By Mark Inkey
The Women’s League of Burma (WLB) published a report on the Burmese Army’s use of rape as a weapon of war this week, just as reports emerged of soldiers raping a 13-year-old in Mon State and raping and killing a Rohingya woman in Rakhine State.
The report entitled ‘Same Impunity, Same Patterns’ was jointly launched on Wednesday in Rangoon, New York Washington DC, Melbourne and Chiang Mai.
The report calls for Burmese (Myanmar) security forces to stop using rape as a weapon of oppression, the prosecution of rapists and changes in the law to facilitate this. It was launched internationally to highlight the problem and persuade other countries to put pressure on Burma.
The reports says that soldiers have been and continue to systematically use rape as a tool of oppression with impunity in all ethnic areas, even those where ceasefires have been declared.
It says that this is a policy endorsed at the highest level because of the number of cases uncovered where senior officers up to the rank of Major General have taken part in rape.
There were even cases recorded where soldiers told victims it was pointless reporting them as they had been authorized to rape women.
Rape is not just used as a method of subjugation but also as a tool for punishing civilians that they believe have supported ethnic armed groups and there are records of victims being told this by the soldiers involved.
The WLB has evidence of rapes involving victims as young as eight years old taking place in at least 35 different townships and involving over 38 different battalions. It believes the true number is far higher as many cases are not reported because soldiers illegally detain, torture and threaten to kill and rape victims and their families if they tell anyone. Also many rapes happen in places that are remote and hard for fieldworkers to access.
Even when rapes are reported the perpetrators are very rarely punished and if they ever are it is by military courts, which are far more lenient than civilian courts. Sometimes reporting rape has even led to the prosecution of the victims.
The military have constantly denied allegations of human rights abuses. In October 2012 President Thein Sein said: “Our military is very disciplined, there is no reason for the military to commits acts of rape or murder.”
Despite this in March 2013 The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Burma said he was: “Concerned by the allegations he continues to receive of attacks against civilian populations, extra judicial killings, sexual and gender based violence, arbitrary arrest and detention as well as torture.”
The WLB is calling for investigations into human rights abuses by an independent international investigation, truth commissions and impartial independent national courts to hold human rights abusers to account. They say the government needs to acknowledge and take responsibility for human rights abuses.
The WLB also wants to raise awareness of the issue among foreign governments and get them to pressurize the Burmese government to accept their recommendations. At present they believe many governments are ignoring the problem.
Naw K’nyaw Paw the General Secretary of the Karen Women’s Organisation (KWO), said: “A lot of governments are not questioning about human relations. They are more talking about how they want to see an end to conflict in ethnic areas rather than issues of sexual violence against ethnic women.”
The WLB believe that conflict in the ethnic areas will not be solved until the violence against ethnic women stops.
Naw K’nyaw said: “They need to see ethnic people like Burmese people. They need to see them as equal partners. This cannot happen unless they stop abusing ethnic women and terrorizing the community.”