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BURMA: War rape reports continue unabated as government denies accounts

WNN - Women News Network - Wed, 26 Oct 2011 15:38 GMT
Author: Shubhi Tandon//Women News Network ? WNN
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(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.”

History of conflict in Burma

After the British colonial rule in Burma ended on January 4, 1948, the south Asian country became an independent republic. But in 1962, the democratic rule ended when General Ne Win led a military coup d’etat bringing the Burma Socialist Programme Party into power. During the period, General Ne Win nationalized all aspects of society as he instituted elections through a ‘one-party only’ system.

Following the pro-democratic demonstrations in 1988, open election campaigns were allowed to begin in 1990. The party of 1991 Nobel Peace Laureate and human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s NLD – National League for Democracy, declared that they won a majority of parliamentary seats on the election.

“Despite the repression faced by opposition parties during the campaign period, in the May 1990 elections the NLD won an overwhelming victory. A total of 13 million valid votes were cast out of nearly 21 million eligible voters. The NLD won over 80 percent of the seats (392 out of 485 parliamentary seats) and 60 percent of the popular vote. The second largest opposition party, the ethnic-based Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), won 23 seats. The SLORC-backed National Unity Party won just 10 seats and just over 2 percent of the vote.,” said Human Rights Watch in April 2008.

Once election results were reported the military junta under General Saw Muang annulled the election. Following this Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest – a time of incarceration which extended for over 15 years. Su Kyi was finally fully released November 13, 2010.

Entering into arrangements following the 1989 election campaign, Burma/Myanmar’s government signed ceasefire agreements with 17 ethnic groups between 1989-1997. In 2009 tensions were brought to a critical edge. Agreements made between the government and the ethnic groups were not upheld. Tensions began rising as Myanmar’s army, and later the civilian wing of the government, began to require ethnic groups throughout the country to enlist in Myanmar’s Border Guard Force.

Under pressures the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) refused to join the Border Guard Force. Myanmar government troops attacked the military wing of the KIO (called the KIA – Kachin Independence Army) at the Sang Gang post in N’mawk (Momauk) Township in the eastern region of the Kachin State.

Since 2009, tensions and violence inside the nation has continued and increased. Women inside the region have been especially vulnerable as victims of strategic military campaigns of violence. In July 2011, a partial ceasefire was initiated by the KIA but negotiations broke down as any possibility for a ceasefire was discontinued.

Contributing to the regional conflicts, a Chinese-funded hydropower project has now entered the region. The Northern Shan State is now considered a ‘territory of strategic importance’ for the Myanmar government. This means the possibility of  major Chinese investments inside the region may enlarge to also include trans-national gas and oil pipelines, as the nation places it’s priorities on energy development.

International Support

When 12 year old Shan State schoolgirl Nang Mon was raped in her home in front of her mother, her mother tried to protect her but Nang Mon’s mother was also attacked. Tragically nearby villagers did not dare intervene when they heard the girl’s screams. During this time a 50 year old widow Nang Jarm was also raped in her home.

Human rights organization SWAN reveals much more detail on these episodes in their report about sexual violence in the region. The report outlines numerous details of human rights violations. Nang Lord, a 9 months pregnant woman from Shan, was pulled roughly to the ground and raped. Another woman, Nang Poeng, was taken hostage outside the village as she was beaten, stripped naked and then raped in a farm hut. She was found later by other villagers running naked in the jungle.

“Burma Army troops are being given free rein to rape children, the pregnant and the elderly,” said Hseng Moon from SWAN. “We strongly condemn these war crimes,” she added.

Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, has also mapped a continuing impunity by Burma’s military officials on issues surrounding rape violence. “The Burmese military deliberately target civilians of the ethnic minority groups and rape is commonly used as a weapon of war. These human rights violation and sexual violence have been going on for decades. No real action has been taken against it still,” he said recently in an interview with Women News Network – WNN.

For human rights and women’s rights campaigners inside the region there is a critical need for international support on the issues. “As the Burmese Government is not accountable for the violation of rights, there needs to be a concerted effort globally for the women in Burma,” said Diana Sarosi, Manager of Policy and Advocacy for the Nobel Women’s Initiative.

“Foreign governments dealing with Burma should not be silent about these atrocities. ‘Business as usual’ means ongoing rape in our communities,” outlined Hseng Moon.

Today Myanmar is an active member of the United Nations and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). International efforts to investigate war crimes in Myanmar are now pushing forward in hopes to establish an official UN Commission of Inquiry. The goal is to bring clear investigative evidence forward with transparency to the international stage.

“Even since the election and convening of parliament, the regime has shown it is not willing to provide accountability for the victims,” said Shirley Seng from KWAT. “Now is the time for the UN to investigate the regime’s war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma. As Burma is a member of ASEAN and UN, these two institutions have a responsibility to pressure the Burmese regime to end human rights violations and support the Commission of Inquiry.”

Reports indicate that violations of human rights are continuing as ethnic women in the region face increasing conflict violence.

“Firstly, there is an urgent need for the establishment of the UN Commission of Inquiry into the violation of Human Rights in Burma,” said Sarosi from the Nobel Women’s Initiative. “Secondly, bodies like ASEAN need to play a bigger role in holding the Burmese responsible and accountable for such crimes.”

In March 24, 2011 a resolution adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council expressed “…serious concern that previous calls to end impunity have not been heeded, and therefore strongly renews its calls upon the Government of Myanmar to undertake, without delay, a full, transparent, effective, impartial and independent investigation into all reports of human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, forced displacements, forced labour, arbitrary detention, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and to bring to justice those responsible in order to end impunity for violations of human rights, and also strongly calls on the Government of Myanmar to do so as a matter of priority and with appropriate attention from the United Nations.”

To date the government of Myanmar has refused to face reports of human rights violations, extreme sexual violence and crimes against humanity as reported by women victims and by others inside the affected regions.

“Lastly and importantly, there is also a need for a better justice mechanism in place. The military is so powerful that these people feel helpless against such offensives,” said Sarosi.

Read the original article here.

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