Ethnic women in Kachin State who have been the victims of sexual violence are still not receiving justice for the crimes committed against them since civil conflict broke out in the northern Burmese region some six years ago, according to a joint statement issued by two local NGOs: Htoi Gender and Development Foundation (HGDF) and Kachin Peace Network (KPN).
“Some cases of sexual assault were filed with the courts but later dismissed. Cases involving soldiers were investigated only by a military tribunal. There is no justice for the victims,” said Khon Ja, the liaison officer for KPN, speaking to DVB yesterday.
She pointed to an infamous incident involving a woman named Sumlut Roi Ja, who was abducted by Burmese soldiers in 2011 and never seen again.
“We tried to take the [Sumlut Roi Ja] case to the Supreme Court in Naypyidaw. However the court did not take any action whatsoever,” she said.
Khon Ja cited another example of the Supreme Court failing to take action – a case where a soldier attempted to rape a 73-year-old woman.
“He [the soldier] was caught red-handed by local villagers, so we had several eye-witnesses. But we’ve never heard a word from the court,” she said.
In the meantime, the case was handled by a military tribunal, said Khon Ja, adding: “The Tatmadaw [Burmese military] said the tribunal ruling was just and fair. The soldier was charged for trespassing, misconduct, and disobeying military rules. He was not charged with sexual assault.”
Khon Ja explained that her group could document many more incidents of rape and sexual assault by military personnel but that many victims declined to be identified or recorded.
“There are many similar reports of sexual violence in Kachin and Shan states that we cannot document because the victims fear social repercussions or worse,” the KPN director said. “Take the horrific case of the two young Kachin schoolteachers who were brutally raped and murdered in Muse in 2015. The offenders were never caught.”
Asked about the current situation in Tanai, Kachin State, where civilians have been ordered to evacuate the town and surrounding gold mines due to the proximity of clashes between Burmese government forces and the Kachin Independence Army, Khon Ja said that such conditions where women may be left isolated can lead to incidents of sexual violence “at any time”.
The NGOs’ statement urged the government to implement certain protection mechanisms, such as specific policies that promote the security of women and a hotline that victims can call.
It concluded by calling for an end to sexual violence in conflict areas, and reiterating its demand for justice for the victims of sex crimes.