Human Rights Watch on Thursday accused Myanmar troops of gang-raping countless women and girls from the Rohingya Muslim minority during a military campaign that sent hundreds of thousands fleeing across the border to Bangladesh.
A report by the US-based rights group said the sexual violence, along with other atrocities committed by Myanmar security forces, amount to crimes against humanity.
Based on interviews with rape survivors, aid organizations and Bangladeshi health officials, HRW details cases of what it called mass rape where Rohingya women were rounded up and sexually assaulted by soldiers.
Of the 29 rape survivors interviewed, all but one were gang-raped by two or more perpetrators. In eight cases, women and girls reported being raped by five or more soldiers.
"Rape has been a prominent and devastating feature of the Burmese military's campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya," said Skye Wheeler, a researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.
"The Burmese military's barbaric acts of violence have left countless women and girls brutally harmed and traumatized."
Women described witnessing the murders of their young children, spouses, and parents before being raped. Many rape survivors said they endured days of agony walking with swollen and torn genitals to reach Bangladesh.
The rights group documented six cases of mass rape during which soldiers gathered women in groups before beating and gang-raping them.
The report quoted 33-year-old Mamtaz Yunis as saying soldiers trapped her and about 20 other women on the side of a hill after they fled their village and raped women in front of them.
The rights group interviewed 52 Rohingya women and girls, including 29 rape survivors, three of them girls under 18, who came from 19 villages in northern Rakhine state.
The HRW report echoes an accusation by Pramila Patten, a special representative of the UN Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict, that Myanmar soldiers "systematically targeted" Rohingya women for gang-rape.
Many of these atrocities "could be crimes against humanity,” Patten said this week.
"I heard horrific stories of rape and gang-rape, with many of the women and girls who died as a result of the rape," the envoy told reporters in Dhaka.