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Gender/Women’s Caucus (7 April 2004)

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Gender/Women’s Caucus Organized by NGOCSW
April 7, 2004 from 9 ‐ 10 am
Presented by Naw Nyaw Nyaw
Karen Women’s Organization, Member organization of Women’s League of Burma ( WLB)

Burma, a country rich in natural resources, was once one of the most prosperous nations in Southeast Asia, and was known as the rice bowl of Asia. It is bordered by India and Bangladesh to the west, China to the north, and Laos and Thailand to the east. Its population, made up of eight major ethnic groups, is approximately 50 million people, with 75 per cent living in rural and remote areas. The majority Burmans, mainly living in the plains of Central Burma, number about 60 per cent of the population.

Burma regained its independence from the British in 1948, with the various ethnic leaders agreeing to join with the majority Burmans to form a Union of Burma on condition that the union would be one of co‐equal, co‐independent states. However, civil war broke out shortly after independence between the ethnic nationalities and the Burman‐dominated central government, and the conflict has been continuing until today. In 1962, on the pretext of preserving the stability of the nation, the Burmese military staged a coup which toppled the democratic government. Since then, Burma has been ruled by a series of Burman‐dominated military regimes, currently known as the State Peace and Development council (SPDC). Over half a century of civil war and a quarter of a century of isolationist policies, combined with the mismanagement and corruption of the series of military dictators, have led to the deterioration of Burma’s economy, and the country has now become one of the world’s least developed countries, with the majority of the population living in poverty.

The ethnic peoples living in Burma have been suffering not only from the ongoing civil war and impoverishment, but also from routine human rights abuses committed by the regime’s troops, including extrajudicial killing, torture, rape, forced labour, forced relocation and confiscation of lands and crops.
Women are doubly at risk due to their gender and their ethnicity. Whenever the SPDC troops arrive in a village and demand laborers, they often suspect the men of collaboration with rebel groups and many men will flee their village before the soldiers arrive. So the women left in the village are then forced to work for their soldiers as porters and are often raped by those soldiers at night and sometimes killed.
In this context, please let me tell the story of a Karen woman named Naw Tha Shee. ” The Burmese soldiers came to my village and asked for 5 men to go, but all the men had fled the
village so they took 3 women instead. They made me carry a big tin of rice, and we had to carry from early in the morning until very late at night, every day. Altogether there were 25 women in our group, and something like 100 soldiers.
When we were too weak to carry our loads, they scolded us and beat us. They beat me with guns and sticks on the head and the back, and kicked me in the hips with army boots. I got big swollen bruises. The others were also beaten.
Two times I had to carry separately from the rest of the group, and ended up alone in the forest with the soldiers at night. Both times the soldiers came to me and beat me, showed me their guns to keep me quiet and then raped me. The first time I was raped by six soldiers, and the second night this happened I was raped by four soldiers. I was so very ashamed but I was very afraid, and there was nothing I could do. I tried to shout but the soldiers clamped their hands over my mouth.”
This is one of the cases from “Shattering Silences”, a new report just released by the Karen Women’s Organization (KWO). It documents 125 cases of sexual violence committed by the Burmese army in Karen State from 1988 to 2004. Half of the rape cases documented were committed by high‐ranking officers, 40% were gang rape and in 28% of the cases, the women were killed after being rape.

Many women and girls are raped in front of their families. In two of the 35 detailed cases in the report, one woman was raped in front of her children and the other in front of her father. This is a very shameful action committed by the SPDC troops and it is difficult for the women to speak out. Some have suffered severe depression and even committed suicide.

Victims of rape are also often in fear of being stigmatized by their own community. Many are reluctant to talk about their experience. One of the women I interviewed told me that “this is the last time I’m going to tell my story”. One of the women that was raped this year refused to tell her story. Women want to forget their experience of rape as much as possible. They want to be reintegrated into their community.

Armed conflict seems to give the military an excuse for violence. They say it is just a natural part of war. In fact, there is a state of lawlessness in Burma. The soldiers and officers can do as they like without fear of reprisal. No legal action is taken against a member of the army if he commits a rape.

Women are afraid to speak out about rape. When the SPDC troops find out that a victim has
reported a rape, they find her and punish or kill her.

Violence against women has been spreading all over ethnic states for such a long time, but our women’s voices have not been heard. Publicity has only been given to this issue after the release of “License to Rape” by SWAN and SHRF, which detailed 173 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence against 625 women and girls in Shan State in eastern Burma between 1996 and 2001.
SWAN and other women’s organizations in Burma have continued to document the ongoing sexual violence in Burma. The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women provided material to the UN Human Rights Commission in 2003 on 144 cases of rape against ethnic minority women in Burma, including more than 100 new cases.
The pattern of sexual violence has continued until today. Despite the repeated denials of the regime since the publication of Licence to Rape, and their attempts to block flows of information, reports of sexual violence have continued to reach to the Thai‐Burma border from inside Shan State. The Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) has documented the rape of a further 150 women and girls in Shan State by the SPDC military since Licence to Rape was compiled.
Despite the truce declared during the ongoing ceasefire negotiations between the Burmese military regime and the Karen National Union (KNU), four rape cases have occurred since the talks began in December 2003. The last case reported was on February 16th, 2004. A 24‐year‐old Karen mother of two children from Lay Hkaw Htee village in Doplaya District was raped in her home by the regime’s soldiers.
These reports give clear evidence that rapes are routinely committed by the military officers, and these officers also sanction rapes committed by their soldiers. There has been a large number of gang rapes. There is no way a senior SPDC commander could not know about the crime of rape.
Their failure to prevent this crime and punish those responsible points to their own culpability.
These facts provide overwhelming evidence that rape has become an acceptable crime within the ranks of the army and that it is sanctioned by the SPDC.
We have the oral testimony of hundreds of witnesses, the victims themselves, and the neighbours and family members of women who were raped by the regime’s troops. Any refugee in a camp can provide testimony about a woman they know who was raped. The fact that rape is a common practice and is used as a weapon of war is beyond doubt.
Sexual violence aganst ethnic Shan, Karen and other ethnic women by the SPDC soldiers is still continuing until today, and the perpetrators go unpunished. It is evident that the military regime in Burma has taken no serious measures to improve the situation, despite the adoption by the UN Commission on Human Rights of resolutions each year on the situation of human rights in Burma since 1992.
If the military regime is in power in Burma and without a political solution to the issue of Burma’s ethnic peoples, sexual violence and other abuses in the ethnic States will continue and women’s lives will be at risk.
Therefore, we would like all our sisters to urge the Commission through your governments:
· To pass a specific resolution condemning the sexual and gender based violations by the SPDC military of women in Burma; and
· Strongly call on the military regime to immediately stop using rape against ethnic women as a weapon of war to control local populations and fully implement the resolutions adopted by the UNCHR since 1992.
Thank you.