Sexual violence by Burmese government troops continues despite ceasefires in Shan State

Sexual violence by Burmese government troops continues despite ceasefires in Shan State

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The Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) has documented eight cases of sexual violence committed by Burmese government troops in southern and eastern Shan State since April 2015, all in so-called “ceasefire” areas. These cases reveal continuing patterns of impunity, and highlight that ongoing militarization and offensives by the Burma Army despite ceasefires are a key factor threatening women’s security in ethnic areas.

The most recent crime took place on November 5, 2015, near a village in Ke See township. A 32-year-old woman was gang-raped by about 10 soldiers while her husband was tied up under their farm hut. This took place during the current offensive by the Burma Army against the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N). Despite an existing bilateral ceasefire, the government has since last month deployed 20 battalions, heavy artillery, and fighter aircraft to seize SSPP/SSA-N areas, committing abuses against civilians and causing displacement of over 10,000 villagers.

Seven earlier incidents of sexual violence documented by SHRF took place in remote rural areas of southern and eastern Shan State where the Burma Army has continued its troop build-up despite a bilateral ceasefire with the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-South) since December 2011.  

Documented cases indicate strong confidence of impunity by perpetrators. Some violations were committed by groups of soldiers, some in front of or within earshot of witnesses, and one rape-murder took place next to the perpetrators’ own military base.

In only two cases were alleged perpetrators seen being arrested by the Burmese military -- after pressure from local community leaders -- but their sentences are not known, due to the opaqueness of the military justice system. In other cases, the military simply offered money to hush up the incident, or local authorities were unwilling to accept charges filed against the military.

SHRF is gravely concerned at this ongoing pattern of impunity, further entrenched by the Burma Army’s closing of ranks to protect the rapist-killers of the two Kachin teachers in Kawng Kha, northern Shan State in January of this year. In this case, not only did the military block police investigation of their personnel, but they also threatened legal action against anyone implicating them in the crime.

In order to end military sexual violence in Burma, it is urgently needed to start tackling the structural root causes of this violence, namely Napyidaw’s ongoing policies of militarization and aggression against the ethnic peoples, and the fact that the military remains constitutionally outside civilian control.

In June 2014, Burma signed the UK-sponsored Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which should have paved the way for international engagement to begin seriously addressing this issue in the country. However, there has been a resounding silence from the international community, including Britain, about Naypyidaw’s continued offensives in ethnic states, which are the context for the continued sexual violence.

SHRF therefore strongly urges the international community to “walk the talk” to protect women and girls in Burma from sexual violence in conflict. They must start publicly condemning Naypyidaw’s ongoing attacks and make any further engagement with Naypyidaw conditional upon an immediate end to its militarization and offensives in the ethnic areas.

Summary of documented incidents of sexual violence by Burmese government troops in Southern and Eastern Shan State (April- November 2015)

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*Note: for further details of Ho Pong rape-murder case, see SHRF report: http://shanhumanrights.org/index.php/news-updates/221-villagers-remain-fearful-after-burma-army-rape-murder-in-ho-pong-despite-punishment-of-alleged-culprit

Details of rape by Burmese government soldier in Tachileik, eastern Shan State, on August 26, 2015

The crime took place outside the village of Sarm Boo, about 25 kilometers east of Tachileik, near the Mekong River. On August 26, at around 5 pm, “Nang Wan” (not her real name), a 32-year-old farmer from Sarm Boo, was tending her farm alone, after her husband had gone to return a grass-cutting machine. A Burma Army private called Win Naing, stationed at the military base in Sarm Boo, was collecting firewood in the area, and seeing her alone, used his knife to threaten her, and then raped her.

Afterwards, Nang Wan ran crying back towards her village, and met her husband riding his motorbike on his way to fetch her. When she told him what had happened, they rode straight to the headman of their village, and reported the crime. The headman phoned the commander of the Sarm Boo military base, who asked Nang Wan to come and identify the rapist at the base.

Nang Wan went with her husband to the base, and was able to identify Private Win Naing as the rapist. The commander then slapped and kicked him in front of her, and informed her he would be punished. The next morning, Private Win Naing was sent back to his base unit, the Military Operations Command (MOC) 18 at Mong Phyak.

Nang Wan and her husband were not satisfied that the culprit would really be punished, so on August 27 they went to Tachileik to consult with members of several political parties. Members of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party gave them 3,000 baht (USD 83), but did not help them seek justice.

In the second week of September, the Burma Army Triangle Region Commander, Maj. Gen. Aung Zaw Aye, personally came to Sarm Boo with 20 soldiers, in three vehicles. He summoned the village headman and Nang Wan, in front of about 30 villagers. He asked Nang Wan and the other villagers what they wanted, but they were too afraid of the soldiers stationed in their village to speak out about seeking justice for the rape case. Maj. Gen. Aung Zaw Aye then presented Nang Wan with 5,000 baht (USD 140).

Since the rape incident, the women in Sarm Boo are too afraid to go to their fields alone. They fear that if anyone is raped by the military in the future, they are likely to be killed, to prevent them identifying the rapist.

There are about 40 Burma Army soldiers stationed at the base in Sarm Boo, which is under the MOC 18 in Mong Phyak and has been there for about nine years. The location of the base, directly next to the local monastery, is a source of resentment for local villagers, who dislike having troops stationed next to their place of worship. The soldiers often requisition vehicles belonging to the local villagers, and force them to buy petrol for them.

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Sai Hor Hseng                       +66(0) 62-941-9600     (English, Shan)

Nang Charm Tong                  +66 (0) 81-603-6655    (Thai, English)

Sai Kheun Mai                        +66 (0) 94-638-6759   (English, Burmese)

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