Survivors of a Silent Genocide

David Verberckt

2017 - 2018

During the past several years, I have been documenting the plight of the Rohingya Muslim ethnic minority by capturing their dire everyday life, portraying them as human beings deprived of their social, civil and human rights that are so often taken for granted in our society.

My intention is to document the violent ethnic cleansing campaigns turning into genocide while under the pretext of so called security operations by Myanmar forces.

This current wave of extreme violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority is not the first one. Successive violent crackdowns have taken place since 1978 with systematic mass exodus. This is the first large-scale crackdown under a democratically elected government in Myanmar though.

Widespread killings, torture, disproportionate retaliation attacks turn to mayhem of ethnic cleansing evolving into genocide.

Throughout, the access to Rakhine state for media and humanitarian actors has been extremely restricted and nearly impossible, as no witnesses of the denied barbarism are wanted.

In Bangladesh, traumatized victims and survivors who have endured the perilous way to the exile now face the ordeal of having lived through the genocide that is still not seeing an end.

Although a mass humanitarian and aid agencies activities are set on the spot the situation in refugee camps remains extremely precarious, especially for the victims of torture, women victims of mass rape and children who have endured and witnessed the same.

Because it is nearly impossible to collect evidence of the genocide in Rakhine itself, it is extremely important to document and collect testimonies of the victims and witnesses of these acts of crimes against the humanity.

By documenting their stories and making them available for a wider advised audience, journalists, human rights investigators and photographers can play an essential role in countering the "fake news" allegations branded by the Burmese authorities.

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  • Mohammad Idris, 10 years old from Reskinapara near Maungdaw. He was hit in the head by a lost bullet when the village was attacked. He escaped to Bangladesh with his brother, sisters and parents. Nobody of his family got injured except him. He was for 2 months in hospital after reaching Bangladesh. Lambashiya, Kutupalong, Bangladesh, March 2018

  • Mohamed A. is 10 years old and from Rabayla near Maungdaw. He was hit by a shrapnel from a helicopter shell just under the eye. It took him seven days to reach Bangladesh. He witnessed the execution of his parents by the Burmese military. He came and lives with his grandmother. He lost every track of his younger brother since the attack. Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh, November 2017

  • Munuara, 17 years old, is from a village near Rathidaung. Her husband was killed by the Myanmar military, she came to Bangladesh with her neighbour after that. She was beaten and gang-raped for 5 days by military in barracks near Rathidaung. Twenty other Rohingya girls were also present in the building and raped by a group of approx 30 military. She escaped after the military moved on to another location. Countless rape allegations have been consistently reported during the past months, an accusation the Myanmar authorities deny. Mass rape is often used during ethnic cleansing campaigns, both acts consitute crimes against humanity and war crimes when carried out by military personnel. Shamlapur refugee camp, Bangladesh, May 2017

  • Azida B., 6 years old Rohingya refugee from Sanifara near Maungdaw in Myanmar. She was snatched in her village by Burmese military and forced to drink car battery acid. Ever since she has lost more than half her weight as she can't digest any food and is vomitting constantly. She fled immediately after the attack with her parents to Bangladesh where she is being treated in a clinic. In March 2018 she was still recovering and was slightly better. Balukhali refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, November 2017

  • A Rohingya girl with her little brother that recently arrived from Myanmar. Rohingya have fled Myanmar since August and the start of the latest military security operations that are now widely qualified as ethnic cleansing campaigns. Balukhali camp, Ukhiya, Bangladesh, March 2018

  • Nura Shah is 50 years old and a Rohingya refugee from Maungdaw in Myanmar. Two of her sons and husband were arrested by the military 5 months ago and are in Buthidaung jail. She fled to Bangladesh with her 15 year old son. Kutupalong camp for Rohingya refugees in Southern Bangladesh along the Myanmar border, May 2017

  • Momtaj Begum, 30 years old and her sole surviving child, Ruziya, 7 years old from Tula Tuli village in Maungdaw township. Tula Tuli village was attacked by Myanmar military forces on 30 August 2017 and survivors have witnessed extreme atrocities committed by military forces that international human rights groups have called brutal ethnic cleansing with possible genocidal intent. Momtaj Begum had 3 of her four children and husband executed and decapitated in front of her. She was consequently raped in front of her sole surviving daughter who was assaulted with a machette and left for dead. After the rape and the killings the house was locked by the military and set a blaze. She managed to escape with her daughther who had severe head wounds through the back door, while the military stayed in front of the burning houses. Doing so she was severely burned on more than 80% of her body, her daughter has several machette wounds on her skull. They arrived 5 days later in Bangladesh where she stayed one month in the MSF hospital. Her husband and 3 other boy children of 9,11 and 12 years were all burned in the house after being killed. Since our last meeting in November, they continue to struggle and to suffer as a result of the wounds and trauma. Going to the clinic to get care is challanging as it take 1$ for the trip and queues of more than one day. Also to collect the food rations she has to send her daughter as she has difficulties to walk. Her only surviving daughter has further head aches as a result of the machette wounds to her skull. Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh, March 2018

  • Survivors of the Chut Pyin massacre and victims of extreme sexual violence, waiting to testify of what happened in their village on 27 August 2017. Chut Pyin village is one of the numerous Rohingya villages that have been totally wiped out and where severe acts of ethnic cleansing with genocidal intend have been committed by the military and local Rakhine mobs. Hundreds of Rohingya have been massacred and dozens of women have been gang-raped in this village alone. Tangkhali camp, Bangladesh, March 2018

  • Rashida B., 25 years old, from Tula Toli near Maungdaw in Burma. Her two children were killed by the military forces. The house with her dead children was burned down. She was taken away with 30 other women from the village and were gang raped for several hours by military and local militia. After being raped she was assaulted with a machette to her neck and skull and left for dead. When the place was set on fire she escaped through the back and fled. It took her 8 days to reach Bangladesh and receive the first medical care. She lives now in Bangladesh where she was reunited with her sister who was also sexually assaulted. Balukhali Camp, Bangladesh, November 2017.

  • Farida K., 40 years, from Tula Toli. It took her 4 days to reach Bangladesh after she fled.. She was attacked and taken away by the military forces and consequeuntly gang raped and assaulted with a machette. She was beaten while being raped by more than 10 military and local militia. Out of her 9 children, 7 were killed during the attack as well as her husband. Her 2 remaining children of 12 and 13 are with her in Bangladesh. Her 15 year old daughter was raped and killed by decapitation. There have been countless witnesses of atrocities by the Burmese regime and its military forces. Human rights commissions and international groups have called the ongoing onslaught a schoolbook case of ethnic cleansing evolving into a genocide of the Rohingya community in Rakhine. Balukhali camp for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, November 2017

  • A Rohingya girl at new makeshift camps for the newly arrived Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. More than 650,000 refugees have fled persecution in neighbouring Myanmar since August 2017. Kutupalong refugee camp, Ukhiya, Bangladesh, November 2017

  • Rohingya teenager Mohamed Rashid from Maungdaw township in Burma. Before fleeing to Bangladesh he was forced to work for the Myanmar military and was mutilated with a knife by them. His brother and father were killed by the military. Lambashiya camp section, Kutupalong, Bangladesh, November 2017

  • Korima Khatun, 20y, Shautpare (same village), Rathedaung. When the village was attacked and she fled with her baby of 8 month in her arms. She got shot in her wrist and the bullit killed her baby instantly. Her husband was killed during the attack. she took her dead body with her and burried him. She is in BD since September 2017. She came alone as her near family were all killed. She lives in BD with neighbours.

  • Newly arrived Rohingya refugees in Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh, November 2017

  • Rasheda Khatun, 60 years, from Dialtoli near Maungdaw in Rakhine. Feld to Bangladesh last September with surviving members of her family. Two of her sons, 3 grandsons and her daughter in law were killed when their village was attacked. All executed at the same moment and place. One son, daughter in law, and 3 grand children survived and are with her in Bangladesh. Her husband died 10 years ago of illness and lack of access to health care in Myanmar for the Rohingya. Balukhali refugee camp, Ukhiya, Bangladesh, March 2018

  • Sufayra Begun, 20 years, from Chut Pyin, Rathedaung. Got married one month before the attack in August 2017. Her husband was shot and killed, along with her father in law and brother by the military. Together with other women and girls she was taken blindfolded and tight to a shed where they would be gang-raped by the military and local rakhine mobs for several hours. Few of them were killed while being abused. Together with eight other women she managed to escape and returned near the village to find family that had survived the massacres. Although she was blindfolded she has recognized the voices of the non-military rapists, all were local Rakhine from the same village. It took her nearly a week to reach Bangladesh in September 2017. She now lives alone with her 4 year old sister, her mother lives in another block of the camp. Chut Pyin village is one of the numerous Rohingya villages that have been totally wiped out and where severe acts of ethnic cleansing with genocidal intend have been committed by the military and local mobs. Hundreds of Rohingya have been massacred in this village alone. Tangkhali camp, Bangladesh, March 2018

  • Elder Rohingya refugee with mental health issues. Fled recently with his care taking wife to Bangladesh. Balukhali refugee camp, March 2018

  • Victim of torture who has fled in 2016 from Myanmar after her husband has been taken away by the army. She has no news of her husband iever since. Najirar Tak, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, March 2018

  • Shangi Alam is a 17 years old Rohingya from Maungdaw in Myanmar. He has been shot in the leg by military forces during the first unrest in October 2016. Due to a lack of medical care the wound got infected and his leg amputated. He fled to Bangladesh in September 2017 after his village got burnt down. Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, November 2017

  • Abdul Karim,19y, Chut Pyin (same village), Rathedaung. He was shopkeeper with his father. Arrived in Sep in BD. Lost his leg, got a prothesis from a donor. Sister, father, brother were killed. Came to BD with one brother and mother. During the attack he was shot in the leg. It took them 7 days to reach BD. Got the first medical care once reaching BD, he was referred to Chittagong where they had to amputate his leg till under the knee as the untreated wound got badly infected. He learns now English to become business man.