Three women last week told journalists on a government-sponsored press tour of northern Rakhine State that they had been raped three months ago by Myanmar security forces, according to state media.
Such allegations of military perpetrated rapes have become widespread during the security campaign, which began last October and placed northern Rakhine State off-limits for foreign journalists and observers.
In February, the UN released a flash report based on interviews with more than 200 Muslim Rohingya who fled to neighboring Bangladesh in the wake of the crackdown. Over half of the women interviewed said that they had been victims of sexual violence perpetrated by Myanmar officials, including brutal gang rapes.
The government and the Tatmadaw have denied such allegations since they began surfacing shortly after the clearance operation was launched in response to an alleged Rohingya insurgency. The State Counsellor’s Office went so far as to run large a “fake rapes” banner across posts to its official Facebook account.
Journalists have faced retribution for reporting on the rape allegations. On March 31, the Myanmar News Agency said the journalists on the Maungdaw trip were able to “independently report the news” including the rape accusations.
The report added that after the women from Kyatkaungtaung village told the reporters they had been raped, “it was learnt that responsible persons will investigate the matter to uncover the truth”.
According to Rohingya activists, following the press interviews, the three women were taken into police custody to be questioned about the rape incidents, and will also be taken for a medical examination even though three months have lapsed since the alleged violations.
Myanmar News Agency quoted a local Maungdaw district official saying that the women’s testimony was not sufficient proof of a crime. “Just verbally is not enough, the victims need to show firm evidences for their grievances,” said U Ye Htut, chair of the Maungdaw District Management Committee.
A village elder from Maungdaw north encouraged the women to cooperate with the investigating officials.
“If they can say when and where the event happened, we can check out list of the officials in that region and try to expose the perpetrators,” he said.
Last month, the UN Human Rights Council approved a resolution to launch an international probe into alleged human rights abuses committed by the Tatmadaw, including those carried out against Rohingya in the Rakhine State clampdown. The fact-finding mission is to be carried out with the aim of "ensuring full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims".