Women remain vulnerable in Burma’s militarized zones, two leading rights groups warned on Wednesday, presenting newly documented cases of sexual violence in conflict to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Public statements from the Women’s League of Burma (WLB) and the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF), both released on Wednesday, pointed out ongoing intimidation and sexual abuse in areas of ethnic conflict.
Both groups said that the Burma Army acts with impunity in conflict zones, where reports are not uncommon of assaults on women and young girls. WLB called on the government to “stop using the militarism and launching offensives” in Burma’s ethnic states.
SHRF said that it had documented eight cases of sexual violence—including one gang-rape—committed by Burma Army troops in eastern and southern Shan State since April 2015.
Sai Kheun Mai, a spokesperson for SHRF, said that while the group was aware of many other cases, it only reports publicly on those in which the victim has decided to seek justice. Many survivors of sexual abuse remain reluctant to speak out about their experiences.
The spokesperson said that incidents of sexual violence perpetrated by the military are on the rise, despite recent multilateral ceasefire agreement between the government and eight non-state armed groups. The Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) currently has a bilateral accord with the government but did not sign the Oct. 15 pact.
“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 the displacement of over 10,000 villagers,” read the statement by SHRF.
The group’s documented cases of sexual violence in conflict occurred in Loilen, Mongping, Hopong, Laihka, Kho Lam, Tachileik, Mongpan and Kyethi from April to November 2015.
The most recent case was an alleged gang-rape committed in Kyethi against a 32-year-old woman by about 10 soldiers. The report said the woman’s husband was tied up by her attackers before they raped her.
Another recent case alleges that a woman was raped by two soldiers from Battalion 996, stationed in Mongpan.
Sai Kheun Mai said recent clashes in Shan State’s Kyethi and Loilen districts have prevented victims from seeking justice through the courts.
“They cannot travel yet from one place to another to seek justice, and they are also in fear of repercussions by the soldiers in their areas if they take the cases to court,” Sai Kheun Mai explained.
SHRF further claimed that perpetrators showed “strong confidence of impunity.”
“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,” the group’s statement read.
The problem persists beyond Shan State, as the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT) also pointed out on Wednesday at a seminar geared toward raising awareness and securing justice, held in collaboration with a local network of lawyers.
The seminar pointed out a number of outstanding cases in recent years, including that of Sumlut Roi Ja, a Kachin woman who was abducted by the Burma in 2011 and presumed to have been raped and murdered.
Also brought into the discussion was the rape and murder of two Kachin schoolteachers earlier this year in a village in northern Shan State.
Both SHRF and WLB urged the current and incoming governments to honor Burma’s international commitments to ending violence against women both in and beyond conflict zones.