They described the torture they had suffered and what they had seen inflicted on others – horrific crimes committed by the military during their August 2017 campaign to ethnically cleanse the northern Rakhine state where many Rohingya had lived.  Eight were rape survivors.

Sultana is from the region and this is the closest we have to the authentic voices of the Rohingya themselves, uncensored by the interpretations of outside observers or academics.

Sultana had recorded earlier witness evidence of atrocities in 2016. The Background chapter tells how the Myanmar government had refused visas to independent international investigators, instead installing its own “Rakhine Investigative Commission”, which did not report any instances of abuses during the whole 2016 military operations. This impunity gave a green light to atrocities on an even larger scale in 2017.

“Women and girls were raped, mutilated and killed for their very identity as Rohingya. Rape is being used as a weapon of genocide.”

Sultana documents testimony that hundreds of women and girls were gang-raped in front of their loved ones by groups of Myanmar soldiers as their homes were ransacked and destroyed.  Often, these rapes were accompanied by other horrific violence using knives, burning and other forms of torture.  Women and children were brutally attacked in their homes, while fleeing, and in military camps where they were held prisoner.
She notes that particular acts of mutilation of women’s breasts and genitals, indicate that the violence was the result of a directive, rather than individual soldiers’ actions.  Atrocities were authorised by the military and the border police which systematically cleared Rohingya communities from the countryside and towns, razing their homes, leaving only non-Muslim villages intact.  They aimed to extinguish the very existence of the Rohingya.

As an immediate precursor to violence targeting women and children, Myanmar troops invaded the villages, rounding up men and boys for arrest, torturing and killing, often using allegations of “terrorism”. This left women and children alone and vulnerable and paved the way for mass rape.

Given the systematic organisation of the military raids, with were co-ordinated by the armed forces from the sea, air and on land, the report concludes that war crimes have been committed.  It calls for the military leaders at the highest level to be held responsible.

Myanmar has so far blocked any independent UN fact-finding investigation.  This is being used as a pretext for some governments to take no action at all, and to carry on supporting investments with the excuse that they are waiting for an official UN report.
The country’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has refused to mention the Rohingya to the outrage of people around the world who supported her when she was under house arrest.  Some experts have avoided acknowledging that this mass rape and murder is genocide.

As anti-rape organisations with over 60 years of combined experience of working with survivors of rape, including historic child and domestic abuse in the UK, we know how hard it is to get justice.  Some of us have fled to the UK after suffering rape and torture by military or others in authority.  Our collective self-help with survivors, and our attempts to hold their attackers to account, addresses the trauma of rape, of witnessing loved ones killed, and the many barriers to recovery faced by victims of sexual and racist/Islamophobic crimes. These are compounded by losing your home and/or becoming a refugee.

There are now 900,000 Rohingya in the camps of Bangladesh who need our support and action. Rape by Command calls for:

  • Holding the military to account for systematic rape and other violence against civilian women and children. No impunity for the Myanmar military!
  • A place of safety for all the refugees to settle and rebuild their lives. They must not be forced back to Myanmar.  The majority who want ultimately to return must be guaranteed rights and safety.

The Sisters of Rohingya are demanding sanctions against Myanmar, not just military sanctions, and an end to foreign investment.  On International Women’s Day, 8 March, we joined a large and lively picket outside Unilever HQ, London, calling for the company to divest from Myanmar.


Unilever is one of the biggest foreign investors in the region, annually investing $667m.  It claims to respect the dignity and rights of women and girls, especially in its marketing of Dove products, and has been named “Impact Champion” by UN Women.  It’s time it put this into practice by withdrawing from Myanmar instead of enhancing the funds available to the military government.

The Unilever protesters handed in a letter to Chief Executive Paul Polman (who was paid £9.4m in 2015) urging him to divest.  The international movement against sexual violence, from Hollywood to #MeToo and Time’sUp, must be extended to the Rohingyas – women, children and men.

Corporations must be forced to put life before profit and to stop funding rape and genocide.  We are all sisters and brothers of Rohingya.

Cristel Amiss is a member the Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Lisa Longstaff is a member of Women Against Rape.

You can support the campaign by using the hashtags  #No Peace  #No Dove
For more information please email bwrap@rapeaction.net; follow @bwrap1; or email war@womenagainstrape.net ; follow @AgainstRape; or visit the Sisters of Rohingya blog sistersofrohingya.wordpress.com. You can see the full report Rape by Command at: www.kaladanpress.org

Open Letter for compensation to Secretary of Justice

Dear friends

Please add your signature to the open letter below, which is pressing for urgent changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme for victims of sexual violence.

We have been campaigning together with a national network of survivors of a wide variety of sexual violence, as children and as adults, and we have put together this open letter on what we have found to be the main obstacles to compensation. In the context of #MeToo and Time’s Up movements we can win. More materials and media coverage at: http://againstrape.net/category/campaigns/compensation

We particularly urge survivors’ organisations, ISVAs, law firms, other professionals and any other groups to sign. Or you can sign as an individual. Please ask groups you know to sign.

If your organization or law firm helps or supports survivors to claim or to appeal, we would really like to be in touch and to work with you. Please let us know, so that we can contact you.

Against rape and for compensation and justice,

Lisa Longstaff

——————————————————–

Rt Hon. David Gauke
Secretary of State for Justice

Dear David Gauke

We collectively represent the experience and demands of thousands of survivors of rape, domestic violence and sex crimes suffered as children or adults.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme is discriminating against victims of sexual crimes – even in some cases where our attacker was sent to prison. Winning justice and compensation is official recognition and a crucial step to recovery. It is particularly important for those whose attacker evaded prosecution – the vast majority of rape and domestic violence survivors.

There are several ways in which the Scheme should be updated. We appeal to your government to urgently change the following rules and practices:

1.   The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) denies compensation to victims who delayed reporting to the police – Paragraph 23.
Rape can be so traumatic to the victim that they may be unable to speak about it for some years. Many also experience pressure from others to stay silent.

2.   Victims below 16, the legal age of consent, are denied compensation.
The legal definition of rape is not necessarily applied by the CICA in relation to child victims. Since 2012 over 700 girls were refused compensation because the CICA decided they had ‘consented to sex’ despite being below the age of consent, and even where their attacker had been prosecuted and convicted. How can the CICA be allowed to contradict the criminal law in this way? Embarrassing publicity recently forced the government to think again about definitions of rape of children. But they only told the CICA to take ‘grooming’ into account. Not all girls who were raped by adult men were first groomed and therefore the CICA can still say they consented.

3.   Living under thesame roofwith your attacker before October 1979 disqualifies you from receiving compensation – Paragraph 19.
Before 1979 the rule was that if your attacker lived in the same household as you, you were not entitled to compensation. It denies compensation to victims even those whose rapist was convicted. The excuse was that your attacker might benefit from your award. In 1979 that rule was abolished, but it was not made retrospective. Between 2008-2013, 502 victims of rape were denied an award under this discredited rule. A significant proportion of rapes are committed by family members, and are among the most injurious. Retrospective payments must be awarded to those who have been denied.

4.   Victims of rape who have criminal convictions are denied compensation – Paragraphs 25-27.
Since 2015, at least 385 victims of sexual violence had been refused because of a conviction.[1] Unspent convictions for non-violent and minor offences, including theft, drink-driving or an unpaid TV licence are routinely used to deny victims an award. The CICA claims that the state having once prosecuted us nullifies any claim we have for compensation as it was a drain on public resources. Instead, they should value the public service we performed of bringing a rapist or other violent criminal to justice, protecting everyone’s safety. To punish us twice – first for the crime that we committed, and secondly for the crime committed against us – is discriminatory. This affects some of the most vulnerable victims, penalising those who may have been criminalised as a result of the rape trauma they have endured. Victims often self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to soothe their pain, and then get convicted. Sex workers, even those without criminal convictions, face moralistic judgements on their ‘character and conduct’. We don’t want divisive moral judgements by the CICA as either good or bad victims.

5.   Time limit – Paragraphs 87-89.
There is a two year time limit after the crime to make a claim, or if it occurred when the victim was a child, two years from our 18th birthday. This rule disregards the common delays and pressures we face in rape investigations and trials. Also, the police advise victims not to claim until the end of a trial as defence barristers often argue that compensation is a motive for a false allegation. Delays may put a claim out of time through no fault of our own. Secondly, the trauma of rape and the prosecution process prevents many victims from applying within two years. The time limit must be extended to at least five years, longer for those raped as children.

6.   Victims have to co-operate with the prosecution as far as reasonably possible – Paragraph 23.
Many drop out because of trauma, intimidation by their attacker, lack of confidence in the prosecution process, lacklustre investigation or hostility from the police. Yet the CICA rarely accepts victims’ legitimate reasons to withdraw from the prosecution – even, as in one case, the shock and fear of being sexually harassed by the police officer investigating the rape was rejected as a valid reason for the victim to withdraw. When the police are hostile and give evidence against an award, the CICA invariably values their word over the victim’s.

7.   There is no legal aid and unrepresented survivors can face hostile and upsetting questioning by CICA lawyers.
A CICA hearing can be worse than a criminal trial – with questions like, what we wore and why we didn’t scream. CICA appeals which are held in private, evading public scrutiny, have fallen behind updated protection for vulnerable witnesses in criminal courts and other hearings. The CICA internal guidance for questioning vulnerable witnesses is neither public nor transparent and thus evades legal challenge.

Compensation is often the only official acknowledgement of rape we get, given the low conviction rate of 6%. An award can speed recovery, as many women suffer catastrophic mental and physical injuries. Patients struggle to get treatment from the depleted NHS and dwindling therapeutic services – many face years on a waiting list and rationed appointments. In addition, we suffer life changing impacts such as losing a job, eviction, marital breakdown, being unable to cope with children, fear of public transport . . .

The basic award for rape is a mere £11,000, and this does not stretch far. Amounts should be increased, and decisions speeded up. There is a minefield of rules which put people off, as described above. Most don’t even know the Scheme exists or applies to them.

Yours sincerely,

signed so far by the following organisations:
Black Women’s Rape Action Project
Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre
CARA (Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse), Colchester
Cohen Cramer Solicitors, Mike Massen, Partner
Colchester & Tendring Women’s Aid
Coventry Rape & Sexual Abuse Centre (CRASAC)
Davenport & Cale Green Branch Labour Party
Disabled People Against the Cuts
Dundee Women’s Aid
English Collective of Prostitutes
Legal Action for Women
National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC)
Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsiblity
Psychologists for Social Change
Psychologists and Counsellors Union
Rape Crisis England and Wales
Rape Crisis Scotland
Solace Women’s Aid
Somerset & Avon Rape & Sexual Abuse Support
Taxpayers Against Poverty
WinVisible – Women With Visible and Invisible Disabilities

 

Add your Organisation or law firm by emailing us –
please specify if you are signing on behalf of this organisation

Please return signed to Women Against Rape via email war@womenagainstrape.net
Or post to WAR, Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, London NW5 2DX

 www.againstrape.net  Twitter: #AgainstRape             Phone: 020 7482 2496

[1] ‘Hundreds of sexual assault victims refused compensation for minor convictionsIndependent; ‘Rape victims denied compensation for petty convictions’ – Guardian and ‘Hundreds of rape victims denied compensation’ Scottish Herald

 

Justice and protection for Rohingya women and girls – in support of call for Unilever to disinvest from Myanmar

International Women’s Day, 8 March 2017, London

Statement by Black Women’s Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape

We strongly condemn the ethnic cleansing, widespread torture, killings and   systematic rape and sexual torture of women and girls by the Myanmar Army, as part of its genocide against the Rohingya people.

A report, Rape by Command, compiled and published by the Kaladan Press Network documents horrific crimes committed against women and girls in 2017 across Rakhine State; in their homes and communities, or while fleeing the murderous army during its purge.

The chief researcher of the report, Razia Sultana, personally interviewed 36 survivors about what they had suffered and witnessed happening to many others. She concluded that “Women and girls were raped, mutilated and killed for their very identity as Rohingya. Rape is being used as a weapon of genocide.”

We are anti-rape organisations with over 60 years of combined experience of working with survivors of rape, including historic child and domestic abuse in the UK. Some of us have fled to the UK after suffering rape and torture by military or others in authority in other countries.  We know first-hand the trauma of rape, of witnessing loved ones killed, and of the barriers to justice and recovery faced by victims of sexual crimes, in addition to losing your home and/or becoming a refugee.  Women everywhere face disbelief, discrimination and harsh treatment but the movement internationally is enabling survivors to speak out and demand safety and our attackers brought to justice.  Right now we are supporting women in Yarl’s Wood detention centre who are on hunger strike exposing their brutal and inhumane treatment.

We echo the main demands in the report:

·       Hold the military to account for this systematic rape and other violence against civilian women and children.  It is clear from the reports from the region that these crimes are not random but the result of soldiers acting under orders. No impunity for the Myanmar military!

·       A place of safety for all the refugees to settle in, they should not be forced back to Myanmar.

We further support the call from Sisters of Rohingya that Unilever divest from Myanmar, to withdraw funds to the military and encourage other corporations to put people’s right to life before profits.

We call on international movements from Hollywood to #Me Too and Time’s Up to put this issue into the spotlight and say: stop corporate funding for; rape and genocide!  #No Peace  #No Dove

Contact us:

bwrap@rapeaction.net; @bwrap1; war@womenagainstrape.net @AgainstRape

Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, London NW5 2DX

Read more at https://sistersofrohingya.net/

 

 

 

Statement against the Family Returns Process . . . END DETENTION, END DEPORTATION, WE ALL HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE HERE

We are the All African Women’s Group. Many of us have been in detention. We know the terrible impact it has. Women are on hunger strike right now against the torture of detention. We want an end to detention,but we do
not want a worse alternative. We object particularly to the Family Returns Process

Women for Refugee Women (WfRW) are saying that the Family Returns Process (FRP) should be extended to all asylum seekers. Their report The Way Ahead (2017) describes FRP as an “Area of Success to Build on in the UK”. Interviewed on Woman’s Hour last week their spokeswoman said: “We now have this process called the Family Return Process which supports families with children under 18 to stay in the community up to the point they actually leave the UK, so yes there needs to be a system but that system doesn’t need to include detention.”

WfRW are having a lobby of parliament on 8 March and we are worried that the Family Returns Process will be put forward to members of parliament as what women asylum seekers want.

We are against the Family Returns Process because its main focus is to deport us. It coins the words “support” and “engagement” as a cover for enforced removals. We do not accept that people should have to go back.

A report of the FRP says: “While some organisations believe families who want to stay here should never be returned home, they are few in number.” We are not few in number and our voices should be heard because we know best what horrors we face on return. We all have the right to be here in the UK. African and other Third World people have contributed over centuries to the wealth in the UK. We have suffered enough through imperial conquest, slave trades, proxy wars, Western backed dictatorships, rape and other torture…and through long treacherous journeys getting to the UK.

What we need are committed reliable lawyers to help us with our cases to overcome the terrible injustice we face. Most of the time when we make an application to the Home Office we are disbelieved, no matter what we say and what evidence we have. We want help enforcing our rights to be treated fairly as victims of rape and other torture and as vulnerable people. The Home Office has absolutely no interest in justice.

The FRP has four stages:

  1. ‘Family return conference’ to discuss any barriers to return.
  2. ‘Family departure meeting’ to discuss the family’s views about their options.
  3. ‘Required return’ where the family make their own way to the airport.
  4. ‘Ensured return’ reviewed by an “Independent Family Returns Panel”.

THIS PANEL IS NOT INDEPENDENT – it is funded by the Home Office. As a last resort detention for up to a week and enforced return is used.

The FRP says children can be forcibly returned with “the use of physical intervention”. Guidelines for restraining children are based on those used in secure units which include “the deliberate infliction of pain”.

The FRP report slanders mothers and accuses them of child abuse for not agreeing to enforced return: “Children have been subjected to unacceptable pressure from parents not to co-operate with Home Office officials and where such cases occur it is a form of child abuse.” How many children have been and will be taken from their parents with this excuse?

The FRP also slanders lawyers saying that “legal representatives lodge legal objections to removal at the last minute in order, it seems, to frustrate the process.” How dare they say that. We are women who have suffered rape and other torture and the Home Office makes it as difficult as possible for our case to be heard. Legal aid cuts have made it almost impossible to find reliable lawyers to help us. When we have the good fortune to find a lawyer to intervene they accuse us of abusing the system – not that the system abuses us.

WE DEMAND:

  • An end to detention and the immediate release of mothers and children, pregnant women, survivors of rape and other torture, people who are mentally or physically sick and other vulnerable people. Meet the hunger strikers demands.
  • Reinstate legal aid for all asylum and immigration cases to ensure people get a chance of a fair hearing against the Home Office racism, sexism and determination to deport no matter how unjustly.
  • No NGO collaboration with, and promotion of, so-called “voluntary” and “family returns”, and any other government processes that depend on injustice, destitution, detention and forced deportations to drive asylum seekers out.

Signed: All African Women’s Group (80 members)

Supported by: Black Women’s Rape Action Project; Brighton Anti-Raids Network; Brighton Migrant Solidarity; Brighton Plan C; Demilitarise King’s, Detained Voices; End Deportations; Jollof Café (Brighton); KCL Action Palestine, Legal Action for Women; Lesbian & Gays Support the Migrants; RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Seeker Participatory Action Research); SOAS Detainee Support Group;Sussex Refugee and Migrant Self Support Group; Women Against Rape;Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike;  North East London Migrant Action (NELMA); Gazelle Maria, Oxford; Zeenat Suleman, London

8 March: Protest Unilever, disinvest from Myanmar!

 

UNILEVER: disinvest from Myanmar!
End rape and genocide of Rohingya!

8 March 2018, International Women’s Day,5-6pm  PROTEST outside UNILEVER HQ UNILEVER House, 100 Victoria Embankment, London EC4Y 0DY

Why UNILEVER?
UNILEVER claims to embody principles that respect the dignity and rights of women and girls, especially in the marketing of Dove products. UNILEVER has been so successful in this that the company holds the title of “Impact Champion” appointed by UN Women as part of their campaign to advance women’s rights. As an Impact Champion UNILEVER proclaims that “UNILEVER aims to improve safety for women and girls in the communities where they operate.”

This is at odds with their $667 million investment in Myanmar where the military are committing systematic rape and other torture with total impunity as part of their genocide against the Rohingya people.

A new report details Myanmar Army’s use of rape as a weapon against the Rohingya:
UNILEVER is one of the biggest foreign investors in Myanmar and has the power to impact directly on the actions of the government. By withdrawing from Myanmar, UNILEVER can reduce the funds available to the military and encourage other corporations to put people’s lives before profits.

Sign the petition issued by Sisters of Rohingya:

Tell UNILEVERon Twitter: @paulpolman @Dove @UNILEVER
Tweet using hashtags: #nopeacenodove #boycottdove

More things you can do on the Sisters of Rohingyablog:

Called by Global Women’s Strike gws@globalwomenstrike.net 020 7482 2496 in support of the Sisters of Rohingya call for UNILEVER to divest