RANGOON — The case of an ethnic Kachin girl’s alleged rape by a Burmese Army soldier in northern Shan State has gone before a civilian court in a rare instance of civilian judicial reckoning for a member of Burma’s powerful military.
The 15-year-old girl was allegedly raped by a soldier based in Kutkai Township on May 16. A court-martial apparently agreed to transfer the man to the civilian court after he was found guilty of a separate offense by the military tribunal and sentenced to one year in prison in August.
The alleged victim’s family opened the case at a court in Muse. An initial hearing was held last week on Friday, and the plaintiffs appeared for a second time on Wednesday, according to Kachin Literature and Culture (KLC), which is helping the family with the court proceedings.
Lum Nyoi, the KLC joint secretary, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the plaintiffs had pushed for a civilian trial out of fear that a military tribunal would not mete out the justice they sought.
“We intended to have transparency, and therefore we asked the army court to let us bring him to civilian court. By doing this, it does not mean that we hate them [the army]. We just want all women, whether residing on the mainland or in the mountains, to have good security.”
The KLC said that rape cases have been on the increase in northern Shan State since 2011, as the region has seen rising Burmese Army troop deployments amid on and off fighting between Kachin rebels and government troops.
Zau San, another member of KLC, said the court-martial last month sentenced the soldier to one year in prison for leaving his battalion quarters without permission. The military tribunal did not put him on trial for rape, due to the arrangement to have those allegations heard in a civilian court.
This was not first time a military tribunal has handed over the prosecution of a soldier to a civilian court, according to Zau San, who said an army soldier was sentenced to life in prison last year for raping a 6-year-old girl.
Civilian courts are, nonetheless, rarely used to hear cases of rape involving soldiers, and rights groups complain that the courts-martial justice system lacks transparency, with details of military trials’ outcomes very difficult to obtain.
The military has for years been dogged by allegations of widespread rape of ethnic minority women, particularly in active conflict areas.
Zau San said about 10 rape cases had been reported in northern Shan State since 2011. But Lum Nyoi said many of the cases would never see trial for lack of evidence.
“We have strong evidence for our recent case brought to the court. There were other cases, but we weren’t able to gather strong evidence,” said Lum Nyoi.
The trial in Muse will reconvene on Oct. 1. The defendant has not yet appeared in court.
“We heard that the battalion in Kutkai transferred him to Muse already. Hopefully, he will appear at court next time,” Zau San said.