NGO alleges sexual violence by govt troops continues despite ceasefires in Shan State

25 November 2015
NGO alleges sexual violence by govt troops continues despite ceasefires in Shan State
People walk past as armed soldier takes guards at the entrance of Chin Shwe Haw town of Kokang self-administered area, northern Shan State, Myanmar, 16 February 2015. Photo: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA

The Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) has documented eight cases of sexual violence allegedly committed by Myanmar government troops in southern and eastern Shan State since April 2015, all in so-called “ceasefire” areas, according to a report released by the group. 
“These cases reveal continuing patterns of impunity, and highlight that ongoing militarization and offensives by the Myanmar Army despite ceasefires are a key factor threatening women’s security in ethnic areas,” the report said.
The NGO claims the most recent case took place on November 5, 2015, near a village in Kehsi Township. According to the report: “A 32-year-old woman was gang-raped by about 10 soldiers while her husband was tied up under their farm hut. This took place during the current offensive by the Myanmar Army against the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N). 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 displacement of over 10,000 villagers.”
Seven earlier alleged incidents of sexual violence documented by SHRF took place in remote rural areas of southern and eastern Shan State where the Myanmar Army has continued its troop build-up despite a bilateral ceasefire with the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-South) since December 2011.
The report continues: “Documented cases indicate strong confidence of impunity by perpetrators. 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.”
In only two cases were alleged perpetrators seen being arrested by the Myanmar military, after pressure from local community leaders, but their sentences are not known, due to the opaqueness of the military justice system. In other cases, the military allegedly offered money to hush up the incident, or local authorities were unwilling to accept charges filed against the military.
SHRF is gravely concerned at this ongoing pattern of impunity, further entrenched by the Myanmar Army’s closing of ranks to protect the alleged rapist-killers of the two Kachin teachers in Kawng Kha, northern Shan State in January of this year. In this case, the NGO claims the military blocked police investigation of their personnel, and also threatened legal action against anyone implicating them in the crime.
In order to end military sexual violence in Myanmar, it is urgently needed to start tackling the structural root causes of this violence, namely Nap Pyi Taw’s ongoing policies of militarization and aggression against the ethnic peoples, and the fact that the military remains constitutionally outside civilian control.
In June 2014, Myanmar signed the UK-sponsored Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which should have paved the way for international engagement to begin seriously addressing this issue in the country. However, SHRF says there has been a resounding silence from the international community, including Britain, about Nay Pyi Taw’s continued offensives in ethnic states, which are the context for the continued sexual violence.
The report concludes: “SHRF therefore strongly urges the international community to ‘walk the talk’ to protect women and girls in Myanmar from sexual violence in conflict. They must start publicly condemning Nay Pyi Taw’s ongoing attacks and make any further engagement with Nay Pyi Taw conditional upon an immediate end to its militarization and offensives in the ethnic areas.”