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Unsafe state: State-sanctioned sexual violence against Chin women in Burma

1 Mar 2007

Executive summary

This report by the Women's League of Chinland is the first to provide detailed evidence of the systematic sexual violence being committed by the Burma Army in the isolated mountainous region of Chin State in Western Burma. It documents 38 cases of sexual violence, the majority committed during the past five years, in locations throughout the state. Due to social stigma and fear of further violence, few survivors disclose cases of sexual abuse, so these cases undoubtedly represent only a small proportion of the actual number of incidents taking place.

Cases in this report confirm patterns of state-sanctioned sexual violence detailed in earlier reports by other women's organisations from Burma, showing that under the military regime women and girls are at constant risk of being raped. The regime, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has been expanding it's army throughout the country since 1988. Particularly in the ethnic areas, it has been building up it's troop presence to subjugate resistance movements and secure control of natural resources and border trade. Whereas 20 years ago, there were only two Burma Army battalions operating in Chin State, there are now eight battalions based in the state, with army camps scattered in numerous villages and patrols constantly roaming in the hills. These troops are using rape as a "weapon" to terrorise local communities. Women and girls as young as 12 are being raped in their homes and farms, while travelling outside their villages and when conscripted as forced labour by the army.

There is a clear pattern of impunity for military sexual violence. In none of the cases in the report were the perpetrators prosecuted. Military authorities mostly ignored reports of sexual crimes, or actively sought to cover them up, and event threatened survivors. About half of the rapes were gang rapes, and at least a third were committed by officers, who were setting a clear example to troops under their command that rape is acceptable.

The soldiers committing rape displayed extreme brutality, sometimes torturing and murdering victims, irrespective of the presence of local witnesses. One woman was stripped naked and tied to a cross, in a savage act of mockery against the local people's Christian beliefs.

Survivors of rape face stigma and have no access to support-systems inside Burma. The state-dominated Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation, which women throughout Chin State have been forced to join, fails to provide assistance to any women, even rape survivors. Some survivors have been fleeing across the border to Mizoram State in Northeast India, but as refugees from Burma are not officially recognized by the Indian government, they receive no protection or aid. They must struggle for daily survival and live in fear of deportation back to Burma.

Economic and military support of the SPDC by neighbours such as India is directly fuelling militarization in Burma. Only genuine political change to democracy, restoration of the rule of law, and a withdrawal of Burma Army troops from ethnic areas will bring an end to the systematic sexual violence in Burma.

The WLC strongly urges the State Peace and Development Council:

 To move forward and begin a process of meaningful political change in Burma
 To stop the National Convention until the National League for Democracy and other opposition groups are allowed to fully participate
 To withdraw it's military presence from Chin State so that human rights abuses by SPDC troops including sexual violence against local populations will cease
 To comply with their obligations under the Convention on Elimination on all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which was signed by Burma in 1997
 To stop forcing Chin women to be members of the state-dominated women's organisation the "Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation"

We also urge the international community:

 To support the UNSC resolution on Burma
 To maintain political and economic pressure on the SPDC to bring about peaceful political change in Burma
 To provide assistance to empower women from Burma though cross-border programs
 To advocate about the situation of the people of Burma with their respective communities and governments

And the government of India:

 To stop providing arms and any form of military support to the Burmese military regime
 To review it's economic engagement with urma in the interests of a long-term sustainable relationship
 To review it's policies on refugees and provide protection and necessary assistance to refugees from Burma
 To allow the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to assess the situation of the refugee community at the India-Burma border

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