The U.N. envoy on Sexual Violence in Conflict urged the Security Council on Tuesday to demand an immediate end to the violence against civilians in Myanmar's Rakhine state, which has seen more than 626,000 mainly Rohingya Muslim residents flee to neighboring Bangladesh since August.
"I urge this body to do everything in its power to seek a swift end to the atrocities; to ensure the alleged perpetrators of sexual and other violence are brought to justice; and to create conditions for a safe and dignified future for the survivors," Pramila Patten told the council.
She also urged council members to see firsthand the situation in Myanmar and at the refugee camps at Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh.
Patten said Myanmar authorities have invited her to visit Naypyidaw and Yangon on Thursday through Saturday of this week, where she plans to meet with de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as military and security officials.
She did not say whether she would have access to Rakhine state, the source of the exodus. There have been numerous reports and satellite images of the Myanmar military burning villages and killing and terrorizing minority Rohingya there after militants launched deadly attacks on state security forces in August.
The U.N. envoy visited Bangladesh in early November and over three days heard horrific testimony from survivors.
"Women and girls recounted how, upon the arrival of soldiers in their village, they were forced to strip naked and threatened with rape in front of their husbands and fathers while their homes were set ablaze," Patten said. "They related how, in some cases, village leaders were compelled to sign documents stating that they had set fire to their own homes, in order to save the women of their community from rape."
Others were not as fortunate.
"Some witnesses reported women and girls being tied to either a rock or a tree before multiple soldiers literally raped them to death," Patten told the council.
Even Rohingya infants were not spared.
"Some women recounted how soldiers drowned babies in the village well," she said. "A few women told me how their own babies were allegedly thrown in the fire as they were dragged away by soldiers and gang-raped."
She said the accounts of survivors and witnesses were consistent and corroborated by international medical workers at the camps.
"Ethnic cleansing must never be allowed to achieve its goal," Patten said.
She also warned that the U.N. and its partners were facing a $10 million funding gap for gender-based violence programs to assist survivors.
"As regards the alleged sexual violence, the government of Myanmar has made its position clear that it will not condone any human rights abuses," Myanmar Ambassador Hau Do Suan told the council. "If there is concrete evidence, we are ready to take action against the aggressor in accordance with the law, no matter what or who he is."
He said the government would continue to cooperate with the U.N. and its partners to alleviate humanitarian problems and to find a long-term solution to issues related to Rakhine state.
Aid access needed
U.N. political chief Jeffrey Feltman told the council that humanitarian workers did not have sufficient access to Rakhine.
"Although Myanmar permitted some ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and, more recently, WFP [World Food Program] assistance, access by other U.N. agencies and partners to northern Rakhine is still highly restricted," he said.
He told the council that although refugee flows had slowed in recent weeks, new arrivals were "exhausted, destitute and traumatized."
Separately, a coalition of more than 80 human rights and faith-based organizations issued an appeal to the Security Council to impose an arms embargo against Myanmar's military, as well as targeted sanctions against those officers found responsible for serious crimes and human rights violations.