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).