Atrocities in Karen State “Systematic”: KWO

Thursday, February 25, 2010

In the increasing instability due to ongoing military conflict in Karen State, eastern Burma, Karen women faced ongoing systematic abuse including beatings, torture and gender-based violence, according to released a report by the Karen Women's Organization (KWO).

Based in Mae Sot on the Thai-Burmese border, the KWO released its report titled Walking Amongst Sharp Knives: the unsung courage of Karen women village chiefs in conflict areas of Eastern Burma on Thursday.

The report details 95 cases of women who served as village chiefs in Papun, Kwakareik, Thaton, Nyaunglebin and Pa-an Districts in Eastern Burma.

Testimonies from the women chiefs in the report “show a consistent pattern to the Burma's Army's treatment of local communities.

“Not only do their troops constantly demand labor, food, building materials, 'taxes' and intelligence, but they are clearly authorized to use terror tactics to subjugate villagers to prevent them from cooperating with the Karen resistance,” the report said, adding that one third of the women interviewed were physically beaten or tortured and that neither their status a chiefs nor their gender caused the troops “to exercise restraint in their brutality.”

Speaking about the report in Chiang Mai on Thursday, Blooming Night Zan, a secretary of KWO, said, “Men in five districts didn't serve as village chiefs because they would be tortured and killed by junta troops. Only women could serve in this position.”

Dealing with State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) troops while trying to protect the rights of villagers was “similar to walking between sharp knives,” said one women chief in the report.

As village chiefs, it was the duty of the women to deal with Burmese army troops when they entered villages. They would have to collect food for them and would have to follow them from one village to another. On the way, they faced torture, beatings and would be threatened with sexual violence.

According to Blooming Night Zan, between 2005 and 2009 about 100 men and women were killed in Thaton and Pa-an districts in Mon and Karen States.

In one incident described in the report, junta troops accused two young villagers looking after cows of being rebel soldiers and summarily beheaded them.

If SPDC troops are attacked by Karen National Liberation Army troops, they torture villagers to extract information about the enemy. Interviewees described how villagers were buried up to their heads and kicked or had their heads covered with plastic bags before they were repeatedly immersed in water.

Blooming Night Zan said one woman chief observed that however many times Burmese junta battalions were changed or rotated in Karen State, their policy of abuse remained the same.

One interviewee described how her only daughter was gang-raped by junta troops, causing indescribable pain as she watched her child become suicidal and mentally ill. Interviewees frequently spoke of sexual violence and intimidation perpetrated by Burmese army against villagers.

“Most of the women village chiefs were raped by SPDC troops. They did not care whether they were single or married women,” said interviewee 54 in the report.

Women chiefs were also forced to provide “comfort women” for the SPDC troops and would be fined if they failed to provide them, the report said, adding that there was clear evidence of a prevailing climate of impunity for sexual violence by Burma Army troops.

Tin Tin Nyo, who is a member of the Chiang Mai-based Women's League of Burma said, “The Burmese government says the situation is stable in Burma, but this report proves this is simply not true. The UN should take action.”

“Women are not safe in these districts. We want the UN to put pressure on the Burmese military to stop abusing women,” said Blooming Night Zan.

In 2004, the KWO published a report titled “Shattering Silences,” which claimed that Burmese troops systematically raped Karen women. The report documented 125 cases of sexual violence committed between 1988 and 2004. The report said that half of the rapes were committed by military officers, 40 percent were gang-rapes, and in 28% of the cases the women were killed after being raped.

Women’s organizations in other ethnic areas have reported similar incidents. In 2002, the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) released a report titled “License to Rape,” which detailed testimonies from 173 ethnic Shan women who had been raped or encountered sexual violence at the hands of Burmese soldiers.

“The Burmese regime's troops destroyed about 500 homes in Shan State last year and they raped Shan women,” said Charm Tong, one of the founders of SWAN, which published License to Rape, a report documenting the Burmese army’s extensive use of sexual violence as part of its operations against ethnic insurgents.

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