Myanmar: Rape by Tatmadaw Men, Fabrication or Fact?

2002

[Name and address withheld. Ed.]

Despite their unenviable track record on human rights violations, one can probably empathize with the frustrations of the leaders of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military). They were at the receiving end of another round of condemnation over abuse of human rights, just as they were recovering from a nasty setback in Thai-Myanmar relations and appeared to have been enjoying rare praise from the international community over the apparent progress in the rapprochement with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and their nemesis.

This time around, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) was probably caught unawares on the human rights front. The current swirl of accusations began when the ethnic-Shan non-governmental organizations (NGOs) - the Shan Human Rights Foundation and the Shan Women’s Action Network - on 19 June released a joint report entitled ‘License to Rape: The Burmese military regime’s use of sexual violence in the ongoing war in Shan State’. Reportedly based on interviews of refuges at the Thai-Myanmar border, the report cited 173 cases of sexual violence involving 625 females, mostly during the period 1996-2001. It claimed that rape was ‘officially condoned as a “weapon of war” against the civilian population in Shan State’. It pointed out that there was only one case in which his commander punished a perpetrator. It further alleged that those who complain were, more often than not, ‘fined, detained, tortured or even killed by the military’.

Thai and Western media publicized the report with additional eyewitness accounts. Moreover, in late June, the Republican Chairperson of the International Operations and Human Rights Sub-Committee of House International Relations Committee and the ranking minority (Democrat) member of the sub-committee condemned the Myanmar government for condoning such actions as tantamount to ‘war crimes’ and called for punitive measures against Myanmar authorities. On 5 July, the US State Department spokesperson revealed that concerns over the rape issue had been raised with Myanmar officials.

Myanmar officialdom’s response has been predictably a standard fare bordering on the gratuitous: denial and official investigation. At a press conference held on 12 July, it was stated that the government ‘has never adopted such oppressive and unjust policies’ and ‘never will’ in the future. On the other hand, the tatmadaw (military) ‘is well-organised …with a tradition of strict discipline’. Invoking Buddhist culture and societal mores it was argued that such abhorrent crimes were not in line with Myanmar values and were apparently inconceivable. It was concluded that the allegations were fabrications used as a political ploy by the drug-trafficking (Shan) terrorist insurgents in a ‘desperate’ attempt to win sympathy from those ‘unfamiliar with the situation in Myanmar’ and to create ‘misunderstanding’ between the government and the international community. Major General Kyaw Win, Deputy Chief of Intelligence, asserted that all soldiers are required to keep a pocket edition of the Soldier’s Ethics at hand at all times, to be memorized and put into practice. He claimed that he had never heard of ‘any cases of a Tatmadaw man molesting any girl or woman’. In early August a team from the Myanmar National Committee for Women’s Affairs (MNCWA, led by the wife of the junta’s Secretary-1) was dispatched to the Eastern Shan State to investigate and in a news conference on 17 August a member of the MNCWA stated that the ‘foreign media reports were found to be entirely false’. This was reiterated in the special meeting of MNCWA on 18 August in which the deputy home minister reported that the inquiry conducted by the national Working Committee for Prevention of Trafficking in Persons had found no evidence of any rape case perpetrated by members of the military.

WATCHPOINT: Will this be just a storm in the teacup or will this expose lead to a substantial reduction in the suffering of the ethnic minority population in the Shan State and other war zones?

 

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