Shanti Mohila, the Rohingya women who have not only survived sexual and gender-based violence at the hands of the Myanmar military but continue to loudly call for international justice, should be celebrated this International Women’s Day.
Cox’s Bazar, 6 March 2023
As we celebrate International Women’s Day this year, the courageous work of Shanti Mohila, a group of 400 Rohingya women sheltering in Cox’s Bazar should be celebrated.
After fleeing the brutal violence at the hands of the Myanmar military in 2017 during their ‘clearance operations’ – which disproportionately targeted women and girls, through acts of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) including mass gang rape, mutilation of genitals and attacks on pregnant women and infants – the Rohingya women have become leaders in their community and continue to demand international justice and accountability for the crimes perpetrated against them.
Founded in 2017, Shanti Mohila – which translates to Peace Women – started with humble beginnings as a group of five women who visited other survivors of GBV to comfort them and assist in grieving and healing.
The group has since grown to provide community-based counselling and educating women of their rights under international law.
A member of Shanti Mohila, 30-year-old Sareka says hope is brought to their community when updates in the legal proceedings are shared, knowing they have been crucial in making these cases brought.
“The Myanmar military has targeted Rohingya women to break our morals, but we have not given up,” Sareka says.
“Now, justice should ensure we return to our country, stronger, and with full … capacity, so that we are not exposed to more vulnerability.”
Legal Action Worldwide (LAW) are supporting Shanti Mohila and the community at large through international legal cases, representing over 500 Rohingya in ongoing justice processes.
As one Rohingya survivor now in Cox’s Bazar said: “Justice is as important as breathing air. If a person can’t breathe air, they die. Justice is that important, because in the camps we are losing our life.”
The international justice proceedings Shanti Mohila are at the forefront of, include; The Gambia v Myanmar case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) relating to the violation of the
Genocide Convention by Myanmar, the ongoing case at the International Criminal Court (ICC) mainly relating to the crime against humanity of deportation, and the ongoing investigation by the federal court in Argentina, using the principle of universal jurisdiction, into the crime of genocide, sexual violence and other crimes against humanity.
As one of the leaders of Shanti Mohila, 61-year-old Hamida was among three Rohingya women who travelled to the Hague in December 2019 with the support of LAW to attend the hearing in the case between Gambia and Myanmar before the ICJ.
Members of Shanti Mohila, with support and regular trainings from LAW, also provide information sessions to the refugee community in Cox’s Bazar, which plays a major role in legal rights awareness of avenues to justice and accountability.
One of the female survivors providing training in the camps said: “My community members feel uplifted after listening to my information and updates on the ongoing international justice processes … the fight for justice keeps them motivated.”
LAW Executive Director Antonia Mulvey added:
“As a women-led organization, we are proud to work along with Shanti Mohila who embody the female leadership and voice essential to demand justice and change for Rohingya. Their contributions to the ongoing international legal efforts to hold Myanmar accountable, all while tearing down the gender norms is a powerful testament to the legacy of International Women’s Day. These women, even while carrying reminders of the horrific violence inflicted on them and their family, are fighting back and are true champions of justice.”
Not only have Shanti Mohila risen up and found strength despite their trauma of SGBV, they have defied the patriarchal dominance of Rohingya culture, which is generally not supportive of women publicly gathering and voicing their opinion or concerns.
Hamida, like all Rohingya, is determined to return to Myanmar with her full rights instated.
“We have suffered too much to let traditional gender norms put out the fire in our burning hearts,” she says.
Seeing that the work of Shanti Mohila is bringing concrete steps towards justice for the Rohingyas, more people within the community have started supporting them.
“People started accepting us, and we can now reach more women who need our support,” Hamida says.
“Even the Imams and Majhis (male community leaders) started respecting me and paying attention to our work.”
Now that the voices of the Rohingya women have been heard, the only hope Shanti Mohila have is that justice will prevail.
“Our women turned their rage and sufferings into meaningful work. This cannot go to waste,” Hamida says.
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About Legal Action Worldwide (LAW)
LAW is an independent, non-profit organisation of human rights lawyers and jurists working in fragile and conflict-affected areas. LAW delivers access to justice to victims and vulnerable communities that have suffered human rights violations and abuses in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia through innovative legal strategies and legal aid services.