Concerns Over Impunity in Burma Soldier’s Alleged Rape of 13-Year-Old

By Lawi Weng 15 January 2014

RANGOON — A Burma Army soldier who allegedly raped a 13-year-old girl last month in Mon State’s Ye Township may escape justice, an ethnic Mon women’s advocacy group warned.

The Mon Women’s Organization (MWO) raised concerns over the case Wednesday, as a comprehensive report by the Thailand-based Women’s League of Burma (WLB) accused the Burmese military of using rape as a weapon in the country’s ethnic conflicts.

A Burmese soldier from Infantry Battalion 31 is accused of raping the girl in Kawzar sub-township, southern Ye, on Dec. 24, when her parents were not at home. The girl was discovered by a community leader and reported that she had been tied up and raped, which was confirmed by a medical examination.

The Burma Army’s Southeast Regional Command launched an investigation into the case, and the soldier, who has been accused by name, has reportedly been detained at his barracks, according to MWO chair Mi Lawi Han.

The local community has not been officially informed of the detention, however, and MWO is concerned that the soldier will not face proper punishment for the crime. In cases where soldiers are accused of crimes, including rape, it is common for the army to apply its own disciplinary processes, which are opaque and deliver lenient punishments.

The organization last week visited the victim’s family, who were concerned that the soldier would not be punished, said Mi Lawi Han.

“They [the military] should inform to organizations and the community if they have taken action against their soldier. We found no one in the community heard anything about this. In fact, they should make public any action about the crime,” she said.

MWO is trying to get legal help for the victim and her family—who are afraid to take action against the army—to bring charges in the civilian legal system against the soldier, she added.

Human rights groups based on Burma’s borders that work with different ethnic groups frequently report rapes of ethnic women by Burma Army troops, and impunity for the soldiers responsible.

Kachinland News, an ethnic news outlet in Burma’s far north, reported that three Kachin women were abducted while traveling on a bus between the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina and Sumpra Bum by soldier from the 298th Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) on Jan. 10. The report said that one woman was raped by a gang of soldiers after the other two managed to escape.

WLB’s report, bringing together information for a number of women’s groups based in ethnic areas, said it had found more than 100 cases of women and girls being raped by soldiers since 2010. The Kachin Women Association Thailand reported 39 cases of Kachin women or girls raped and the Shan Women’s Action Network reported 35 cases for the report.

“Their widespread and systematic nature indicates a structural pattern: rape is still used as an instrument of war and oppression,” the report said of the findings. It said allegations of rape by soldiers, which may constitute war crimes, must be independently investigated.

According to a Reuters report of the WLB publication on Wednesday, the US State Department also urged the Burmese government to investigate the allegations, as the United States begins to re-establish military-to-military ties with Burma.

Reuters also quoted Burmese presidential spokesman Ye Htut denying the allegation that rape was used systematically by the Burma Army.

“It’s not the policy of our Tatmadaw [military] to use rapes as weapons,” presidential spokesman Ye Htut told Reuters.

“If there are rape cases committed by individual members, we try to expose them and take effective action against the offenders. It would be very helpful in taking action against the offenders if those who prepared that report could send us the details of the cases,” Ye Htut said, according to Reuters.