Rohingya survivor: Myanmar government “wanted to punish me for telling the truth.”
Editor’s Note: Jamalida, a Rohingya survivor, begins our Genocide Awareness Month focus on new testimony collections in the Visual History Archive. Her testimony and others will be featured in an upcoming special CNN initiative to highlight Rohingya testimony and experiences on their digital platforms.
From a camp in Bangladesh, Rohingya refugee Jamalida squarely faces the camera and recounts a horrific sequence of events that beset the 27-year-old mother of two when she first went public about her persecution at the hands of the Myanmar military.
She describes how the Myanmar military invaded her Rohingya village in October of 2016. Her husband, she says, was killed and she – being an educated female employee of an NGO – was singled out for gang rape.
When recovering from the assault, Jamalida says she told her story to a UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, local reporters and others. Soon afterwards, she says the Myanmar government offered rewards for bringing her to them. Vigilantes managed to find her interpreter, whom they killed, she attests.
“I hid in the forest for eight days,” she told us in the interview, adding that she had her two children with her. "They wanted to punish me for telling the truth.”
Jamalida’s interview is among dozens of testimonies documented by USC Shoah Foundation since its arrival in November to the refugee camps in Bangladesh. A total of 11 life-history interviews with Rohingya are being added the Visual History Archive, the world’s largest repository of genocide testimony.
“The Rohingya have lists of people who died, people who were raped,” explains Michele Mitchell, an award-winning documentary filmmaker who served as an interviewer for USC Shoah Foundation in Bangladesh. “It is difficult to face, yet the stakes are too high to turn away. It is our responsibility to call it like it is, or otherwise be complicit.”
Funding permitting, the Institute may record additional full-length testimonies of Rohingya people for the Archive in the future.
Karen Jungblut, the Institute’s director of global initiatives, says it is important to gather as many testimonies as possible in the near term – not only to ensure they do not get lost to history, but also for education, research, to raise public awareness, for media outlets and partners, and potentially to serve as evidence in war-crimes trials.
Jungblut hopes the 11 initial testimonies can be indexed and made available in the Archive this summer; August 25th will mark the one-year anniversary of a massive campaign by the Myanmar military that killed at least 6,700 Rohingya and drove as many as 650,000 into the sprawling refugee camps of Bangladesh.
“I don’t have a problem saying this is a genocide,” Jungblut said. “This is not a challenge.”
Jamalida’s testimony suggests that the attacks on the Muslim Rohingya at the hands of Myanmar government and its Buddhist-militia allies began well before the infamous August 25th raids.
The deadly incursion she describes in her village of Hatrgojjaparamin near Nasa Pru reportedly occurred on October 9, 2016, in apparent retaliation for an alleged attack by Rohingya on Buddhist pilgrims.
When Jamalida and her children fled from operatives who were allegedly trying to assassinate her, the three refugees never looked back.
“I hid near the river for three or four days with my children,” Jamalida said. “That’s how I crossed into Bangladesh with my two little children.”