Rape as Weapon of War in Burma

The Women’s International Perspective has an article about the use of rape as a tool of war in Burma/Myanmar. (trigger warning)

With a population of over 50 million people, Burma is comprised of eight major ethnic nationalities: Burman, Shan, Karen, Karenni, Mon, Chin, Kachin and Arakan. Burma’s ethnic groups demand equality, autonomy and self-determination, but are systematically denied their rights by the junta. Instead, they are met with human rights violations: forced labor, forced relocation, religious persecution, arbitrary arrest and detention, destruction of thousands of ethnic villages, the driving out of hundreds of thousands of ethnic civilians to neighboring countries, and the forced internal displacement of an estimated one million people.

Worse yet is that Burmese military soldiers are raping the ethnic women and girls with impunity. Women and girls from the Shan, Kachin, Chin, Karen, Mon, Karenni and Arakan states have long suffered under these state-sanctioned sex crimes. Rape incidents in ethnic areas are higher than anywhere else in Burma because they are part of the regime’s strategy to punish the armed resistance groups or used as a tool to repress various peoples in the larger agenda of ethnic cleansing.

Although rape has been used by the regime to control the population for decades, it took years and the courage of many women to document these crimes. In recent years, the different women’s groups operating in Burma started documenting the systematic sexual violence against ethnic women by the State Peace and Development Council’s (SPDC) military soldiers. The total number of rape victims documented in these reports from Chin, Shan, Karen, Mon and Kachin states totals 1,859 girls and women, with some accounts going back as far as 1995.

You know, when I heard about the cyclone, I predicted that very bad things were going to end up happening to women on a gendered basis. But this violence was happening before natural disaster struck. Obviously with such chaos and governmental indifference in the country, it serves to reason that things have gotten a lot worse. Since we work with a system that seems utterly incapable of addressing more than one issue at a time, I think it’s probably safe to say that even if the sexual violence is increasing in Burma, it will sadly be on the U.N.’s back burner, as well as the media’s.

Of course, it’s exceedingly generous to suggest that sexual violence in Burma was ever on the U.N.’s or the media’s front burner, considering that things were already pretty damn bad. Again, very strong trigger warning:

Ma Iang was abducted by Burmese soldiers in May 2003 while returning home from a nearby village where she had been helping her sister build her home. The soldiers took the girl and another hostage into the forest where they raped the girl while forcing the man to watch and drink alcohol laced with poison. After villagers from Paletwa New Town realized the two were missing, they reported the disappearance to local army officers, who insisted that they should not search for the victims. When the villagers discovered their bodies, they reported that Iang’s face seemed contorted. Her panties had been stuffed in her mouth, and her skirt covered her face. The boatman appeared to have been poisoned. Iang’s parents tried to file the case with military authorities, but received no response.

In another case, a woman was stripped naked and hung on a cross, mocking her Christian religion and indicating that sexual violence is being deliberately used as a weapon to torture and terrorize local ethnic populations into submission.

Almost half of the rapes were gang rapes, showing that there is a collective understanding among the troops that they can rape without consequence. And according to the women we interviewed, about a third of the rapes were committed by officers, sometimes in their own army camps. Again, this is a clear example to the troops that rape is acceptable and even encouraged.

None of these rapists have been prosecuted. In some cases, those survivors who were courageous enough to report the cases have even been threatened. In only a few cases was some punishment meted out to the soldiers, but all the victims or families got in return was a small amount of money, or the knowledge that the rapists were transferred to another army post. This clearly shows that the regime has no formal rules of law to protect women and gives the signal to its soldiers that they are above the law. Because of the lack of redress for these crimes, it is clear that Burma’s state policy is to willfully ignore and indeed condone rape by its soldiers.

The article isn’t very long; read the full thing.

For more information on the state-sanctioned sexual violence, see the Women’s League of Chinland’s report from 2007 (pdf).

0 thoughts on “Rape as Weapon of War in Burma

  1. Xtina

    I don’t know if mailing the *astards panties is quite the appropriate way to address their use of rape as a weapon of control. What does virginity mean to the general populace? Are the woman perceived as “sullied” and ostracized by the people in their villages? Do they become “go-to” targets for the relief of junta members after the rapes? How are pregnancies and STDs treated after the fact? I wish there was more about the cultural and economic impacts of these rapes, then we could do something better than panties to let the junta know we are on to them, one, and it is going to cease, two.

    Speaking as a woman and a survivor of male perpetuated violence and rape, I see the rapist as a very small and pathetic person. He uses the little mini-carrot between his legs as a weapon, and he has to have a gun with him when he uses the mini-weapon because if all he had was the carrot to brandish he would be laughed out of town. They can’t own our souls just because they stick it in, that’s for sure – we are not so easily taken down.

    How about air dropping pamphlets on them? I would have a field day writing the content. 🙂

  2. brenna

    Xtina. I don’t know a lot about Burma, but, women who have been targeted for rape as ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Rwanda reported similar results and they were clearly intentional. Tutsi wives of Hutu men in Rwanda were raped particularly for “seducing” good Hutu men. In Bosnia, women were systematically raped because a woman who had been with a Serbian man could never afterwards have “pure” children. In general, women were also raped so they would be unable to bear the next generation. They were either raped to despoil them, raped to prevent them from desiring sexual relationships, or raped with objects to damage them.

    I can’t guarantee the cultural response to rape in Burma, but, considering the cultural distinctions between Bosnia and Rwanda, and the utter similitude of the acts, I would bet it bears the same intent and result.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s