Clip_40Although Burma has seen some limited reforms since Thein Sein became President, the use of rape and sexual violence by Burma’s armed forces against ethnic women and girls continues across the country.

The Burmese army has used rape and sexual violence against women for decades as part of their warfare against ethnic minority groups in the country.

Cases of women and girls being raped by soldiers from the government’s forces include the rape of a 12 year old girl in front of her mother, and of a disabled woman. Many of the victims were gang-raped, and many killed afterwards. Reports of rape by the Burmese Army have increased in recent years.

Over the past decades, several reports have been produced by women’s organisations highlighting the use of rape and sexual violence by the Burmese army as part of the government’s warfare against ethnic minority groups.

UN reports have drawn upon this data to describe rape and sexual violence as “widespread and systematic”and as a prevalent pattern of human rights violations in the country.

Recent cases of women and girls being raped by soldiers from the government’s forces include the rape of a 12 year old girl in front of her mother, and of a disabled woman. Many of the victims were gang-raped, and many killed afterwards. This is in breach of international law, and constitutes a war crime.

The government of Burma has constantly denied the overwhelming evidence of sexual violence being perpetrated by the Burmese army. However, a report published by the Women’s League of Burma (WLB), Same Impunity, Same Patterns, in January 2014, suggests that the use of sexual violence against ethnic minority women by the military has continued on a similar scale since Thein Sein became President in 2011.

The report highlights more than 100 rape cases where the Burmese army’s soldiers have sexually abused ethnic women and girls. They suffer horrific sexual abuses while military perpetrators enjoy guaranteed impunity.

The widespread nature and scale of rape and sexual violence incidents meets the legal definition of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Rape As a Weapon of War

Rape has been used as a weapon of war by successive dictatorships in Burma for many decades.

This tactic is used against ethnic women and girls both in conflict and non-conflict areas. Rape cases have increased dramatically in Shan and Kachin states since the Burmese army broke ceasefire agreements in March and June 2011 respectively.

Between March and October 2011 alone, WLB has reported 81 cases of rape in Shan and Kachin states. Due to the difficulties in documenting these violations, the actual number of cases is believed to be much higher.

As one villager from the ethnic Palaung has put it:

“It is very difficult for the victims to speak out about rape. They were threatened by the soldiers not to tell anyone, so the rest of the community is scared. It is very dangerous for us to speak out.”

Furthermore, the rapes have taken place in different parts of the country, involve many different battalions, are often gang-rapes, and are connected to conflict areas, suggesting that the practice is widespread and part of military tactics.

In conflict areas, victims of rape are more often subjected to further torture, mutilations and killings.

According to the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT), among the 34 cases of rape during military offensives in Kachin state between June and August 2011, 44% of rape victims were killed by their rapists.

In one case reported by the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), two young girls who were collecting firewood near a forced relocation site were reportedly abducted by a Sergeant and his patrol, gang-raped and killed. One of them was stabbed to death while the other was beheaded.

In September 2011, during a military operation in Shan State, Burmese army troops abducted, gang-raped to death and afterwards mutilated a 12-year old girl. Her dead body was found on the altar of a local shrine.

Fear of sexual violence against the women and girls of their communities often leads entire villages to flee on arrival of military troops and hide in the jungle as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

Sexual violence is also used by the Burmese army against ethnic women as retaliation for ethnic resistance groups’ actions or as punishment for allegedly supporting them. In many cases reported by the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF), the accusation of being “rebel soldiers’ wives” is often the pretext given to abduct women for so-called interrogations that turn to torture and rape.

It is clear that the cases highlighted above match the criteria of rape and sexual violence as a tactic of war as described by the UN Security Council Resolution 1820. However, the UNSC has so far taken no action to establish an international investigation into these crimes.

A Military Occupation Policy

For many ethnic women and girls, rape and sexual violence are a permanent threat to their security. Despite some ceasefire agreements, the Burmese army is increasing troops in ethnic areas. For instance, in Mon state, despite the 1995 ceasefire, 20 more battalions have been deployed permanently since 1998.

Most rape incidents by military personnel occur near military bases, on roads, at military check-points or during patrols.

The government’s policy of self-reliance for military troops leads to looting of villagers’ resources and exploitation of local populations.15 In some areas, troops are in daily contact with villagers and the exploitation of local populations.

In some areas, troops are in daily contact with villagers and the identity of rape perpetrators, or at least of their battalion, are often known by communities.

In May 2012, Ngwa Mi, a 48-year old grandmother with 12 children, was sheltering alone in a church near the Kachin-China border town of Pang Wa. Burmese army soldiers found her and about 10 troops beat her with rifle butts, stabbed her with knives, stripped her naked and gang-raped her over a period of three days in the church.

Another villager, a man who had stayed behind to care for his paralyzed wife, had been captured and brought to the church, and was tortured and forced to watch. After being taken to hospital, Ngwa Mi has been reunited with her family, but has become mentally unstable.

The highest number of rapes occurs in victims’ familiar environments or their everyday life environment.

Data gathered in ‘License to Rape’, the first major report on sexual violence released in 2002 by the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF), show that 75% of victims were raped either in their own houses, in their fields, while gathering food or firewood in the forest or on their way to the temple or to school.

Sexual violence is used as a means of terror and control by the Burmese army. Not only do the women and girls themselves live in constant fear of being raped – the threat is also used to instil fear in all villagers that their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters can be abducted and raped anywhere at any time.

Apart from being a horrible crime in itself against all the women and girls targeted, it has wider implications for the community as a whole. It threatens food security by preventing women and girls from farming their fields safely and gathering necessary resources. It also shatters communities and destroys their sense of identity and pride. Some testimonies show that rape victims are sometimes stigmatised within their communities and flee from their villages, becoming even more vulnerable to further abuses. For instance, according to a report by the Women’s League of Chinland, 47% of victims were either rejected by their community, did not dare to tell their families about their ordeal or moved away alone.

The terrorising, controlling and shattering of communities resulting from sexual violence creates a long-term societal damage that fosters ethnic nationality populations’ hatred for the Burman majority, the army and the government and threatens hopes of future national reconciliation.

Impunity & Encouragement To Rape

Clip_32Rapes against ethnic nationality women and girls are committed with impunity and openly, not to say encouraged and condoned by troop commanders and army personnel with “command responsibility”. In a high number of cases, rapes are perpetrated by officers. Overall, officer perpetrators represent 42% of military rapists, 70% in Mon state20 and 71% in Shan state.

There are many cases where commanders or low-ranking officers either encourage or sometimes order their soldiers to rape, or initiate gang-rapes themselves. For instance, according to SHRF, in July 2008 a sergeant reportedly sent his troops to abduct a 16-year old girl from her village, raped her first, and then brought her to his troops who gang-raped her.

The number of gang-rapes is also a clear sign of the continuing impunity enjoyed by the Burmese army soldiers who rape women in front of each other or in front of villagers and victims’ families and sometimes boast about it afterwards with no concern for hiding their acts.23 Of the 104 rape cases documented in the latest report from WLB, almost 40% were brutal gang-rapes.

Moreover, a number of reports have documented forced conscriptions of women and girls for sexual slavery, organised ‘entertainment parties’ involving rapes and sexual molestation and abductions of ‘comfort women’ by the military.

In Mon state in December 2003-January 2004, as part of celebrations for the anniversary of Burma’s independence, 15 village chiefs were reportedly required to provide beautiful young women for a fashion and beauty contest that took place at the military base in Ye township.

Before the contest, at least 30 women were forced to spend days and nights at the base to practise in front of officers and troops and a high number of these women were reportedly raped or gang-raped by officers and troops.

Similar occurrences of women openly required from village chiefs or abducted by daylight from their village, kept overnight at military bases and returned the next day, a few days later or even months later, have been reported.26 In November 2011, four Kachin women were detained as sex slaves by the Burmese army for four months. Thein Sein’s government refused to investigate the case and went as far as to deny that it was even possible.

Military perpetrators of sexual violence are confident that they will enjoy impunity. As a result of the lack of rule of law in ethnic areas and total impunity for perpetrators, only a few cases are reported to the military authorities by victims, families or village headmen for fear of further retaliation. Reporting to the military authorities often puts at risk not only the victim but the entire community. In several occurrences complainants and village leaders were imprisoned, beaten and released after a substantial fine.

In Putao, four girls between 14 and 16 years of age were gang-raped at the military base and the incident was reported to the battalion commander and passed on to international media. The girls were arrested, charged with defamation and prostitution and jailed.29 In another case, a 26-year old woman was gang-raped by seven Burmese soldiers who then threatened to kill her husband if he reported the incident, saying: “Even if you tell other people, there is no one who will take action. We have the authority to rape women.” When reporting the incident anyway to the head of their village, he failed to take any action.

Clip_19Testimonies have stated that during visits by the UN Special Rapporteur Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the ICRC and Amnesty International in 2002, a number of victims and village headmen were forced to sign retraction statements or were silenced by threats to have their tongues cut and their throats slit.

Recommendations

  • An international investigation into rape and sexual violence by the Burmese military against ethnic nationality women and girls should be established.
  • There must be an end to impunity for rape.
  • The 2008 Constitution that guarantees impunity for military perpetrators must be amended so further sexual violence can be prevented.
  • Women should be included in the peace negotiations between the Burmese government and the ethnic armed groups, and the issues of sexual violence in conflict should be addressed in these negotiations.
  • There should be women’s participation at every political level in Burma.
  • The Burmese government should allow the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to open an office in Burma.
  • Burma’s Rape Law should be revised and should be in line with international human rights standards and outlaw rape in marriage.
  • Governments should provide adequate funding for WLB and its members to support
  • An investigation into rape and sexual violence by the Burmese military against ethnic women and girls.
  • An end to impunity for rape and other forms of sexual violence in Burma.
  • Support for victims.
  • The inclusion of women at every political level in Burma including the peace negotiations between the Burmese government and the ethnic armed political groups.
  • Burma’s Rape Law to be in line with international human rights standards to outlaw rape in marriage.

 

Published by Burma Campaign UK, 28 Charles Square, London N1 6HT 

www.burmacampaign.org.uk

info@burmacampaign.org.uk

tel: 020 7324 4710

Soldiers Who Raped Teenage Girl Not Punished For Crime

Clip_198On the afternoon of April 10, 2014, “Ma Bauk” and her mother had gone by motorcycle in search of two cattle that after roaming to feed had not returned to their home. By evening they had not found the cattle and Ma Bauk’s mother instructed her to go back home, while she would continue looking.

Midway back to her way back to the house, two soldiers on the roadside hailed Ma Bauk, one in uniform, and one without, to stop, saying that they had a message to be carried back to their base. When she stopped, they forced her at knifepoint from the road and pushed her motorcycle out of view, threatening that if she screamed they would kill her.

They kept her there until dark and then forced her to drive her motorbike again, sitting behind her. They put a grenade pressed up to her belly and a knife at her side and threatened her not to stop nor talk to anyone as they went. Then they travelled to an abandoned house on farmland, where they took her inside and got ready to rape her.

Ma Bauk fled from the house but they caught up to her and pulled her back. Then they took turns at raping her throughout the night. Although she cried out for help, the house was around four miles distant from the nearest village, and nobody heard or came.

The next morning at 7am the two soldiers said they would take Ma Bauk into the town of Bhamo (Bamaw). One sat in front and the other behind, with Ma Bauk in the middle.

Before they reached the suspension bridge approaching the town, a tire on the motorcycle blew. By the time they reached the bridge, about 10am, it was not rideable. They dismounted at the bridge and then Ma Bauk saw a man from same village she knew and fled to his motorcycle, escaping from the soldiers.

When Ma Bauk reached home she told her family what happened to her and they immediately went to the police station and made a complaint, and went for a medical examination.

However, one month after the incident, the police revealed that they had not yet opened a case against the perpetrators. They said that although they identified one as Private Aung Naing Soe, the army had not cooperated and they could not identify the other. They also had heard that the private had gone absent without leave from the battalion camp.

Up to now, Ma Bauk and her family have no more information about anything being done to try to hold the perpetrators of the crime responsible.

The military in Myanmar has long enjoyed impunity for offences committed against civilians, and despite recent political changes, prosecutions of errant soldiers are extremely rare.

The military protects the murderers, and reveals nothing to the surviving victims and their families. They only come to learn through indirect channels that no action is being taken against the killers.

Conditions in Kachin State are particularly serious, and militarized, due to the continued conflict there. The AHRC in 2013 issued a dossier of cases from Kachin State in which many perpetrators were military personnel, and an appeal on the killing of a young woman by military firing whose father himself was prosecuted for lodging complaints. In the latter case, the father was subsequently released thanks to widespread public attention to the case, but again no action is known to have been taken against the military personnel involved. In another case of abduction, rape and killing by the military, although lawyers took the matter all the way to the Supreme Court, the military simply denied that it had ever had her in its custody.

The 2008 Constitution in its section 20(b) also grants the army autonomy to adjudicate in all matters relating to its own affairs; however, in a case of this sort where army personnel have absconded to a roadside and have held up a civilian in order to rape her, the question of criminal responsibility rests with the civilian courts.

For many more cases and issues concerning human rights in Burma, visit http://www.humanrights.asia/countries/burma

There has just been a success in our campaign to help end rape and sexual violence by the Burmese Army.

The Burmese government has just become the 150th country to sign the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. The declaration contains practical and political commitments to end impunity, promote accountability, and provide justice and safety for victims of sexual violence in conflicts.

The signing of the declaration comes on the eve of the Global Summit To End Sexual Violence in Conflict, being hosted by the British government and Angelina Jolie.

However, just because Burma has signed the declaration, it doesn’t mean that they will actually do anything about it. We have seen a great many broken promises by President Thein Sein in the past, including his failure to release all political prisoners by the end of 2013, his failure to stop using child soldiers in the Burmese Army, and his failure to stop Burmese Army attacks in Kachin State.

Pressure must be maintained to ensure that President Thein Sein agrees concrete actions within a specific time frame to actually implement the declaration.

Since Thein Sein became President, the Burmese Army has continued to rape ethnic women and girls, including 8 year olds, and grandmothers. They must be stopped.