Monday, January 30, 2012

Rape Being Used as a Weapon of War in Burma


Photo: Banyar Kong Janoi
Burmese Rights activists and the US based Human rights watch are accusing the Burmese military of crimes against humanity.
They say the Burmese army is raping civilan women in the conflict zones where there is separatist fighting between the state army and armed ethnic groups who are demanding greater independence.
Banyar Kong Janoi in a village in Kachin State hears the story of one such rape victim.
It is raining when I arrive in a small village in the Kachin state where 35 year old Ma Myit lives.
Ma Myit is not her real name; she asked to stay anonymous.
She says all her life she has lived in fear of Burmese soldiers.  
“When I was about 15 years old, I was out in the woods finding food for pigs along with other girls from our village. There is a Burmese battalion posted near our village and when soliders saw us they tried to catch us. Luckly I escaped then. Some of my friends who couldn’t run fast enough were caught and raped by the soliders.”
But this year on the 20th of June Ma Myit wasn’t so lucky.
“Our village is on the way between Myitkyina and Bhamo. I was heading to Bhamo for a religious meeting. There was fighting on the way, so I was walking around the paddy field instead of going straight to avoid confrontation. Unfortunately, I met the Burmese soldiers in the paddy field and they captured me.”
She says the Burmese soldiers used her as entertainment for five days.  
“The soldiers took me along with their army battalion, passing by many villages. During that time they were raping me every night. I don’t want to recall my experience with them. I feel bad even when talking about it now. I don’t want to recall anything: I just want to forget it. I was forced to sleep with a soldier and a colonel. In the middle of the night, the colonel came to me. I screamed, but the soldier beside me said nothing and neither did other people. The colonel and I struggled. I think he is about 60 years old. In the morning, I told the soldiers that if they continued to assault me this way they would have to kill me first.”  
Ma Myit escaped and ran to a Shan village where she asked for help.
“I was naked and came knocking at a house the village in the middle of the night. The people came out of and pointed with flash lights.”
Then a woman gave her clothes and brought her some food.
The next day they helped her return home.
Ma Myit is one of the many women force to live with the horrors of war.
Ma Naw Myay Sein is from a Kachin womens organization in the provincal capital Laiza.
The group is documenting rape cases taking place in the Kachin State.  
She shows me some documents and pictures of the raped victims.  
“We have documented a lot of rape cases. As an example case, two Burmese officers raped a woman on the way when she went to a rice field. One officer ordered her to perform oral sex and another assaulted her. While one of the officers attempted to kill her, she ran away. There are countless cases we have received but some cases we can not verify so we have to put them aside. In some cases, the victims were able to escape, but some were killed by the Burmese soldiers on the spot.”
They have verifyied 18 rape cases commited by the Burmese soldiers since the fighting broke out in the Kachin state in early June.
Kachin independence activist Htoi Bu says the human rights abuses are politically motivated.  
“In Kachin State, if the Burmese soldiers see a passerby, they asked: ‘Are you Kachin?’ If he or she answers yes, he or she will be killed. In the worst cases, women including young girls are raped and killed by the Burmese army. We have heard that the soldiers get their orders from their senior officers. This kind of act is really inhumane and shameful among Burmese people and in the international community. If the Burmese government is to be genuine in its call to build a united country, they must recognize that Kachin people are their people.”
Elaine Pearson is Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director.  
She says it is time to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate the allegation of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma.
“Clearly, the Burmese government has shown that they are unwilling to address this kind of abuses unless there is some kind of external pressure. So the number one thing we are calling the commission of inquiry to investigate is this allegation of war crimes. This would then lead to an international independent investigation. And we believe that could indeed play a role in deterring the future violation of human rights and future abuses by the Burmese army.”
The co-ordinator of a relief committee for the Kachin, La Rip said international communities should respond quickly to this emerging humanitarian crisis.
“The fighting should not be excuses for these abuses. Simply people around here would say that ‘aww, it can be because the war is there, because the fighting hasn’t been stopped, so the abuses would happen.’ No, actually, I don’t agree with that. Even the fighting if there has been on dialogue at the moment that kind of abuses should be totally stopped. And if those kinds of abuses are taking place, international organizations, who are responsible to protect civilians, should take immediate actions.”

Is the government really honest to ethnics groups?

I was in a conference of Asian nation’s transition from military dictatorship to democracy. The conference aimed to be closed-door discussion between the Burmese government delegations and academics. 

The Burmese government representatives boldly said there is no human rights abuse in Burma and they blame the ethnic insurgents for disrupting economic growth.

I wonder why they did not mention about corruption and mismanagement of the country economy are obstacles of the growth too.

Ye Htut, the ministry of information, said the ethnic armed groups should not participate in the politics fold because it is unacceptable in international standard. However, the 2008 constitution, which drafted by junta, allows the Burmese military general to take up 25 per cent of seats in parliaments.

Dr. Kyaw Yin Hlaing, said if we are only pointing out those problem, we can not move on to the next stage. Should we ignore those evidences to build confident among us? The past is a lesson for future. So the government should show different to win the ethnics trust.  

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ceasefires will not Bring about Lasting Peace: Burmese Ethnic Leaders

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Photo: Banyar Kong Janoi
Burma’s government has held ceasefire talks with ethnic Kachin rebels to end fighting near the northern border with China.

But officials say the preliminary meeting did not yield any major breakthroughs.

The Kachin Independence Army or K-I-A is one of the country's most powerful and well-armed rebel groups.

Earlier this month the government signed a ceasefire with Karen rebels in the east of the country. It has also held talks within the last two months with the Shan State Army.

But as Banyar Kong Janoi reports many are suspicious about these ceasefires.

61 years old, Law Reh sings about the richest of his homeland -- the Karenni state in eastern part of Burma.

He has spent the last two decades in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border because of fighting between an armed group of Karenni National Progressive Party and the government.

Law Reh says he is lucky to be alive after being forced to work as a porter for the Burmese military.

“They used us to clear landmines. I witnessed people being killed and tortured in front of me. One of them was a teacher, who taught Karenni language in our village school. He had his mouth cut out in front us. He finally bleed to death. Around 100 people in our group, including me were going to be shot but then the soliders changed their minds and decided to let us starve. We went with out food for ten days. We some how manage to survive but I was so weak I could not lift my arms. Then we were finally allowed to go home.”

Early this month (January) the Karen National Union and the Burmese government agreed to a ceasefire.

But Law Reh is not convinced that it’s safe enough to leave Thailand and go home.

Hhun Okkar is a spokesman for the United Nationalities Federal Council, an alliance of ethnic armed groups.

He is also suspicious about the recent ceasefire aggrements.

“The ethnic groups have made ceasefire agreements with the military government many times before with past military leaders and now with the President Thein Sein. Although different tactics were used to reach agreements we can see the government’s intention is the same. The government promises to improve economic opporitunites for the ethnic groups but they never aggree to real political power. Now we are expecting that their will be discussions about ethnic political power but we are not sure if it will happen. It’s too early to say the problem has been solved.”

Burma has eight major ethnics groups who make up 40% of Burma's population.

They have been demanding - without success - for greater regional autonomy from the majority Burman-led central government since independence from Britain in 1948.

Khun Oo Reh is the general secretary of the Karenni National Progressive Party.

He says the government needs to understand what ethnic groups are fighting for.

“We have been discriminated against and we have been ignored. The majority Burman ethnic group always wants to control the country. We are not treated fairly. Also we are fighting to protect our ethnic identity. We want self-determination. We want a federal democractic system in Burma.  When Burma gained independence from Britain it was not so that the Burman people could rule but so all ethnic group could have self-determination.  We all have to live and rule together.”

He says it is too early to say whether the nominal civilian government under the leadership of Thein Sein is serious about giving ethnic groups a greater say in how they are governed.

“Throughout history the ruling party in Burma, whether you call it a military dictatorship or the Burmese government, always name us separatist groups. They don’t use the word ‘Federalism’; they only talk about the ‘Union of Burma’. Their slogan is ‘federalism is separatism’. I believe that none of the ethnic groups are demanding an independent state.  What we are fighting for is a real federal democratic system in Burma. There is no guaranteeee for peace unless there is a political solution, ceasefires can be broken at anytime.”