HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES IN MYANMAR

HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES IN MYANMAR

The Myanmar military government used to have one of the worst human rights records in the world. Human rights groups have accused the regime of using torture, beatings, forced labor, ethnic cleansing, forcibly conscripting adolescents into the army, and confiscating land and property and paying nothing for it. Troops in the Burmese army have been accused of raping women in ethnic minorities and student groups and confiscating livestock, fuel, food supplies, alcoholic drinks, and money from civilians and forcing villagers to work for them with out pay and serve as their porters. There have been reports of Burmese soldiers seizing the vehicles of citizens at will.

One U.S. State Department report on human rights listed Myanmar as one of the world’s top three offenders. The United Nations has accused the Myanmar military government of "continued violations of human rights...including killing of civilians...restrictions on freedom of expression...tortured, forced labor." In 1988 the government gunned down 3,000 demonstrators during pro-democracy demonstration and has forced the relocation of at least a half million people. A crackdown in 2007 left dozens dead and hundreds in jails. Hundreds of citizens are detained in Burma's prisons as political prisoners.

According to a 1998 United Nations Human Rights Commission report "the situation of human rights in Myanmar is worsening and the repression of civil and political rights continues unabated." It is an "every-growing humanitarian crisis." The authoritarian military regime has been particularly harsh in its treatment of ethnic minorities. Many of the victims of human rights crimes have been members of the Shan, Karen, Karenni and Rohingya ethnic groups. In the past it ruled by decree, without a constitution or legislature and systematically violated human rights and suppressed all forms of opposition.

Richard Paddock wrote in the Angeles Times, “Human rights groups cite a long list of the regime's alleged abuses: killing some political opponents and imprisoning and torturing others without trial, raping and killing women in conflict zones, enslaving people and forcing them to build roads and work in the fields. The army has conscripted 70,000 child soldiers, more than any other nation, critics say, and grows the most opium after Afghanistan. [Source: Richard Paddock, Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2005]

See Separate Articles FORCED LABOR, CHILD SOLDIERS AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN MYANMAR and POLITICAL PRISONERS, TORTURE AND PRISONS IN MYANMAR; Also See Minorities, History, Religion and Censorship and Freedom of the Press Under Media and the Internet

Free Burma Coalition (www.freeburmacoalition.org); Burma Campaign (www.burmacampaign.com); Burma Campaign UK, Free Burma Coalition, U.S. Campaign for Burma, Generation Wave, All Burma Students' Democratic Front, Democratic Voice of Burma, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch

Human Rights in Myanmar in 2012 and 2013

In February 2013, the U.S. State Department reported: “The last 18 months have brought a number of changes to Burma—from the release of hundreds of political prisoners to the revision of several repressive laws—that many would have said were unthinkable just two years ago. Of course the many activists and advocates who have been pushing for and laying the groundwork for the beginnings of a democratic opening in Burma didn’t accept change as unthinkable—they maintained their struggle and their courage for decades.” [Source: U.S. State Department, Human Rights in Burma, February 18, 2013]

According to Human Rights Watch: “Burma’s human rights situation remains poor despite some noteworthy actions by the government toward reform. In April 2012, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party swept nearly all the seats contested in a parliamentary by-election, but a large majority of seats in Burma’s lower house are controlled by the government party and the military. President Thein Sein welcomed back exiles and released nearly 400 political prisoners, but several hundred prisoners remain behind bars. While some laws have been amended, repressive laws remain. The army targeted civilians in armed conflict with the Kachin minority group. After violence erupted between Arakanese Buddhists and the long-persecuted Rohingya Muslims, state security forces took part in abuses against the Rohingya. [Source: Human Rights Watch )(]

“The 400 political prisoners were released in five general prisoner amnesties, although several hundred are believed to remain in prison. Freed political prisoners face persecution, including restrictions on travel and education, and lack adequate psychosocial support. Activists who peacefully demonstrated in Rangoon in September have been charged with offenses. In August 2012, the government abolished pre-publication censorship of media and relaxed other media restrictions, but restrictive guidelines for journalists and many other laws historically used to imprison dissidents and repress rights such as freedom of expression remain in place. )(

“Armed conflict between the Burmese government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) continued in Kachin State in the north, where tens of thousands of civilians remain displaced. The government has effectively denied humanitarian aid to the displaced Kachin civilians in KIA territory. In conflict areas in Kachin and Shan States, the Burmese military carried out extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, torture, forced labor, and deliberate attacks on civilian areas, all which continue with impunity. Ceasefire agreements in ethnic conflict areas of eastern Burma remain tenuous. )(

“Deadly sectarian violence erupted in Arakan State in June 2012 between ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya Muslims, a long-persecuted stateless minority of approximately one million people. State security forces failed to protect either community, resulting in some 100,000 displaced, and then increasingly targeted Rohingya in killings, beatings, and mass arrests while obstructing humanitarian access to Rohingya areas and to camps of displaced Rohingya around the Arakan State capital, Sittwe. Sectarian violence broke out again in 9 of the state’s 17 townships in October, including in several townships that did not experience violence in June, resulting in an unknown number of deaths and injuries, the razing of entire Muslim villages, and the displacement of an additional 35,000 persons. Many of the displaced fled to areas surrounding Sittwe, where they also experienced abuses, such as beatings by state security forces.

“Despite serious ongoing abuses, foreign governments—including the United States and the United Kingdom—expressed unprecedented optimism about political reforms and rapidly eased or lifted sanctions against Burma, while still condemning the abuses and violence.

Limited Political Change and Ongoing Abuses in 2012

According to Human Rights Watch World Report 2013: “Burma’s national parliament and 14 regional and state assemblies completed a first full year in operation in 2012 since the formal end of military rule. Former military generals hold most senior ministerial portfolios and serving generals are constitutionally guaranteed the posts of ministers of defense, home affairs, and border affairs security. Many former military officers hold important positions in the ruling military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. Two new laws passed in 2012 related to land use fail to adequately protect farmers’ rights. A new law on peaceful assembly—signed in December 2011 and hailed as a reform by Western governments—fails to meet international standards, providing for imprisonment for permit violations, and requiring that protest slogans be pre-approved. [Source: Human Rights Watch )(]

“Thirteen activists in Rangoon faced charges for failing to get permission for a demonstration held peacefully in September to oppose the armed conflict in Kachin State. Other laws that have been used to imprison peaceful activists, lawyers, and journalists remain on the books, including, among others, the Unlawful Associations Act, the Electronics Act, the State Protection Act, and the Emergency Provisions Act. Media freedoms improved in 2012 but remain highly restricted. In August, the government abolished pre-publication censorship that had been in place nearly 50 years but retained 16 guidelines restricting publication of articles critical of the government or related to corruption, illicit drugs, forced labor, and child soldiers. Editors continue to self-censor out of concern for arrest and hesitate to publish stories regarding government abuses. )(

“The National Human Rights Commission, created in September 2011, continued to disappoint in 2012. The commission exists by executive order and lacks independence from the government, contrary to the Paris Principles—minimum standards endorsed by the U.N. on the functioning of national human rights commissions. Statements from Burma’s commission on Kachin and Arakan States failed to mention any abuses by the state security forces, or government-imposed restrictions on delivering humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs). )(

“After spending a total of 15 years under house arrest since 1989, and otherwise facing travel restrictions, Aung San Suu Kyi’s right to travel domestically and internationally was restored, However, other former political prisoners continue to face persecution, including restrictions on travel and education. The Ministry of Home Affairs refused to issue passports to many former political prisoners, including democracy and human rights activists, public interest lawyers, and journalists, preventing them from traveling abroad. )(

“While parliament in 2012 appointed a commission to investigate land confiscation, the practice continues throughout the country. Farmers lose their land to private and state interests and in some cases are effectively forced to work as day laborers on their own land. Numerous disputes about land confiscations under the prior military juntas remain largely unresolved. Forced labor continued in various parts of the country despite the government’s commitment to end the practice by 2015 in an action plan agreed to with the International Labour Organization (ILO). The army continued to have child soldiers in its ranks, but in June, signed an action plan with the United Nations to halt further recruitment of children and demobilize and reintegrate those already in the army within 18 months. Several non-state armed groups continue to use and recruit child soldiers and the government continues to prevent U.N. agencies from accessing ethnic areas controlled by non-state armed groups to focus on demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers. )(

Using Satellite Images to Record Myanmar Abuses

In September 2007, scientists released satellite photos they said provided evidence that the Myanmar military had destroyed villages and forcibly relocated people in the countryside. Images collected over a year of sites in eastern Myanmar appear to show rapidly expanding military camps, villages being burned or eliminated and new villages popping up where people had been relocated, said Lars Bromley of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. [Source: Randolph E. Schmid Associated Press, September 29, 2007 >>]

Associated Press reported: “The American Association for the Advancement of Science said it compiled the satellite images from organizations operating in the country. Bromley, director of the association's Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights project, said they were obtained from commercial firms, using low-orbit satellites that pass over Myanmar every day or so. "Physical evidence of reported attacks on civilians sometimes can be subtle compared to the slash-and-burn types of destruction that we saw in Darfur or Zimbabwe. It's also a lush ecosystem where plants can quickly grow to cover burn marks and clouds and terrain often block satellite observation," he said. >>

“Still, he said he was able to map the locations of many reported human rights violations. "Eighteen of the locations showed evidence consistent with destroyed or damaged villages," he said. "We found evidence of expanded military camps in four other locations as well as multiple possibly relocated villages, and we documented growth in one refugee camp on the Thai border. Satellite images showed burn scars in thick green forest in the Papun district, and before-and-after images showed the removal of structures, consistent with reports of village destruction. Signs of an expanded military presence, such as the buildup of bamboo fencing around a camp, and construction of a satellite camp, also were identified, Bromley said. >>

"These things are happening over quite a range; it's not just an isolated incident," Bromley said. "We're not necessarily drawing conclusions about what happened to these villages; that comes from organizations we work with," he explained. For example, there were reports of attacks on villages in April, and satellite images later showed the blackened remains of burned villages. In addition, the photos showed several new villages near military camps, indicating forced relocations. >>

Human Rights Violations Against Minorities

Human Rights Watch reports:“The Burmese military continues to engage in extrajudicial killings, attacks on civilians, forced labor, torture, pillage, and use of antipersonnel landmines. Sexual violence against women and girls remains a serious problem, and perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. The KIA and some other ethnic armed groups have also committed serious abuses, such as using child soldiers and antipersonnel landmines. [Source: Human Rights Watch <<]

According to the U.S. State Department” “We are deeply concerned about reports of continuing human rights and religious freedom violations in the ethnic nationality regions, including reports of sexual violence, the use of churches as military bases by the Burmese army in Kachin State, and coerced religious conversions in Chin state. We remain concerned about the situation in Rakhine State, which has resulted in more than 100,000 internally displaced persons since violence erupted in June and October 2012. [Source: U.S. State Department, Human Rights in Burma, February 18, 2013]

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. special rapporteur on Burma has expressed concern over alleged abuses in Arakan State and calling for a credible investigation and a review of the 1982 Citizenship Law, which he said discriminates against Rohingya. He also voiced concern about ongoing abuses in Kachin State and the need to release remaining political prisoners. <<

Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) continue to invest in and trade extensively with Burma, especially in the extractive and hydropower industries. Burma continued to earn billions of US dollars in natural gas sales to Thailand, little of which is directed into social services such as health care and education. Gas dollars will increase markedly when a gas pipeline from Arakan State to Yunnan in China is operational in 2013. Work continues on that project, which passes through northern Shan State where the Burmese army has moved in to secure territory and where armed conflict has led to abuses such as torture, forced labor, and forced displacement of Kachin and Shan. <<

Human Rights Violations by the Myanmar Military Against Minorities

The military regime’s campaigns of forced labor and child slavery were most cruelly targeted at ethnic peoples. Brutal military counter-insurgency tactics have including rape, torture and the murder of villagers . The Myanmar military has swept into Karen, Shan and Mon villages and seized people for forced labor. In defending its actions, the Myanmar regime has said it is in a battle against separatists and terrorists.

In October 2007, Human Rights Watch reported: “The Burma army's expansion is ongoing, and Burma army camps are in abundance throughout Burma, even in areas far from any armed conflict. Where there is no fighting, the troops work to restrict the activities and movements of the civilian population and make demands on them for forced labor and money. In areas where there is still armed conflict, the army attempts to undermine the opposition by destroying civilian villages and food supplies and retaliating against the local civilian population every time fighting occurs. Civilians in these areas are routinely forced to work as porters, guides, and unarmed sentries for Burma army units on military operations, and even walk in front of troops in areas suspected of landmine contamination (atrocity demining). Many of them are children, and many are wounded or killed in the process. This direct use of civilian children for military functions has been documented widely by Human Rights Watch and other organizations, and is not covered in detail in this report. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007]

Describing the tactics used by Myanmar military against Karen insurgents, Pascal Khoo Thwe wrote in “From the Land of Green Ghosts,” "People who were obviously civilians began emerging from the jungle into the clearing in which the [Karen] headquarters stood. They came out in pairs, chained together and clearly in a state of abject terror. They were civilian porters, kidnapped like the others we had seen and forced to carry munitions and walk ahead of the troops through minefields ... The first pair stumbled on to a landmine. There was a huge explosion, the dull boom of which echoed through the jungle ... severed body parts - hands, eyes, legs - of the sacrificial victims flew instantly into the air mingled with a cloud of dust. But the chain that bound them was unbroken, so their trunks collapsed on to the ground with a hollow thud, while arms, feet and fingers were scattered among the bushes." [Source: From the Land of Green by Pascal Khoo Thwe]

Minorities Say Myanmar Army Continues to Uses Rape as Weapon of War

Esther Htusan of Associated Press wrote: “A soldier in full uniform saw the 7-year-old in her front yard soon after her parents left to tend to their rice paddies in Myanmar's restive state of Shan. She said he ordered her inside the family's bamboo hut. "He hit me and told me to take off my clothes," the girl told the tightly packed courtroom in a whisper, as her alleged assailant, Maung Win Htwe, looked on, stone-faced. "Then ... he raped me." [Source: Esther Htusan, Associated Press, January 15, 2014]

Rights activists in Myanmar say the army continues to use rape as a weapon of war nearly three years after President Thein Sein's nominally civilian government ended a half-century of brutal military rule. The Women's League of Burma released a report documenting more than 100 rapes, almost all in townships plagued by stubborn ethnic insurgencies. Nearly half were brutal gang rapes, several of the victims were children, and 28 of the women were killed or died from their injuries, said Tin Tin Nyo, the league's general secretary. She warned that there is little hope for change until the government amends Myanmar's constitution, which gives the military the right to independently administer all its affairs. The report said most of the attacks occurred in border areas, particularly in the states of Shan, where the 7-year-old lives, and Kachin. Perpetrators are rarely, if ever, punished.

Though it handed over formal control of the country, the army continues to heavily influence almost all facets of government, and holds a quarter of all seats in parliament. Few prominent officials have criticized the military over sexual violence — not even opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent more than 15 years under house arrest under the former ruling junta. Last month, at a press conference in the main city of Yangon, Suu Kyi was asked if she was concerned about the lack of accountability when it comes to the use of rape as a weapon of war. Instead of criticizing generals, she pointed out that insurgent groups also are responsible for sexual violence. "This has to do with rule of law. And that has to do with politics, and the position of the army as it is in a particular political structure," she said. "I think you are well aware of the fact that military armed groups which are not official armies also engage in sexual violence in conditions of conflict." The U.S. State Department said it was aware of the report, and urged the Myanmar government and military to investigate and prosecute all allegations of rape and sexual assault. Spokeswoman Marie Harf said that despite "tremendous progress" in Myanmar in the past three years, "significant challenges remain, including further improving the country's overall human rights situation."

Tin Tin Nyo said the cases her group was able to document are "just the tip of the iceberg." She said the information gathered for the report comes almost exclusively from victims or witnesses dared to speak out, and that researchers were unable to reach some areas because of security concerns. The league's report, compiled by 12 member organizations spread across the country, said in most cases attacks were carried out by soldiers who were carrying weapons and dressed in uniform. They included officers — such as captains, commanders and majors — and at least one major general.

Many of the rapes were carried out in front of the woman's husband or others, seemingly as a way to make communities too fearful to support ethnic militias. "These crimes are more than random, isolated acts by rogue soldiers," the report's authors wrote. "Their widespread and systematic nature indicates a structural pattern: Rape is still used as an instrument of war and oppression."

The report said most cases never make it to court, and those that come before military tribunals usually result in immediate acquittals. The alleged Nov. 11 attack on the 7-year-old is an exception. The soldier accused of raping her, Maung Win Htwe, was ordered to go to trial in a civilian court.

Lawyer Brang Di said the first witnesses appeared at Lashio District Court last week, including the girl, her parents and neighbors in a tiny Shan village near Thein Ni town. Brang Di said authorities agreed to try Maung Win Htwe in a civilian court only after a loud public outcry. "We are trying our best to have a fair judgment," he said.

Rapes by Myanmar Security Forces in Ethnic Areas

Francis Wade wrote in The Guardian: “At least 13 women, including teenagers, have been subjected to prolonged rape by Burmese security forces in a remote village in the western state of Arakan. Human rights groups have warned that the incident threatens to trigger further violence in a region where several waves of ethno-religious rioting since June last year have killed more than 1,000 people. The women all belong to the Muslim Rohingya minority, which has borne the brunt of fighting between Muslim and Buddhist communities. One victim, an 18-year-old girl who cannot be named for security reasons, described how a group of uniformed soldiers from Burma's border security unit, known locally as NaSaKa, entered her house in northern Maungdaw township shortly after midnight on 20 February. [Source: Francis Wade, The Guardian, February 26, 2013 ><]

"They took us separately to different places and tortured and raped us," she said, referring also to her mother and younger sister, 15. The ordeal lasted until dawn, she said. "They came in and out of the house at least 15 times. They also beat my mother with a gun and dragged her outside to the road and beat her to the ground." According to the victim, 13 people in the village were assaulted. Chris Lewa, head of the Arakan Project, which has monitoring teams in Maungdaw township, said she had separately confirmed that at least 11 people were raped that night. ><

“The incident comes eight months after the rape of a 26-year-old Buddhist woman by three Rohingya men triggered fierce rioting across Arakan state , and a state of emergency remains in place. Arakanese and Rohingya communities have clashed a number of times. Animosity toward the Muslim group is widespread among Arakanese, many of whom consider them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. "Sexual violence by Nasaka against Rohingya women has been documented for many years," says Matthew Smith, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, adding that prosecutions are rare for rapes committed by security forces. ><

“Khin Ohmar, founder of the Women's League of Burma, said that such ordeals terrorise the community. "I've heard of cases where rape survivors are kicked out of their village because the village head is so scared of retribution if they complain to the Burma army." She said that incidents like these happen "every time the army moves into remote areas", and that punishment is normally just transferral to another area "where rape continues but with different women". She thinks that the 20 February incident probably had its roots in "ethno-centric chauvinism and hatred" of the Rohingya. Following the attacks, villagers fled into nearby forests and across the border into Bangladesh, said Lewa. The victim told the Guardian that she and the other women had received treatment at a local clinic. The extent of their injuries is unclear, although one 19-year-old woman is believed to be in a critical condition. ><

Fear and Repression in Myanmar

Repression in Myanmar at times has been North-Korea-like. Burmese citizens have been tortured or imprisoned for telling Westerners the wrong thing or possessing a cassette with songs that are perceived as anti-government. As a stick the military has used torture, threats and executions; as a carrot has provided economic opportunities and access to foreign goods.

Some parts of Myanmar have looked like a country under siege. Country in areas where ethnic insurgencies are active soldiers look restless and keep their fingers near the triggers of their guns. Government buildings are surrounded by barbed wire and barracks have been placed near temples and pagodas. There are billboards with slogans like “The Army and the People Cooperate and Crush All Those Harming He Union” and “Crush All Internal and External Destructive Elements.”

Bugs have been hidden in rooms used by United Nations representatives to interview political prisoners. "Security agents routinely make late-night visits to homes of party members," wrote Scott Kraft in the Los Angeles Times, "ostensibly to check for guests. Under the law, anyone with an overnight guest must register the person at the local police station. In the provinces, agents have confiscated videotapes made by party members of their meetings with Suu Kyi." "People are so intimidated," one diplomat told William Branigan of the Washington Post, "that nobody dares speak up against them anymore."

Anyone who criticizes the military regime or complains the about economic conditions used to run the risk of getting beat up, thrown in prison or even executed. “Crimes” included listening to Voice of America or the BBC, and hanging posters, writing graffiti or handing out pamphlets calling for political reforms. People have been jailed for owning fax machine or copiers. A Norwegian stamp with a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi was banned from entering the country..

For a long time almost no one was allowed to keep a passport; people are often followed by military agents; and informers counted shoes outside buildings to see if there were any unauthorized visitors. People worried they would be arrested if they couldn’t get their pony cart out of the way of a general’s motorcade fast enough. Even the monasteries had informers. People shared their feelings and thoughts only with their closest friends. A woman in Mandalay told Newsweek, “Our greatest isolation is the isolation we feel from one another.”

See Everyday Life

Fear and Repression in Myanmar After the Saffron Revolution Protests

Reporting from Yangon, Jill Drew wrote in the Washington Post, “She does not know if the police have her picture. But that uncertainty has not eased her fear. Twice soldiers have entered this woman's Rangoon neighborhood. They came at night, with photos taken during pro-democracy demonstrations. "They look at everyone and then they take you," she said in a low voice, speaking on condition she not be identified. "I don't sleep." The nighttime raids began after Burma's military junta violently put down the country's largest protests in nearly 20 years, led by Buddhist monks. The arrests have continued even after an 8 p.m. curfew was lifted last week. This woman joined the protests, and now she waits to be taken next. [Source: Jill Drew, Washington Post, October 24, 2007 \\\]

Citizens talk “only in whispers, looking over their shoulders to see who might be listening. The government has blocked access to several Internet chat and e-mail sites, and people assume their phone conversations are not private, given that the government controls all the country's telecommunications. "The people, we all feel so cramped up inside," said a 66-year-old man in Rangoon. "We cannot talk. We cannot do anything. This government, they are killers. They have guns, but the people have nothing." He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes. "I'm sorry, but I don't have anyone to talk to about these things." \\\

“Life's daily rhythms have returned to Rangoon, but reminders of the violent crackdown linger. Piles of barbed wire lie at the entrance to Sule Pagoda, in the heart of downtown. Although few uniformed police officers and soldiers were visible, even fewer monks could be found on the streets or in the Buddhist pagodas.” Foreigners “ are watched. A foreigner eating lunch at an otherwise empty Thai restaurant soon found that she had company -- a man sat at a nearby table, ordering nothing and staring at the same page of a newspaper for the entire time it took to eat lunch. As she waited to pay her bill, he left. \\\

“Resistance continues, but for now it is subtle. At Shwedagon Pagoda, beneath a gleaming gold spire decorated with diamonds provided by the military government, a man guided a visitor to one of the many Buddha images, this one covered with strings of fresh flowers and offerings of fruit. "This is where the people know to pray for the safety of our lady," he said quietly, referring to Aung San Suu Kyi. The road to her home is now barricaded, with passersby blocked from walking or driving on it by rows of barbed wire, sandbags and several soldiers. At a Rangoon art gallery, a saleswoman pulls out a painting from a back room. Called "Nine Novices," it shows nine young boys, their heads shaved and bodies clothed in the robes of novice monks. They are crawling on top of a statue of a lion, the symbol of the government. "The artist wanted to paint nine monks, but he was scared," she explained. "So he painted novices. But they're still on the lion." \\\

Disappearances and Rape Under Myanmar’s Military Regime

Many people in Burma have relatives or friends who died from exhaustion, starvation, disease, gang rape and beatings while in police or army custody. There have also been a large number of disappearances. One man told Swerdlow said, "My nephew went to market, and we never saw him again." To destroy evidence the army often cremate their victims, who are not buried in a grave, and destroys their university files. In one case soldiers machine gunned a student and then used bayonets to prevent a funeral service. Upon their release prisoners in the 1990s were told, "You will not be arrested again. If criticize SLORC [the military regime], we will come and kill you." [Source: Joel Swerdlow, National Geographic, July 1995]

The army has been accused of carrying out mass punitive rapes of women, targeting ethnic minorities. A 6-year-old girl who fled from Burmese soldiers and hid in the forest told Refugees International she saw soldiers kill an infant and rape a woman in front of her husband and then killed her by ramming a bamboo spear up her vagina. In many cases the tactics are intended to control and terrorize ethic population and are believed to be to have been carried out in a systematic way. This is in clear violation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which Myanmar has ratified.

A report by the Shan Human Rights Foundation and the Shan Woman’s Action Network detailed 173 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence, involving 625 girls and women, committed by Burmese soldiers in Shan State, between 1996 and 2001. The report said said that rape was used as a “weapon of war.” A report by Refugees International entitled No Safe Place documents 63 rapes among Karen, Karenni. Mon, Tavoyan and Han minorities.

Many of rape victims, including a 13-year-old girl, had been gang raped by soldiers. Many were caught as they fled for refugee camps in Thailand. According to the Refugees International the rapes took place at military bases 20 percent of the time; high-ranking officers participated in a third of the cases; and the perpetrators were rarely punished and when they were the punishments were weak. The report said in some areas 75 percent of the women have been raped or know someone who has and have convincing physical evidence to back up their claims.

Rapes by Myanmar Security Forces in Ethnic Areas

Francis Wade wrote in The Guardian: “At least 13 women, including teenagers, have been subjected to prolonged rape by Burmese security forces in a remote village in the western state of Arakan. Human rights groups have warned that the incident threatens to trigger further violence in a region where several waves of ethno-religious rioting since June last year have killed more than 1,000 people. The women all belong to the Muslim Rohingya minority, which has borne the brunt of fighting between Muslim and Buddhist communities. One victim, an 18-year-old girl who cannot be named for security reasons, described how a group of uniformed soldiers from Burma's border security unit, known locally as NaSaKa, entered her house in northern Maungdaw township shortly after midnight on 20 February. [Source: Francis Wade, The Guardian, February 26, 2013 ><]

"They took us separately to different places and tortured and raped us," she said, referring also to her mother and younger sister, 15. The ordeal lasted until dawn, she said. "They came in and out of the house at least 15 times. They also beat my mother with a gun and dragged her outside to the road and beat her to the ground." According to the victim, 13 people in the village were assaulted. Chris Lewa, head of the Arakan Project, which has monitoring teams in Maungdaw township, said she had separately confirmed that at least 11 people were raped that night. ><

“The incident comes eight months after the rape of a 26-year-old Buddhist woman by three Rohingya men triggered fierce rioting across Arakan state , and a state of emergency remains in place. Arakanese and Rohingya communities have clashed a number of times. Animosity toward the Muslim group is widespread among Arakanese, many of whom consider them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. "Sexual violence by Nasaka against Rohingya women has been documented for many years," says Matthew Smith, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, adding that prosecutions are rare for rapes committed by security forces. ><

“Khin Ohmar, founder of the Women's League of Burma, said that such ordeals terrorise the community. "I've heard of cases where rape survivors are kicked out of their village because the village head is so scared of retribution if they complain to the Burma army." She said that incidents like these happen "every time the army moves into remote areas", and that punishment is normally just transferral to another area "where rape continues but with different women". She thinks that the 20 February incident probably had its roots in "ethno-centric chauvinism and hatred" of the Rohingya. Following the attacks, villagers fled into nearby forests and across the border into Bangladesh, said Lewa. The victim told the Guardian that she and the other women had received treatment at a local clinic. The extent of their injuries is unclear, although one 19-year-old woman is believed to be in a critical condition. ><

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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