A disabled Shan girl was raped by a Burmese soldier last week on the eve of the elections following a major build-up of troops in the country’s volatile eastern state.
The incident has been denounced by the Thailand-based Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), who said that more than 1,000 new troops were deployed to an area close to the opposition Shan State Army-North (SSA-N).
“These troops have been conducting patrols and hunting out villagers suspected of supporting the SSA-N 1st Brigade, which refused to become a Border Guard Force,” a statement released by the group said.
It added that during a 10-man search of one village, around five miles north of Mong Nawng in central Shan state, a solider “raped a 25-year-old disabled woman who was alone in her house with her two-year-old niece”.
“The soldier tied up the woman’s hands and feet, and then bound her hair to one of the house posts before raping her. Neighbours heard her screams but did not dare come to her aid until after the patrol had left the village. No one dared complain about the crime, and the woman herself has fled the village in fear of repercussions.”
SWAN’s landmark ‘License to Rape’ report in 2002 documented how the Burmese army had used rape of women as a “weapon of war” in conflict-torn ethnic regions. It said that the ruling junta “is allowing its troops systematically and on a widespread scale to commit rape with impunity in order to terrorise and subjugate the ethnic peoples of Shan state”.
During the five-year period between 1996 and 2001 that the report covers, SWAN found that 173 of the rapes it documented were committed by officers, “usually in front of their own troops”.
Around 61 percent of these were gang-rapes, while a quarter resulted in deaths. “The rapes involved extreme brutality and often torture such as beating, mutilation and suffocation… in some incidences with bodies being deliberately displayed to local communities.”
In Burma’s ethnic border regions, many of which have hosted decades-long conflicts, the army often makes no distinction between civilian and rebel, meaning those living close to opposition territory are regularly targeted as sympathisers.
SWAN said it was “appalled” at the timing of incident last week, which came the day before elections “when the eyes of the entire world were on Burma… This is a clear sign that the impunity enjoyed by the Burma Army for sexual violence is set to continue”.