For decades, mothers and daughters in Burma’s border areas have lived on high alert. While ethnic rebels in their homelands fought bloody wars with government troops, women of all ages were vulnerable to human rights abuses, including rape and other sexual violence, if caught by government soldiers.
Now, nearly a year after Naypyidaw signed ceasefire deals with rebels in several states, little has changed on the ground for them, local sources say. “Even though a ceasefire was signed, there’s still fighting, When fighting breaks out, villagers flee their homes and hide in the jungle … Rape cases are still happening.”
SWAN, a network of Shan women in Burma and Thailand that was formed in 1999 to combat violence against women and children, rose to international prominence a decade ago when it published a report alleging that sexual violence was part of the military’s strategy to demoralize ethnic rebels and terrorize local communities. The “License to Rape” report documented 173 cases of rape and other sexual violence, involving more than 600 women and children, at the hands of Burmese soldiers in the state between 1996 and 2001. Rape was condoned by military authorities, the report said, alleging that 83 % of cases were committed by military officers. Of all 173 cases, it said, only one perpetrator was punished by a commanding officer.
Since January this year, when the government signed a ceasefire with Shan rebels, she said SWAN had received more than 10 reports of rape, including two reports while they were in Rangoon for three days late last month. Those figures are likely vast underestimates, she added.