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Myanmar’s Rohingya Massacre Survivors Struggle with Long-Term Disabilities

New report findings underscore urgent need for renewed international efforts for accountability

NEW YORK – A new report from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) exposes an underreported legacy of the August 2017 violence against Muslim Rohingya civilians by Myanmar security forces: long-term physical disabilities that may condemn many survivors to lifetimes of physical pain and economic insecurity. The new report, “Shot While Fleeing: Rohingya Disabled by Myanmar Authorities’ Targeted Violence,” documents the unhealable wounds of that violence and underscores the urgent need for accountability for the bloodshed.

The report presents new findings from PHR’s multiple field investigations in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh where some 740,000 Rohingya have fled since Myanmar security forces and Buddhist Rakhine civilians launched a campaign of widespread and systematic  violence against them in August 2017. That campaign claimed the lives of at least 10,000 Rohingya civilians.

The report is based on research by PHR’s clinical team of medical experts, who interviewed 114 Rohingya survivors between October 2017 and July 2018. A total of 90 survivors out of the pool interviewed reported physical injuries resulting from the violence and underwent clinical evaluations by PHR medical partners. PHR found that the perpetrators of these crimes inflicted long-term disabilities – defined as physical impairment, limitations on activity, and restrictions in participating in daily life – on 43 of the injured Rohingya survivors.

“PHR’s research demonstrates how the  widespread and systematic violence that Myanmar security forces inflicted on Rohingya civilians in 2017 will condemn many of its survivors to lifetimes of physical pain, limited physical mobility, and profound economic insecurity,” said Phelim Kine, PHR’s deputy director of programs and director of research and investigations. “These Rohingya survivors with long-term physical disabilities are a living testament to the urgent need for political will at the United Nations and among UN member states for meaningful accountability for these crimes and reparations for survivors.”

The majority of survivors that PHR identified as having long-term disabilities were shot while fleeing attacks on Rohingya villages. They managed to escape death when relatives rescued them or by taking refuge in surrounding forests and nearby villages before they began the journey to Bangladesh. In multiple survivors, the bullet wounds have resulted in permanent neurological impairment, limiting limb function and causing severe and persistent pain. Given the crucial role that physical labor plays in the predominantly farming economy of rural Myanmar, these long-term disabilities pose a potentially severe handicap to survivors’ livelihoods.

In many of the cases documented, survivors reported hearing that it was unsafe to seek emergency medical treatment inside Myanmar because doctors would allegedly report injured Rohingya to Myanmar authorities. This apprehension prompted many survivors to resort to traditional natural remedies for wound treatment and pain relief on the days- or weeks-long trek to refuge in Bangladesh. PHR clinicians have concluded that this lack of prompt and proper medical attention worsened wounds that were already severe, exacerbated injuries through delayed surgery, and led to amputations for untreated severe infections which might have been avoided with access to earlier treatment.

PHR calls for accountability for the violence inflicted on Rohingya civilians and for long-term international engagement to ensure the safety, dignity, and wellbeing of Rohingya survivors, particularly those with long-term disabilities caused by the violence. The United Nations Security Council should implement the recommendations of the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding mission on Myanmar, including referring the situation to the International Criminal Court or an ad hoc criminal tribunal. PHR also calls on UN Member states that have publicly recognized the crimes against the Rohingya as genocide – including Canada and Malaysia to file complaints to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for the Myanmar government’s violation of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (“Genocide Convention”) and press the ICJ to seek reparations.

Kine added, “We urge the UN Special Rapporteur on Disability to support the creation of a systematic assessment of the Rohingya population disabled in the 2017 violence in order to identify and address individuals in need of immediate treatment as well as provide longer-term rehabilitation – including psychosocial support – and vocational training aimed to provide opportunities for economic independence for survivors.”

The report also calls on the government of Myanmar to end its persecution of and discrimination against the Rohingya. It calls on the governments of the European Union and the United States to expand sanctions against the Myanmar government and military and to impose visa bans and asset freezes on security officials whom the UN Fact Finding Mission has determined to be complicit in grave rights violations against the Rohingya people.

“Shot While Fleeing” adds to PHR’s already considerable medical and forensic documentation of the violence inflicted on Rohingya civilians by Myanmar security forces in 2017. That documentation includes:

  • A July 2018 report corroborating survivors’ accounts of violence inflicted upon the Rohingya in the village of Chut Pyin
  • An August 2018 report illustrating the scope, scale, and patterns of attacks against the Rohingya and a March 2019 analysis in the Lancet Planetary Health of a quantitative survey conducted by PHR of 604 surviving Rohingya community leaders in Bangladesh, exposing the falsity of the Myanmar government’s consistent denials that it has intentionally targeted Rohingya civilians

Additional PHR Resources on the Rohingya Refugee Crisis:

  • Blog: “Myanmar Massacre Pardons Underscore Impunity,” May 30, 2019
  • Blog: “Myanmar Military’s Massacre Denial Complex,” April 1, 2019
  • Press Release: “PHR Study Demonstrates Widespread, Systematic Violence Against the Rohingya in Myanmar; Published in Prestigious Medical Journal, ‘The Lancet Planetary Health,’” March 21, 2019
  • Blog: “Investment Whitewash for Rohingya Bloodshed,” February 26, 2019
  • Report: “Widespread and Systematic: Violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar,” August 30, 2018
  • Report: “Please Tell the World What They Have Done to Us,” July 19, 2018
  • Press Release: “PHR to UN Rapporteur: Press for Rohingya Safety and Justice,” January 16, 2019
  • Press Release: “Myanmar’s Rohingya Continue to Suffer Systematic Extortion, Abuse,” October 12, 2016

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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