BURMA: War rape reports continue unabated as government denies accounts

Shubhi Tandon – WNN Latest

Shan State woman from small village near Inle Lake in Burma/Myanmar
Woman from the ethnic Shan state near Inle Lake region in the northeastern region of Burma/Myanmar. The Burma/Myanmar Shan State is the largest of the seven ethnic states in Burma, with a population of about eight million, half of which are ethnic Shan. Other ethnic groups include Burmans, Pa'O, Akha, Lahu, Palaung and Wa. Impacts on ethnic Burmese women include forced labour accompanied by poor work conditions, little to no pay and reports of gross human rights violations and violence by the military. Image: Marc Oh

(WNN) NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: On a cold January day in 2001, 18 year old Naang Yin (all names in this story have been changed to protect identities), daughter of two shopkeepers in the Shan State of Burma, went to a military camp set up by the Burmese troops to buy some basic provisions at a cheaper price for her parents’ shop. She returned home four days later. Imprisoned by eleven men of the Burmese army where she was gang-raped at the camp and told to stay quiet.

This is just one of the testimonies of 173 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence that were committed by Burmese military troops in the Shan State from 1996 to 2001.

Burma/Myanmar has been rife with civil wars for over 60 years now. The women of Burma, especially its ethnics, are often caught between the lines of conflict. Military rape and sexual violence as a tactic in intimidation to instill control and fear during regional conflicts is occurring say eye-witnesses, international NGOs and global experts.

“…the failure to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for rape and sexual violence has contributed to an environment conducive to the perpetuation of violence against women and girls in Myanmar,” said Mr. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro a former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

According to eye-witness reports, violations of human rights that include severe violence against women is continuing inside the country.

The Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) revealed in an official June 2011 report that “…at least eighteen women and girls have been gang-raped between June 10-18, 2011, during the Burma Army advances on Kachin Independence Army (KIA) territory along the China-Burma border. Four women were killed after being raped, one in front of her husband, who was tied up and forced to watch. Another woman died from her injuries during rape.”

With exposure of  the attack KWAT demanded an immediate end to the use of sexual violence as a military tactic under conflict by the Burmese army in their offensive against the KIA in northern Burma. “These incidents are not random acts of violence,” said KWAT spokesperson Shirley Seng. “The Burma Army is committing gang-rape and killing on a wide scale. It is clear they are acting under orders.”

In May 2002, two non-governmental organizations, the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) along with the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), released a detailed report titled: License to Rape: The Burmese military regime’s use of sexual violence in the ongoing war in Shan State’.” The report highlights the use of rape as a weapon of war by the Burmese troops in Shan State between 1996 and 2001. About 625 girls and women were victimized as part of such practices by the Burmese army between this period.

Highlighting that the Myanmar/Burmese military regime has authorized its troops to commit systematic rape across the areas of conflict in order “to terrorize and subjugate the ethnic peoples of Shan State,” details in the report indicate that crimes of violence against women are now becoming evident and show that a strategy of violence against women by Burmese army troops may be part of strategic plans made against insurgents.

According to the report, acts of rape as detailed were committed by soldiers from 52 different battalions where military officers were responsible for 83 percent of the rapes, often in front of their own troops.

The report reveals: “The rapes involved extreme brutality and often torture such as beating, mutilation and suffocation. 25 percent of the rapes resulted in death, in some incidences with bodies being deliberately displayed to local communities. 61% were gang-rapes; women were raped within military bases and in some cases women were detained and raped repeatedly for periods of up to 4 months.”

“Out of the total 173 documented incidents, in only one case was a perpetrator punished by his commanding officer. More commonly, the complainants were fined, detained, tortured or even killed by the military,” continues the report.

During this time the government of Myanmar did not admit to receiving any complaints of any “crimes against humanity or war crimes.” This official position is still being upheld by the government of Myanmar.

On September 2, 2010 an official letter by the Myanmar Office of the Ministry of Home Affairs was sent to attorney and United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar — Mr. Tomás Ojea Quintana. It stated, “Concerning allegations of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes, there is no occurrence of such crimes in Myanmar.”

Quintana followed this statement to make a counter-statement in his formal 2010 report before the UN General Assembly: “Given this position, the Special Rapporteur encourages the Government to invite an international commission of inquiry on crimes against humanity to confirm whether this is indeed the case.”

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