7. Rights of Women

 

"In Myanmar [Burma], women are treated with respect and have never been subjected to degrading treatment."

 

- Statement by Burma's delegate at the 60th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, 9 April 2004.

 

7.1 Background

 

The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination of Women (CEDAW) is an international treaty that defines what constitutes discrimination against women and establishes an agenda for national action to end such discrimination and ensure the equal treatment of men and women.  Although the Burmese military regime became a party to the CEDAW in 1997, it has made no serious commitment to improving the lives of the women of Burma. While the SPDC claims that women’s status in Burma remains one of the highest in the world, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma, Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, indicated that Burma is indeed in violation of fulfilling some CEDAW articles (source: Blurred Vision, ALTSEAN, March 2003).

 

As the costs of maintaining military power and political hegemony continue, the Burmese government has allocated less and less money for infrastructure, healthcare and education.  Although this affects the majority of the civilian population in Burma, it has affected women in particular ways, reinforcing traditional roles of female subordination and blocking their access to the means through which they could change their status (such as education and politics). Widespread poverty disproportionately affects women, particularly as women in Burma still do not receive equal pay for equal work.  Lack of access to education and healthcare, particularly information on family planning methods, leaves women vulnerable to HIV infection, a problem further compounded by increasing incidences of trafficking in women, rape and prostitution.  Although Burma's initial report on the CEDAW convention states that women have equal access to education, in fact, the admission policies of universities in Burma discriminate against women. To study at medical school, for example, men must score 450 on their admission test, but women must score 470.  This is also true for engineering programs and other university courses (sources: CEDAW/C/MNR/1, March 1999; “Discrimination and Violation against Women in Burma,” HURFOM, 31 March 2004).

 

Women in non-Burman ethnic minority areas are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations and suffer the greatest abuse and discrimination.  Healthcare and education are severely underdeveloped in these areas. If facilities do exist, they are usually unequipped to provide adequate services and are frequently destroyed as a result of ongoing armed conflict between the State armed forces and armed ethnic resistance groups. Female illiteracy rates in conflict and remote areas are estimated at between 70-80%. Ethnic minority women are subject to forced relocation, forced labor, forced portering in war zones, as well as physical, mental, and sexual abuses. Incidences of domestic violence often increase in conflict zones, with women feeling unable to speak out against men of their own ethnicity.  Forced marriage has also been known to occur after a soldier rapes a woman or to secure more loyalty to the SPDC, especially if a woman is from an influential family. Women in conflict areas are vulnerable to abuse in such a manner that they may feel they have no choice but to flee, becoming internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees or migrants.  In these cases, women may still be vulnerable to violence from armed groups, domestic abuse, trafficking and prostitution.

 

7.2 Women in Politics

 

Although Burma signed the UN Convention on Political Rights in 1954, males still dominate the Burmese political arena and women continue to be denied full political participation. As girls frequently receive less educational opportunities than boys and are perceived as less intellectually capable, cultural gender stereotypes prevent women from participating in politics. Since 1962, the number of women reaching high-level positions in their careers has declined, and as women are barred from serving in the military, they are effectively blocked from all positions of leadership in the country. When the SPDC signed the CEDAW agreement, they acceded to guarantee women's right to vote, to hold political office and to participate in politics (source: Article 7, CEDAW, 1979). There are, however, no women in the SPDC Cabinet, no female ministers and only one female director general. Even within the state sponsored “women’s committees” women are under represented. For example, the Chair and Vice-Chair of the National Women’s Affairs Committee are both men and 16 of the 32 members are men. State/division, district, and township level committees are all chaired by men, with the second-level position commonly held by the chairman’s wife.  If women do achieve a political position with some decision-making authority, it is often because of the influence of their husbands or male relatives.

 

The State endorses several other women's organizations, aside from the National Women’s Affairs Committee, in promoting women's status in Burma.  For example, the Myanmar Women's Entrepreneurs Association (MWEA), which is headed by either family relations of SPDC military leaders or other individuals favored by the regime. These women’s organizations are not representative of the women of Burma. Nor do they play any role at all in the politics of the State. The SPDC controlled Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association serves to extend support to mothers. In December 2003, the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation was created, chaired by the wife of Prime Minister Lt Gen Soe Win, as the principle women’s rights NGO.  Yet, as all these organizations are connected to the government, there are no independent women’s rights organizations in Burma. (Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices- 2004, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 28 February 2005)

 

Within local village government, adhering to tradition, most authority figures such as village heads and village council members are men. NLD General Secretary Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has discussed the lack of access for women in Burma to political decision-making positions. She has stated that, “Our women are rarely allowed to achieve decision-making positions even though they are able and well qualified. This means they are neither assured of their right to security nor their right to shape their own destiny” (source: “Message from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on the Occasion of Her Birthday and Women of Burma Day,” NCGUB, 20 June 2002).

 

Although traditional Burmese society does not provide for the active participation of women in politics, women became involved in Burma's political struggles as early as 1919. Nationalistic and patriotic women participated in the struggle for Burmese autonomy before World War II.  When women gained the right to vote in 1922, but were denied the right to make laws, they protested again.

 

Many women voiced their desire for democratic change by taking to the streets in protest of the military dictatorship during the pro-democracy uprising of 1988. During the violent suppression of peaceful protesters, hundreds of women were gunned down in the streets of Rangoon and other towns.  Several women, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of the NLD, rose to prominent political leadership roles in the independent political parties that were formed soon afterwards. In the 1990 democratic general elections, 16 female Members of Parliament were elected out of a total of 485. Like their male counter parts, they continue to be denied the ability to carry out their mandate by the SPDC.

 

Women engaging in political activities were again subject to suppression on 30 May 2003 when the government sponsored Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), police, soldiers and hired thugs attacked Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD and hundreds of their supporters during a peaceful organizing trip in Upper Burma. The SPDC reported that four people were killed and 50 people injured while unofficial sources indicate that the numbers were higher. The confrontation has come to be known as the “Depayin Massacre” or “Black Friday” and there is sufficient evidence to indicate that the attack was well planned and organized by the SPDC and other state authorized parties. During the attack, female supporters were stripped of their clothes, robbed of their valuables, brutally beaten and some were raped. Eyewitness testimonies reveal that the attackers screamed such derogatory statements as, “Those of you women who have destroyed our race! Those who want to make Kala their husbands! Come and make us your own husbands before you choose the Kala as your husbands!” (Kala is a derogatory term used to refer to people of Indian or Muslim decent. In this case, it is an insult referring to foreigners as the SPDC has often tried to undermine Aung San Suu Kyi by casting a negative light on her marriage to a British man, Michael Aris) (source: The Second Preliminary Report, The Ad Hoc Commission on Depayin Massacre (Burma), May 2004). Following the attacks, Aung San Suu Kyi was re-arrested by the SPDC, as were more than 200 other NLD members, including NLD Deputy Chairman U Tin Oo. NLD offices were forced to close. The attacks illustrated the SPDC’s lack of interest and willingness to enter into a peaceful and meaningful dialogue with the opposition that would bring about democratic change in Burma (source: Briefing: Black Friday and The Crackdown on the NLD, ALTSEAN, 24 July 2003).

 

At the time of the attack, the SPDC claimed that Aung San Suu Kyi had been taken into "protective custody" and would be released as soon as a peaceful environment reemerged in the country. Despite hints of release throughout the year, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi remained under house arrest at the end of 2004 and at the time of writing. Moreover, on 29 November, it was reported that her term of detention was extended for an additional year under Article 10(a) of the 1975 State Protection Act, which allows for detention of up to three years without charge or trial.  Furthermore, the SPDC had yet to engage in or permit a full and transparent investigation of the Depayin Massacre, perpetuating an environment of impunity for the perpetrators of the attack.

 

Women as Political Prisoners

 

Since taking to the streets in 1988, women have been systematically harassed, interrogated and detained for their political beliefs and activities.  Throughout 2004, women continued to be subject to arrest for their political involvement. On 5 June 2004, for example, Than Than Tay, secretary of the NLD women’s group of Magwe Division, was one of two NLD members arrested for allegedly communicating with illegal groups on the Thai – Burma border. As of August 2004, both the length of their sentence and in which prison they were being detained remained unknown (source: "Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar," Fifty-ninth session of the UN General Assembly, Item 107(c), 30 August 2004). Following the removal of Lt Gen Khin Nyunt from the position of Prime Minister on 19 October 2004 and the dissolution of the Military Intelligence Bureau, the military regime conducted four mass releases of prisoners. The military authorities reported that the released prisoners had been wrongly imprisoned due to the misconduct of former MI personnel. On 19 and 26 November 2004, 12 December 2004 and 3 January 2005, the SPDC reported the release of 19,906 prisoners across the country, which reportedly included 104 pregnant women (source: "Statement by Mr. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar/Burma," Sixty-first session of the Commission on Human Rights, Agenda Item 9, 29 March 2005). Despite the mass releases, as of 10 May 2005, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a Thai based human rights organization, reported the names of 58 women political prisoners languishing in the prisons of Burma (source: AAPP, 2005). (Please see chapter on arbitrary arrests for more information.)

 

Like men, women face harsh conditions while in detention or prison, which include beatings, torture, overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of proper food and nutrition as well as lack of access to medical services. In addition to those hardships faced by both sexes, women in prison face sexual abuse, harassment and rape at the hands of the military authorities. Prison staff are almost entirely men and jail cells are not always gender segregated, leaving women vulnerable to sexual harassment and rape by other prisoners. Moreover, women are not supplied with the proper sanitary supplies for their menstruation, a change of clothes or adequate amounts of water with which to wash. Women must rely on their families and relatives to supply the necessary sanitary items for menstruation. Women who have been incarcerated while pregnant have frequently been denied the assistance of a doctor, midwife or even another woman to attend to the birth of their child. The absence of skilled attendants during births in prisons has caused health complications for both mother and child. Moreover, women are forced to care for their babies under the same limited and unsanitary conditions, putting the health of both mother and child at risk. (Source: Women Political Prisoners in Burma, AAPP & BWU, September 2004) (Please see chapter on children for more information about children imprisoned with their mothers.)

 

7.3 Health of Women from Burma

 

The SPDC allocates the majority of state resources to the maintenance of its armed forces, which has resulted in inadequate healthcare services for the people of Burma. In particular, women’s access to healthcare is alarmingly low. While the SPDC doubled its total spending on healthcare in the 2003-2004 fiscal year from the preceding period, the amount remained low, at 1.2% of total government spending. (Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2004, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, Labor, U.S. Department of State, 28 February 2005)

 

Women do not have a significant presence in the decision-making bodies of the government, which has resulted in a total lack of consideration for women’s health issues, such as cancer of the uterus and ovaries, osteoporosis and family planning, as policy is designed. Mental health issues, such as counseling services for victims of domestic and sexual violence, are also not considered by government officials. Cultural taboos and strict government control over the flow of information impede discussion and education about sex or women’s health issues. A report by UNICEF-Myanmar identified the underlying causes of illness and death among women as lack of “security, access to basic health services, quality of health services, and family and community awareness and participation.” Moreover, a UNICEF–Myanmar report in 2001 indicated that there was only one basic health worker for every 3,400 persons, which translates to one health worker for every four villages. Because of the high costs and the poor quality of care provided at hospitals, most villagers end up relying on traditional healers or volunteer health workers who have limited knowledge and training. Although public hospitals are supposed to be free, in practice patients have to purchase their medications and medical equipment when they go for treatment. It has also been widely reported that patients may have to supplement doctors’ meager incomes with bribes if they are to receive adequate medical attention and care. As the main provider of birth spacing services and contraceptives is the high cost private healthcare sector located in urban centers, many women are unable to access this important service. According to a UNICEF report, at least 35% of the population does not have access to reproductive health services. The cost of birth delivery in a hospital has been estimated at 450,000 kyat, which is beyond the reach of most women (a teacher’s monthly salary is approximately 6,000 kyat) (source: Abused Bargaining Chips: Women’s Report Card on Burma, ALTSEAN, March 2003).

 

The majority of women do not have access to the technology that screens for breast and cervical cancer, endometriosis or other illnesses that specifically affect women. Moreover, nearly 25% of women have no access to antenatal care, with women in rural areas being disproportionately affected, resulting in poor health for both mothers and their babies. Maternal mortality is one of the highest in South East Asia, with approximately 580 deaths per 100,000 live births.  The United Nations Population Fund has estimated that 57% of maternal deaths occur at home where between 70% to 80% of women are estimated to give birth with the assistance of midwives or traditional birth attendants.  These deaths result from lack of access to healthcare facilities, the high cost of services and unsafe abortions. While more than half of maternal mortalities occur far from any public health institution, over one third transpire within public hospitals and clinics due to the lack of medical equipment to deal with possible complications. Even in public hospitals, midwives often carry out the deliveries and not doctors. (Sources: Grumiau, Samuel, Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003; Abused Bargaining Chips: Women’s Report Card on Burma, ALTSEAN, March 2003)

 

Although more than 20% of women in Burma need birth spacing services in order to protect their own health and limit their families’ size, birth spacing services and contraceptives are available in less than half of Burma’s townships.  As the SPDC continues to restrict the flow of information and fails to provide sexual and reproductive health information to its citizens, women’s knowledge of contraception is limited to their own experiences and that of women in their communities. It has been estimated that only 28% of fertile-age women in Burma use a modern method of contraception, in comparison with 72% of women in neighboring Thailand (source: Belton, Suzanne and Cynthia Maung, “Fertility and Abortion: Burmese Women’s Health on the Thai-Burma Border," Forced Migration Review, January 2004). Few people in Burma use condoms because of costs and social taboos. If a woman is found in possession of a condom she can be charged with prostitution, as it is a common misconception that only sex workers use condoms (source: Abused Bargaining Chips: Women’s Report Card on Burma, ALTSEAN, March 2003).

 

Information about birth spacing methods and safe sex is particularly inaccessible to young single women as they are assumed to be sexually inactive until they are married.  In fact, premarital sex does occur and pregnancy is sometimes the cause of young marriages.  A United Nations Population Fund Survey of 1,800 young people in three townships of Burma found that 20% of unmarried boys and 3% of unmarried girls had had premarital sexual experiences. Among married youths, 45% of married boys and 21% of married girls admitted that they had had sexual experiences before marriage (source: “Community Oriented Youth Centres in Myanmar: Lessons Learned,” UNFPA, July 2004). Sexual activity among young women was also documented in a 1997 fertility and reproductive health survey conducted by the UNFPA, which revealed that approximately 4% of girls age 15 to 19 already had children. Moreover, the survey highlighted the fact that teenage pregnancy was more prevalent in rural areas with lower education levels (source: “Fertility and Reproductive Health Survey,” UNFPA, 1997).  This statistic is particularly disturbing considering the lack of healthcare available in rural areas. In addition, the prenatal mortality rate of adolescent girls is 46-67 per 1,000 births, which is twice that of mature women. 

 

Abortion remains illegal in Burma, even in cases of rape or incest. Despite this, it has been estimated that unsafe abortions account for 50% of maternal deaths (source: Abused Bargaining Chips: Women’s Report Card on Burma, ALTSEAN, March 2003). Burma’s health department ranks abortion as the third main cause of illness, and complications arising from abortions comprise 20% of all hospital admissions (source: Belton, Suzanne and Cynthia Maung, “Fertility and Abortion: Burmese Women’s Health on the Thai-Burma Border," Forced Migration Review, January 2004). While abortions do occur in hospitals, women usually seek the assistance of untrained practitioners. Women use a variety of methods to induce abortion, including ingestion of large doses of traditional herbs to cause menstruation and deep abdominal massages. Often, foreign objects such as sticks, bamboo or other objects are inserted into the vagina. Infections and other complications are highly common, frequently leading to infertility or death. Approximately 750,000 abortions are known to occur per year and roughly 14% of married women between the ages of 15 and 49 have had at least one abortion during their married lives. Moreover, subsequent abortions are not uncommon as port-abortion contraception is usually not provided in hospitals (source: Abused Bargaining Chips: Women’s Report Card on Burma, ALTSEAN, March 2003).  Dr Thein Thein Htay, an assistant director of the Maternal and Child Health Section in Burma’s Ministry of Health, has estimated that only half of all women who suffered from post-abortion complications sought treatment from professional health facilities (source: Nwe Nwe Aye, "Teens Need Reproductive Health," Myanmar Times, 16-22 August 2004).

 

Women in ethnic minority areas have significantly less access to healthcare facilities and services than women in major urban centers. Women in rural ethnic areas also face the dangers of ongoing armed conflict between armed ethnic resistance groups and government armed forces, which often thwarts their movement and ability to access the existing healthcare services. In a 2003 report, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) reported that the border regions contain one hospital for every 132,500 inhabitants and one rural health center for every 221,000 people (source: Grumiau, Samuel, Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship, ICFTU, August 2003). The Women’s League of Burma has reported that in some areas 7 out of 10 women have swollen thyroid glands (goiter), a condition which is easily preventable and treatable. In the remote ethnic Chin State, 80% of women suffer from gynecological problems (source: Abused Bargaining Chips: Women’s Report Card on Burma, ALTSEAN, March 2003). Women who are on the run as IDPs or in relocation sites suffer from exposure to the elements, lack of clean water, sanitation, food and medicine, and are thus more likely to contract diseases such as malaria, anemia, hepatitis and dysentery.

 

HIV/ AIDS

 

HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections continued to be a serious threat to the health and safety of women in Burma in 2004. Women’s vulnerability to HIV infection has become increasingly recognized as related to issues of discrimination, political status, regulations regarding property, marriage, divorce and inheritance, human rights violations and violence against women. (See for example: “Violence Against Women and AIDS,” UNAIDS/The Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, February 2004.) In addition, high mobility, sex work, trafficking, low utilization of contraceptives and a lack of perception of risk all contribute to a growing HIV/AIDS infection rate among Burma’s female population.

 

While Burma's health minister claimed, in 2003, that 180,000 people were infected with AIDS, UNAIDS estimated the figure was between 170,000 and 420,000. However, in contrast, researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health indicated that using a "conservative approach" as many as 832,100 individuals could be HIV positive (source: “AIDS in Burma 2003," Irrawaddy, December 2003). The most recent estimates come from UNAID’s 2004 global report on AIDS, which indicated that 330,000 people in Burma are living with HIV/AIDS and 20,000 deaths have resulted from the disease (source: 2004 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, UNAIDS, July 2004.)  The Government has begun to take action on AIDS prevention and education, yet many obstacles remain to the dissemination of information, such as language. A member of the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), a Shan grassroots women’s organization, explained, “The government sends employees to the villages of the Shan people to talk about AIDS. One person from each household must attend these presentations, but they are given in Burmese.” As the Shan language is completely different than Burmese, the information provided in these information sessions is inaccessible to villagers who do not have a command of the Burmese language (source: Grumiau, Samuel, Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship, ICFTU, August 2003). The ethnic areas of Shan and Kachin State are among the highest prevalence zones of HIV/AIDS infection and one source estimates that up to 65% of sex workers in Shan State are possibly infected with HIV (source: Free Burma Rangers, June 2003).

 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that government repression of information and a lack of honesty about infection rates encourage the spread of HIV infection. The WHO has criticized the SPDC for failing to provide prevention programs for prostitutes and their clients, because its official policy is that men are faithful to their wives (source: Arrested, ALTSEAN, April 2003). As the restricted flow of information in Burma continues to hinder prevention and treatment efforts, the information about HIV/AIDS provided by the SPDC is often inaccurate. Moreover, the SPDC has been known to manipulate awareness campaigns in an attempt to further its own agenda. For example, women in Karen State have reportedly been told that if they leave Burma they will contract the disease, in an effort to prevent women from seeking refuge in neighboring countries (source: Abused Bargaining Chips: Women’s Report Card on Burma, ALTSEAN, March 2003).

 

Cultural taboos also contribute to the lack of HIV/AIDS knowledge among the populace. Because cultural norms dictate that unmarried young women do not engage in sexual activities, HIV/AIDS education is targeted towards married women. In turn, many young women and girls are left uninformed and at greater risk of transmission. While premarital sex occurs, it is culturally unacceptable, causing single women to be unlikely to seek out information or condoms for fear of being ostracized. In research conducted among Burmese migrant workers in Tak province, Thailand, it was found that less than 15% of married women had ever seen a condom. Even fewer knew how to properly use one (source: “AIDS Takes the Backseat in Burma: An Interview with Chris Beyrer," Irrawaddy, 20 July 2004). Finally, few people can afford to buy condoms, priced sometimes as high as a worker’s monthly salary.  The WHO has reported that women “...feel subservient; they feel as if they are not trained and have the type of support system that will allow them to speak out. Most don’t feel empowered to insist on condom use” (source: Abused Bargaining Chips: Women’s Report Card on Burma, ALTSEAN, March 2003).  This is particularly true of sex workers inside Burma and those working in neighboring countries such as Thailand or China.  Even women who are educated about HIV/AIDS and have access to condoms are often in no position to demand their use, facing violence from clients, employers or brothel owners if they insist.  In one brothel in Mae Sot, women are free to decline sex with a client if, for example, the client refused to use a condom. However, the women are fined 500 baht (US$ 12) for the lost client (source: No Status: Migration, Trafficking and Exploitation of Women in Thailand, Physicians for Human Rights, June 2004).

 

Social taboos towards sex are compounded by societal attitudes that anyone who suffers from HIV/AIDS has brought the condition upon themselves and does not deserve help. Vicky Bowman, the British Ambassador to Burma, noted in an interview with the Irrawaddy magazine, “I wonder if most people in Burma know, however, that the main cause of HIV infection for Burmese women is being married, whether to a drug user, or to a man who has been with high-risk groups like sex workers, either here or overseas” (source: “An Interview with Vicky Bowman: The British Solution," Irrawaddy, May 2003).  Although Burma's HIV education is targeted towards this very group, married women are perhaps even less able to insist on condom use than single women, as asking to use a condom with a spouse is tantamount to an accusation or admission of infidelity.

 

In their traditional role of caregivers, coupled with the inaccessibility of the healthcare system to the general public, the task of caring for HIV affected people falls mainly on women. The UNICEF country representative in Thailand, Innes Zalitis, reported, "Women carry the burden of care for other family members with AIDS. When women fall ill, however, they are more likely than men to suffer ostracism in their community once their HIV status becomes known. Many lose social protections. HIV positive mothers with infants may continue breast feeding from fear of being stigmatized if they stop." (Source: “HIV/AIDS Incidence Rising Faster Among Women in Mekong Region Than Men,” Asia Weekly, 29 March 2004)

 

7.4 Women and Forced Labor

 

Burma ratified Article 11 of the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Convention No.29 in 1955, which states that the use of compulsory labor must be confined to males between the ages of 18 and 45 and only used under very limited circumstances. In addition, the SPDC passed a law in October 2000 (Order 1/99) banning forced labor under Section 374 of the Penal Code. Despite these laws, the SPDC continues to use forced labor, conscripting both men and women for all kinds of forced labor, such as building railways, hydro-electric dams, building and maintaining military supply roads, digging ditches, breaking stones and portering for troops in conflict zones. As forced labor is particularly prevalent in rural areas inhabited by ethnic minorities, ethnic women, including teenage girls, are routinely taken for forced labor duties.  It is common for households to send women to fulfill forced labor quota requirements if the men in the household are busy doing other work, such as farming during harvest periods, that is critical to a family’s survival or if men are simply not around at the time a call for laborers is made.

 

Forced labor, in particular forced portering, puts women at great risk of sexual violence. It is common practice for military troops to use female porters as “comfort women," in which after hauling heavy military equipment during the day women are raped by troops at night. If a woman tries to escape such a situation she risks being starved, beaten, tortured, or killed. In addition to being vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse during forced labor, women most often do not receive adequate food, water or medical treatment. This combined with the physical strain of forced labor puts their health at risk. Women who are pregnant are not exempt from forced labor assignments. Generally it is possible for people to pay another person to go in their place, but women who cannot afford to do so must risk their own health and that of their unborn child to carry out what are often arduous tasks. (Please see chapter on forced labor for more information.)

 

Women and Forced Labor - Partial List of Incidents for 2004

 

Karen State

 

Note: Dooplaya, Pa-an, Papun, Nyaunglebin and Toungoo Districts, as reported below, are all areas demarcated by the KNU as Karen territory. Dooplaya District falls mostly in SPDC demarcated Karen State and partially in SPDC demarcated Mon State. Dooplaya District is under the patrol of the 6th Brigade of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). Papun and Pa-an Districts fall entirely in SPDC demarcated Karen State. Papun District is under the patrol of the 5th Brigade of the KNLA and Pa-an is under the patrol of the 7th Brigade of the KNLA. Toungoo falls partially in SPDC demarcated Pegu Division and partially in SPDC demarcated Karen State. Toungoo is under the patrol of the 2nd Brigade of the KNLA. Nyaunglebin falls in SPDC demarcated Pegu Division and is under the patrol of the 3rd Brigade of the KNLA. The SPDC does not recognize these as official districts. Instead, the SPDC considers there to be 3 districts (North to South: Kawkareik, Pa-an and Myawaddy) and 7 townships (North to South: Than Daung, Papun, Hlaing Bwe, Pa’an, Kawkareik, Myawaddy, and Kya In Seik Gyi) within SPDC demarcated Karen State. These townships do not correspond with the KNU demarcated districts and townships, even for those which share the same name.

 

Nyaunglebin District

 

On 10 March 2004, Ta Ler Day Camp Commander Bo Sai Win Kyaw of SPDC LIB 439 ordered 4 male villagers and 23 female villagers from Mar Lar Daw village in Mone Township to each carry 12 pyi of rice from Ta Ler Day to Tha Byay Nyunt camp. (Source: CIDKP, 2004)

 

On 15 March 2004, Ta Ler Day Camp Commander Bo Sai Win Kyaw of SPDC LIB 439 ordered 5 female villagers and 11 male villagers from Mar Lar Daw village in Mone Township to repair a warehouse for storing army rations in Ta Ler Day. (Source: CIDKP, 2004)

 

On 17 July 2004, SPDC IB 73 Commander Myo Zaw forced 14 males and 3 females from Sa Si Boe village, as well as 13 males and 5 females from Taw Ku village, to repair the military camp. (Source: BI, 2004)

 

On 21 July 2004, SPDC IB 73 Commander Myo Zaw forced 25 males and 6 females from Taw Ku village to repair the military camp. (Source: BI, 2004)

 

On 23 July 2004, troops from SPDC LIB 264 led by Column-1 Commander Major Nyein Chan Oo, Column-2 Commander, Captain Kyi Win, Tha Bye Nyunt Camp Commander, 2nd Lieutenant Thein Htun Oo, Ta Ler Day Camp Commander, 2nd Lieutenant Thein Zan and Bo Tin Htun came to Mone Township and summoned 4 female villagers and 10 male villagers and forced them each to carry 12 pyi of rice from Ta Ler Day to Der Kew Lay Kho. (Source: CIDKP, 2004)

 

Toungoo District

 

On 15 March 2004, Operation Command-1 Commander Khin Soe of SPDC Southern Command Headquarters took 8 female villagers of Der Doee village to Baw Gali village.  The following women were taken:

  1. Naw Htoo Lweh, age 18;
  2. Naw Gay Paw, age 26;
  3. Naw Yu Eh Na, age 38;
  4. Naw Stee Wah, age 16;
  5. Naw Day Nya Paw, age 20;
  6. Naw Bla Po, age 18; and
  7. Naw Pya Po, age 20.

By September 2004, the women had still not been released. (Source: CIDKP, 2004)

 

On 19 April 2004, Bo Lin Lin Aung of SPDC LIB 439, based at Klaw Mee Doe camp, ordered 25 men and 65 women from Klaw Mee Doe village in Tan Da Bin Township to carry food supplies from Pa Let Wa to Klaw Mee Doe. (Source: CIDKP, 2004)

 

On 20 April 2004, Bo Lin Lin Aung of SPDC LIB 439, based at Klaw Mee Doe camp village, ordered 89 women and 51 men, a total of 140 villagers, to carry military rations from Pet Let Wa to Klaw Mee Doe village. (Source: CIDKP, 2004)

 

On 17 May 2004, SPDC Tapaka Column 1 forced 150 male and female Kler La villagers to carry the soldiers' food from Kler La to The Aye Ta infantry area. (Source: BI, 2004)

 

On 17 May 2004, SPDC IB 60 and IB 39 Battalion Commander Win Oo arrested and detained 4 women from Kaw Soe Ko village. The women were taken to the Kler Military camp. The following day, the soldiers went to Kaw Soe Ko village and demanded porters. The soldiers threatened not to release the women unless the villagers complied with their orders. As a result, 9 villagers went for portering duty, carrying items from The Aye Ta to Ko Lay camp.  The women taken hostage were:

  1. Naw Paw Sit,
  2. Naw Ma Ta,
  3. Naw Mya Yin and
  4. Naw Ta Ta. 

(Source: BI, 2004)

Another source reported that these troops came to the village on 17 May 2004 and, as male villagers were away, forcibly gathered the remaining villagers, mainly women and children, to serve as porters.  (Source: CIDKP, 2004)

 

On 18 May 2004, the police station at Kaw Soe Kho village ordered Kaw Soe Kho villagers to go as porters in exchange for the release of the village heads, children and women that the army had seized.  As a result, 9 persons from Kaw Soe Kho had to go to replace them. The villagers who had to go were:

  1. Saw Kyi Lin, son of Saw Khin Maung;
  2. Saw Has Kwe Kloe, son of Saw Ta Bah;
  3. Saw Maw Law, son of Saw Eh Hkeh Ta;
  4. Saw Eh Doe, son of Saw Maung Hser;
  5. Saw Roger, son of Saw Heh Lay;
  6. Saw Hser Ta, son of Saw Po Kyaw;
  7. Saw Min Lin, son of Saw Ta Hsoe;
  8. Saw Plo Htoo, son of Saw Aung Thein; and
  9. Saw Keh Ta, son of Saw Maung Wah.

These villagers were forced to carry food supplies for the army from Tha Aye Hta camp to Koe Day. (Source: CIDKP, 2004)

 

On 31 May 2004, SPCD IB 60 Operation Commander Hlaing Win Tint and Infantry Commander Yea Soe forced 2 females and 9 males from Kae Dur village to build a hut in the military camp in Kae Dur village. (Source: BI, 2004)

 

On 22 June 2004, SPDC IB 26 forced 4 females and 4 males from Ga Mu Dur village to carry heavy loads from Ga Mu Dur to The Aye Ta. (Source: BI, 2004)

 

On 17 July 2004, troops from SPDC IB 26 forced villagers, Naw Mary Paw and Naw May Si from Gar Mu Doe village in Tha Daung Township to carry military supplies to Tha Aye Hta camp. (Source: CIDKP, 2004)

 

On 21 July 2004, troops from SPDC IB 73, based in Sha Zee Bo area, forced 25 male villagers and 10 female villagers from Taw Gon village in Tan Ta Bin Township to construct their army camp. (Source: CIDKP, 2004)

 

On 22 July 2004, troops from SPDC IB 26 demanded that 4 female villagers and 4 male villagers from Gar Mu Doe village in Than Daung Township carry military supplies to Tha Aye Hta. (Source: CIDKP, 2004)

 

On 27 July 2004, Bo Myo Naing of SPDC IB 73 forcibly collected 16 male villagers from Sha Zee Po village and 16 men and 6 women from Taw Gon village in Tan Ta Bin Township to carry army ration to Ka Ser Doe army camp. (Source: CIDKP, 2004)

 

On 14 August 2004, troops from SPDC IB 73, based at Sha Zee Po village, ordered 10 women and 10 men from Ye-Sham village to clear the compound of their military camp. (Source: CIDKP, 2004)

 

On 6 September 2004, troops from SPDC IB 124, based at Tha Aye Hta, ordered 2 women from Gar Mu Doe village to transport military supplies from Baw Gali village to Tha Aye Hta camp. (Source: CIDKP, 2004)

 

On 15 September 2004, Bo Aung Gyi of SPDC LIB 590, based at Kaw Thay Doe camp, ordered 3 women and 1 man from Kaw Thay Doe village in Tan Ta Bin Township to carry military supplies and food to Naw Soe camp. (Source: BI, 2004)

 

On 16 September 2004, an SPDC column deployed by Commander Kin Soe ordered Naw Ah Ri (female) from Kaw Thay Dur village in Taw Ta Htoo Township to use her car to carry firewood to Kler La military camp. (Source: BI, 2004)

 

7.6 Trafficking of Women

 

“Women and girls are often subject to forms of discrimination on the grounds of their gender as well as their origin, particularly when they are victims of trafficking.”

 

(Source: “Integration of the Human Rights of Women and a Gender Perspective,” Sixtieth Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, United Nations Economic and Social Council, 14 April 2004)

 

Women comprise a large percentage of persons trafficked out of Burma and are the most vulnerable to exploitation. There is a direct link therefore between the subordinated status of women in Burma and their risk of being trafficked.  Women are trafficked from Burma into countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, Bangladesh and Pakistan as well as Middle Eastern countries. They can be found doing manual labor, working in factories, domestic work and working in the sex industry. Internal trafficking also occurs from poorer agricultural areas to urban centers, mining areas, areas near military bases and cities along trade routes and the border where prostitution flourishes. While ultimately the cause of such trafficking is the desperate economic situation in Burma, Deep Ranjani Rai of the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW) noted that the attitudes of women’s families also adds to the cycle of migration and exploitation. A woman’s family may pressure her to earn more in order to contribute to the family’s finances. Deep Ranjani Rai has noted that, "We hammer the States all the time, but families have a greater influence over these women than other factors [government or laws]... Often, the women who go abroad have no respite, because the families at home keep demanding money." (Source: Macan-Markar, Marwaan “Migrant Convention Not a Magic Solution," Irrawaddy, 14 February 2003)

 

There is no law in Burma that specifically prohibits the trafficking of persons, although the Penal Code prohibits kidnapping.  However, the law is not effectively enforced. In fact, there is widespread complicity among local and border officials who profit from trafficking in the form of bribes. In more recent years, the government has made it difficult for single females to obtain passports and there are regulations preventing girls under the age of 25 from crossing the border without a guardian accompanying them. The fact that the majority of women and girls lured or forced across borders do so without passports makes this regulation totally ineffective in the prevention of trafficking (source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2004, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 28 February 2005).

 

Burma has continuously been ranked on Tier 3, the lowest of U.S. government standards, for its failure to comply with the minimum standards of the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act. While in its 2005 report, the U.S. Department of State reported that the SPDC had taken some measures to reduce trafficking, it condemned the SPDC for its failure to fully comply “with the minimum standards for elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so” (source: Trafficking in Persons Report-2005, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. Department of State, 3 June 2004). The SPDC continues to claim that U.S. imposed sanctions leave the government with insufficient funds to adequately deal with the problem of trafficking.  In the absence of any large-scale efforts to reduce trafficking on the part of the Burmese government, however, the American sanctions have not been lifted.  (Source: "Myanmar Announces New Moves to Battle Human Trafficking," AFP, 12 September 2004.)

 

In response to the U.S. Department of State's ranking, the SPDC has instituted several widely publicized measures against trafficking. In July 2002, a Working Committee for Prevention against Trafficking in persons was established. The SPDC has further declared that 82,251 citizens had been educated about the issue of human trafficking by July 2003 (source: “Myanmar Arrests over 400 Human Traffickers in A Year,” Xinhua, 3 September 2003). Other measures have included an announcement indicating the intention to open new anti-trafficking liaison offices in Tachilek and Myawaddy, both on the border with Thailand, and one near the Chinese border at Muse in September 2004. Furthermore, Lt. Gen. Soe Win's first regional meeting as Prime Minister in October 2004, the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Trafficking (COMMIT), was focused on the problem of human trafficking in South East Asia and he made several statements about the resolve of the Burmese government to combat the problem. The COMMIT summit ended with leaders from Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Burma signing an accord to fight trafficking in the region.  Initial implementation of the plan is anticipated for the first quarter of 2005 and is thought by many countries to be a promising step in the right direction.  (Source: "Six Asian Nations Sign Landmark Human Trafficking Pact," AFP, 29 October 2004)

 

The SPDC has continually claimed that progress has been made in the fight against human trafficking. According to the Burmese government, since 2002, “ 795 arrests were made, 335 prison sentences handed down in relation to human trafficking, and 2,181 victims 'rescued'” (source: “Myanmar Announces New Moves to Battle Human Trafficking,” AFP, 12 September 2004). According to the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report-2005, Burma claimed to have prosecuted “474 cases related to trafficking for sexual exploitation and smuggling; an indeterminate number of these cases actually involved severe forms of trafficking in persons” since July 2002. (Source: Trafficking in Persons Report-2005, U.S. Department of State, 3 June 2005)

 

Conversely, many contend that the SPDC’s measures against trafficking are really attempts to deter migration out of the country and to prevent information about human rights abuses from being reported to the outside world. The SPDC’s deputy intelligence chief, Maj. Gen Kyaw Win, said that part of the SPDC’s “Anti-Human Trafficking Campaign” would include efforts to “teach people about negative consequences of working abroad.” Likewise, at the end of 2002 the SPDC reportedly created “Human Trafficking Prevention Committees” in many states and divisions. These committees collect data about people between the ages of 16 and 25 and thoroughly check people traveling to border areas. Concern has been raised that such committees are being used to both hinder the movement of and also the freedom of expression of women. These committees ultimately treat female victims like criminals, instead of pursuing the traffickers and addressing the root causes of trafficking. Moreover, it has been reported that restrictions on women’s movement have done little more than to make their travel more costly (source: Abused Bargaining Chips: Women’s Report Card on Burma, ALTSEAN, March 2003). For example, women in eastern Shan State have been entirely prohibited from travel in the border area since 2000.  In 2004, the military regime issued a directive allowing women under 25 with official permission the right to travel. The approved transportation from Kengtung to Tachilek, Shan State, reportedly costs 150,000 kyat (about US$ 150); the regular fare is 6,000 kyat (approximately US$ 6) (source: "Mme Khin Nyunt Cashes In On Thai Demand for Young Women," SHAN, 23 August 2004).

 

A woman who has been trafficked and has the opportunity to return home may find many obstacles reintegrating upon her return.  Jeremy Stoner, program director for Save the Children UK, who has been working with trafficked women since 2001, said women repatriated or reunited with their families often need ongoing counseling to help them cope with their ordeals. He noted that, “It can be difficult for women and children to fit back into their communities because they may experience some social stigma attached to what they had been doing overseas." (Source: Eve Eve Maung and Jessicah Curtis, "Women Trafficking Complexities Exasperate the Problem," Myanmar Times, 5 May 2004)

 

Women Trafficked to Thailand

 

Researcher Pimpawun Boonmongkon of Mahidol University in Thailand found three main trafficking patterns in Mae Sot, Tak Province, a point of entry for Burmese into Thailand. Young Burmese women either fell prey to lying agents, were lured by acquaintances, or were sold to brokers by their own relatives. Women suffering from personal problems were especially easy victims. Trafficked women are often deceived by promises of good jobs in areas such as restaurant work, only to end up in the sex industry. Some trafficked Burmese women became "rental" wives of local men before being forced later into prostitution. Burmese women working in the sex industry in Thailand often face aggressive sex, gang rape and unprotected sex that causes physical and mental trauma. They are also at high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases because they lack access to health services, education and empowerment to enforce condom use. (Source: “'Shattered Dreams' to Educate Migrants," The Nation, 12 November 2003)

 

In July 2004, the Irrawaddy reported the story of Mi Mi, (not her real name), a 27-year old Burmese woman, who had once worked in the hills of Shan State cultivating leaves of the Thanapet tree, which are used for wrapping tobacco and herbs to make cheroots (Burmese cigars).  After her husband abandoned her, she was approached by a job-broker who offered her a high paying job in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which would enable her to support her two children.  When she arrived in Thailand, she was raped and robbed by the job broker and left with little other choice but to work in a brothel to pay off the debt she had incurred to finance the trip to Thailand.  She is not able to leave the brothel compound.  She does not know what AIDS is, or how it is contracted, but she is terrified of getting it. (Source: Shah Paung and Nandar Chann, "Risking AIDS to Pay Back Debt," Irrawaddy, 14 July 2004)

 

Local police, border and immigration officials in Thailand accepting bribes and lending their complicity to the sex trade can also end up facilitating it. According to local labor activists, police are known to participate in the trafficking process by selling women who they have arrested. Young Burmese women arrested in Bangkok have been approached by brokers and immigration officials en route to the border area near Mae Sot and given the choice of becoming sex workers or being deported (source: Manning, Kevin R., “Wooing Women Workers," Irrawaddy, 1 October 2003).  In addition, while Thailand has a legal framework for combating human trafficking, Thai authorities are not equipped to identify cases of trafficking. Therefore, women who are victims of trafficking are subject to arrest as illegal migrants and deportation by Thai authorities. On 10 August 2004, for example, Thailand deported 20 young Burmese women back to Burma. It was speculated that these women were most likely victims of human trafficking and were liable to face persecution from Burmese authorities upon their return for illegally exiting the country (source: “The Plight of Burmese Women in Thailand," DVB, 11 August 2004). Furthermore, when arrested, women may face extortion, sexual exploitation, or sexual assault by law enforcement personnel in addition to the harassment, violence, detention and arrest faced by many migrants regardless of their gender (source: No Status: Migration, Trafficking and Exploitation of Women in Thailand, Physicians for Human Rights, June 2004).

 

While many trafficked women end up in the sex industry, others work as unpaid housemaids or factory workers.  In June 2004, it was estimated that the majority (75% to 85%) of the factory workers in the garment manufacturing factories in the Mae Sot area were women. Representatives from several Burmese community NGOs have indicated that this is due to the fact that factory owners find women to be “quiet and compliant” and easier than men to control. Migrants may be confined to factories and they may face danger if they venture outside factory compounds. In addition to the threat of arrest, women are particularly vulnerable to attack from groups of Thai teenagers. There are at least 20 cases of rape or murder of this kind per year in Mae Sot, none of which have been punished. Inside the factories, women face harassment and/or sexual abuse from male factory owners, their families and assistants, male workers and security guards. Co-ed housing and incidences of rape can lead to pregnancies, which often cause women to be fired from their factory posts. Rather than lose their source of income, and without access to healthcare services either to prevent or terminate pregnancy, some women resort to unsafe home abortions or, especially if they are financially unable to care for their children, abandon the babies. (Source: No Status: Migration, Trafficking and Exploitation of Women in Thailand, Physicians for Human Rights, June 2004)

 
Women Trafficked to China
 

China is also a recipient of women trafficked from Burma who frequently end up working in the sex industry. China’s one-child policy has resulted in a shortage of women in many rural villages in the eastern part of the country and many poor village men cannot afford to pay the price of a dowry. In turn, these men are increasingly employing brokers in both China and Burma to find wives. The purchasing of Burmese wives has become a thriving business along the border. As women and girls are drawn to the border in search of work and in order to escape poverty, the brokers reportedly have an easy time finding recruits.  However, many women end up fleeing the harsh and isolating conditions of their new Chinese homes. These women ultimately travel thousands of miles to return to towns along the border on the Chinese side where they end up working as prostitutes as they have few other options. Returning to their homes in Burma is excessively difficult as they face arrest and imprisonment for illegally exiting the country. (Source: Naw Seng, “One Way Ticket," Irrawaddy, 1 January 2004)

 

In May 2005, the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT) released Driven Away, a report examining the trafficking of Kachin women on the border between China and Burma.  The report details 63 cases of trafficking between 2000 and 2004. The majority of the 85 women and girls in the report are 14 to 20 years old.  Trafficking in this area follows the same pattern as elsewhere in Burma.  In more than half of the cases, women followed their traffickers to border towns in search of economic opportunities and the promise of employment to support families or make money to go to school.  Instead, many were drugged, threatened and tricked into entering China, were they often ended up in the sex industry or as the wives of Chinese men. KWAT identified increased border trade, the exploitation of natural resources and the lack of spending on public services as state policies that have directly contributed to the increase in the trafficking of women from Kachin State.  Forced relocations and the widespread poverty brought on by the financial mismanagement of the regime affect women particularly and leave them increasingly vulnerable to trafficking. Although in some cases women were able to escape, those returning from China faced difficulty negotiating the border and avoiding imprisonment for illegally leaving the country. Many never returned to their communities, fearing the shame and humiliation they may face there (source: Driven Away, KWAT, May 2005).

 

Sex Workers in Burma

 

As the economy continues to spiral downward and ordinary people are unable to feed themselves, women inside of Burma are turning to the sex trade to augment their families’ incomes. Many women inside Burma who engage in prostitution usually do so on a part-time basis to supplement their primary work. At the same time, some rely more heavily upon prostitution in economically hard times, as they feel that sex work provides a better pay rate and better working conditions than other forms of employment, such as a laborer or factory worker. Following the onset of U.S. sanctions in July 2003, the garment industry was highly affected as it was largely reliant upon exports to the U.S. The SPDC claimed that women who lost their jobs in the garment factories were driven into prostitution. Yet, the expanding sex industry existed long before the U.S. sanctions were imposed, and several reports following the SPDC’s claims indicated that women had been driven to prostitution because of the SPDC’s economic mismanagement of the country. Prostitution is illegal and punishable by three years in prison and female prostitutes are often subjected to abuse when arrested or while incarcerated. Despite this, the U.S. Department of State reported that prostitution is increasingly prevalent, “particularly in some of Rangoon's "border towns" and "new towns," which were populated chiefly by poor families that were relocated forcibly from older areas of the capital” (source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2004, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Democracy, U.S. Department of State, 28 February 2005).

 

Despite the fact that prostitution is illegal, government officials and military personnel have been reported to frequent brothels in Burma, utilizing the services of prostitutes. One Burmese brothel near the Three Pagodas Pass area near the border with Thailand was allegedly forced to close in August 2004 because the majority of its "clients" were soldiers and SPDC officials who would not pay for the services. Military Intelligence Service officers, policemen, SPDC soldiers and soldiers from ceasefire groups, including the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, Karen Peace Force and the New Mon State Party, were the main clients of the Shwe Tagar (Golden Door) brothel house.  Sex workers there have even coined a new word for the phenomenon: "sex hijacking" refers to what happens when high powered men with guns don't pay for the services of sex workers.  (Source: "Sex in the Border Town," Kao Wao News No. 73, 9-27 August 2004)

 

Prostitution flourishes in urban areas, along trade routes and in international border areas with large numbers of sex workers found concentrated in large cities. Reportedly, young girls were commonly seen standing on street corners, in popular nightclubs and in hotels looking for clients in Rangoon. Some sex workers who cater to higher paying clientele are provided with an apartment and telephone, and their bosses arrange their clients over the telephone. Young women who work on the streets in Rangoon face exploitation by sex bosses, referred to as pha-gaung in Burmese. Exposed on the streets, women are extremely vulnerable to other abuses and must often pay off the local authorities in the form of cash bribes as well as sex. In response to these dangers, some women in Rangoon have reportedly formed their own working group. (Source: Hongsar, Banya, “Young Women Prop Up the Regime," Kao Wao News No. 57, 16 November 2003)

 

A newer phenomenon of the “fashion show” also provides an avenue for women to earn easy income through sex work. Fashion shows have reportedly become a popular nighttime diversion for wealthy businessmen in downtown Rangoon.  One advertising executive told a reporter from the Irrawaddy, “When we are worried or sad, we go to the pagoda. When we are happy, we sing karaoke and we watch fashion shows." The women who work the shows by parading down the catwalk to Western pop tunes are paid by men for their company, and may offer sex services for payment after the show. Some dancers have said that they are pressured by their managers to bring in a certain amount of money every night, which ultimately means having sex with men for payment. (Source: O’Connell, Chris, “Burma A La Mode," Irrawaddy, 1 October 2003)

 

Concurrently, the rate of HIV infection in Burma continues to grow as the sex industry does. Sex workers infrequently carry condoms in an attempt to avoid arrest by the secret police. If a woman is seen purchasing or possessing condoms she is usually suspected of prostitution, as it is still uncommon for contraception to be utilized in Burma. According to a study by the Burma Centrum Netherlands in October 2002, 52% of all female sex workers in Burma were HIV positive. The same report indicated that the HIV prevalence among commercial sex workers tested in Rangoon and Mandalay increased from approximately 4% in 1992 to 26% in 1997 (source: “Young Girls Exploited for Sex,” Kao Wao News, 24 January 2005).  Another report by the Asian Development Bank found that the HIV prevalence among commercial ''hospitality girls'' increased from 4.2% in 1992 to 36.5% in 1999. General rates of HIV can easily increase as clients pass the virus onto their wives, just as some sex workers may infect their own husbands. Due to the lack of substantial HIV/AIDS education and prevention programs, and the government’s attitude toward women purchasing condoms, HIV/AIDS continues to be spread to the public through the sex industry. As a result, women not only endure economic hardships, but they are also exposed to grave health risks.

 

The demand for young prostitutes, particularly virgins, is thought to be growing, fueled by increasing concerns of HIV/AIDS infection.  While the market for young-looking teenage girls is reportedly growing in Rangoon and for Burmese girls in Thailand, precise statistics on this phenomenon are, as of yet, unavailable. In Mon State, some businessmen who visit brothels have estimated that up to 30% of the sex workers in brothels there are under 18 (source: “Young Girls Exploited for Sex,” Kao Wao News, 24 January 2005).  (Please see chapter on rights of child for more information.)

 

Trafficking of Women - Partial List of Incidents for 2004

 

In January 2004, a 20-year-old Kachin woman from Kawa Hka Myitkyina town was offered work in Laiza. Instead, she was sold to a Chinese man for 6,000 yuan.  She was able to run away. (Source: Driven Away, KWAT, 2005)

 

In January 2004, an 18-year-old Kachin woman from Ding Ga Yang, Sadung, Wai Maw, was taken by a female broker through Laiza to China.  Her parents tried searching for her but have failed.  As of May 2005, she has not been found. (Source: Driven Away, KWAT, 2005)

 

In January 2004, an 18-year-old Kachin woman from Madiyang, Mansanyang, Bhamo, sought employment.  She was persuaded to work in China.  Her mother followed her and found her. (Source: Driven Away, KWAT, 2005)

 

On 3 January 2004, a 29-year-old Kachin woman from Dapkaung ward, Myitkyina town, was taken to a massage parlor in Laiza.  She had been unemployed and promised a well paid job there.  Instead, she was not paid, as the trafficker had taken the first 5 months of her salary.  After 1 month, the woman ran away. (Source: Driven Away, KWAT, 2005)

 

In March 2004, a 19-year-old Kachin woman from Sitapru ward, Myitkyina town, was sold to China for 5,000 yuan (US$ 625).  As of May 2005, she has not been found. (Source: Driven Away, KWAT, 2005)

 

In March 2004, a 17-year-old Kachin woman from Kongkhar, Kutkai, was persuaded to work in Muse.  She was trying to earn enough for school fees during her holiday.  Her mother followed her and found her in Kutkai.  The person who trafficked her was later caught and jailed. (Source: Driven Away, KWAT, 2005)

 

In May 2004, an 18-year-old Kachin woman from Madiyang, Namsan Yang, was sold to a brothel by her aunt who was addicted to drugs.  Her family helped her escape but she died a week after returning home. (Source: Driven Away, KWAT, 2005)

 

On 11 May 2004, it was reported that an 11-year old Muslim girl went with her religious teacher from Mae Sot to Ranong and then to Bangkok, where she was sent to a flower seller to live in his family’s house and work for him, earning 500 to 600 baht ($12–$15) per day. There, conditions were good, but eventually the teacher came again and took her money, saying that it was for her mother. The teacher left her with another family who treated her badly. After 7-8 months, the girl and the entire family were arrested and taken to the detention center in Mae Sot. There, a female agent paid immigration officials 500 to 1000 baht (US$ 12–$ 25) for her and several others. She eventually ended up working for this woman, delivering food and assisting in trafficking activities. Almost a year later, she was reunited with her mother, who had found out about her whereabouts from the teacher. They were assisted by a community watch and an NGO with resources to pay transport and checkpoints to return to their home in Burma. Neither the teacher nor the second trafficker were ever arrested. (Source: No Status: Migration, Trafficking and Exploitation of Women in Thailand, Physicians for Human Rights, June 2004)

 

On 12 May 2004, it was reported that a young Burmese woman went to Thailand after high school in order to earn money for university in Burma.  She worked at a factory in Mae Sot, but wasn’t earning enough money.  A police officer offered her a higher paying job as a domestic, so she went in a car to Tak. She was given medicine for carsickness, which drugged her.  She awoke in Bangkok and was sold into unpaid domestic service there.  She was not given enough food.  After working there for a year, she asked to leave and was told she could not.  She was afraid to leave on her own due to the risk of arrest and abuse.  After two years, she learned Thai and English and borrowed enough money to make the trip home.  Her “employer,” afraid that she would be report him, facilitated her departure. (Source: No Status: Migration, Trafficking and Exploitation of Women in Thailand, Physicians for Human Rights, June 2004)

 

On 15 May 2004, it was reported that a 1 3-year-old orphan girl, who was staying with her grandmother and 3-year-old brother in Murng Sen, Shan State, was approached by a Shan woman who told her that she had relatives in Mae Sai and offered to take her to them.  Fearing that her grandmother would not give her approval, the girl sneaked away with the woman, taking her brother with her.  In Mae Sai she was sold for 4,000 baht (US$ 100) to the headman of a nearby village as a domestic worker. She had to work very hard and she was beaten. She was later helped by a Shan woman who paid the headman “compensation” and, having located her relatives in an unofficial internally displaced persons camp in Burma, took her to them. The girl doesn’t know what happened to her brother. (Source: No Status: Migration, Trafficking and Exploitation of Women in Thailand, Physicians for Human Rights, June, 2004)

 

In June 2004, a 16-year-old Kachin girl from Madiyang, Namsanyang, Bhamo, was promised work in China in order to help her poor family.  Once in Yin Jiang, she was pressured to marry a Chinese man.  Instead, she was able to run away and return home. (Source: Driven Away, KWAT, 2005)

 

In July 2004, an 18-year-old Kachin woman and 2 of her friends from Kyaut Paung Gyan ward, Myitkyina town, were invited to work in a noodle house in Laiza.  They were unemployed and looking for a job so they traveled across the Chinese border.  One girl was able to escape with the help of a friend, but the other 2 disappeared and, as of May 2005, have not been found. (Source: Driven Away, KWAT, 2005)

 

On 10 July 2004, it was reported that police in Bangladesh arrested 3 alleged human traffickers responsible for bringing 18 Burmese citizens, including 9 children, to a residential hotel in Dhaka, in order to traffic them to Saudi Arabia on Bangladeshi passports.  All 18 of the Burmese people were Muslim Rohingya who had come to Bangladesh from Arakan State in 1991-1992 with other refugees from that area. The rescued victims were identified as:

1.      Abul Kalam, age 40;
2.      Mohammad Rafiq, age 20;
3.      Hossain Ahmad, age 20;
4.      Sultan Ahmad, age 30;
5.      Nur-e-Alam, age 40;
6.      Abul Hashem, age 26;
7.      Saanjida Begum, age 30;
8.      Sabu Alam, age 8;
9.      Shiri Zahan, age 35;
10.  Nur Mohammad, age 7;
11.  Shed Ullah, age 10;
12.  Humaiya Beugm, age 5;
13.  Kawsar Bibi, age 4;
14.  Alam Rizan, age 35;
15.  Umme Kulsum, age 13;
16.  Saddam Hossain, age 7;
17.  Fatema Khaun, age 13; and 
18.  Nurjahan, age 5.

(Source: "18 Burmese Citizens Rescued from Traffickers," Narinjara News, 10 July 2004)

 

7.7 Violence against Women

 

Women in Burma continue to be subjected to various forms of violence perpetrated against them by members of their own community and by other actors sanctioned by the military government. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), ratified by the SPDC in 1997, binds the government to making attempts to reduce gender-specific violence. However, there is continuing evidence from both local and international NGOs, as well as the U.S. government, that the military regime specifically targets ethnic women and uses rape to control ethnic minority populations, effectively turning women’s bodies into battlegrounds. Such violence is a violation of the following rights and freedoms: right to life; right not to be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; right to equal protection according to humanitarian norms in time of international or internal armed conflict; right to liberty and security of person; and right to the highest standard attainable of physical and mental health.

 

In May 2002, Shan Women's Action Network (SWAN) and Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) released a report entitled License to Rape, which documented the widespread and systematic rape of at least 625 girls and women in Shan State by soldiers from 52 military battalions between 1992 and 2001. Not only were the women and girls raped, some were tortured over a period of months and 61% were gang raped. One in four of the rapes ended in murder and many of these crimes took place within military bases and in forced relocation sites. Out of the total 173 documented incidents, there was only one case in which the perpetrator was punished. More commonly, the complainants were fined, detained, tortured or even killed by the military when they tried to seek justice. Given the extreme brutality of the rapes (which included beating, mutilation and suffocation), the fact that 83% were committed by officers and in most cases in front of their own troops, and the impunity with which they were carried out, the report argues that rape is both condoned by the government and used as a weapon of war in order to terrorize and subjugate the ethnic Shan. (Source: License to Rape, SWAN and SHRF, May 2002)

 

In April 2003, Refugees International released a report, No Safe Place, independently confirming License to Rape and providing further evidence that large numbers of women and girls from other ethnic minority groups are also targeted and raped by SPDC soldiers in a pattern of abuse. Forty-three cases of rape or attempted rape of women from the Karen, Karenni, Mon, Tavoyan and Shan ethnic groups were documented and 75% of women interviewed said they knew someone else who had been raped. In only two of these cases were the rapists ever punished. Again, in April 2004, the Karen Women's Organization (KWO) released Shattering Silences, documenting 125 cases of rape perpetrated by soldiers of the Burma Army over a period of 16 years from 1988 to 2004 in Karen areas. High-ranking officers committed half of the rape cases documented, 40% were gang rapes and in 28% of the cases the women were killed after being raped.

 

Most recently in September 2004, the Women's League of Burma (WLB) released System of Impunity documenting 26 cases of rape which transpired over a two year period from 2002 to 2004 in all seven ethnic states. The report not only documents incidents of rape in Burma, but also places rape in an analytical framework that identifies rape as a systematic weapon of war employed  by the military regime. In 17 out of the 26 incidents documented in the report, the rapes or gang rapes were either perpetrated by senior military officers or authorities, or with their complicity. In 11 of the cases, senior officers and authorities are the direct perpetrators. Fifteen of the cases presented in the report detail the rape of young girls under the age of 18 by members of the armed forces or other state sanctioned actors. (Source: System of Impunity, WLB, September 2004)

 

In addition to WLB’s report, incidents of sexual abuse and rape continued to emerge throughout 2004. Many incidents actually occurred during the day, when women were gathering vegetables, harvesting fields or traveling along roads.  In many cases, women were raped in front of their husbands while soldiers restrained or tied up the men who had been traveling with the women.  Sometimes soldiers came into people's homes or took women from their villages.  Soldiers from the Burmese Army frequently stay in the homes of villagers, taking advantage of their hospitality and trying to gain protection from guerilla attacks.  Villagers have little say in the matter and this situation has often resulted in women being raped within their own homes. 

 

Reports beginning in January 2004 describe soldiers in Mon State taking women from their homes and conscripting them for participation in "fashion shows" in order to entertain soldiers. Mi San Myint, a woman from Krein Ka Nyar village, Ye Township, said that 18 women from six villages were especially selected based on their beauty and forced to participate in a pageant at a military base.  Following the pageant, soldiers raped several of the participants, including Mi San Myint, who was raped twice just outside her village. Another rape victim, Mi Cho Myint, indicated that, before raping her, soldiers forced her to remove her clothes in front of military officials. These reports were confirmed by the village headman (source: Taramon and Cham Toik, “Violence Mounts Against Mon Women In Rural Areas,” Kao Wao News, 8 March 2004). Also on 4 January 2004, the No. 3 Tactical Command, led by Brigadier Myo Win, ordered 2 to 4 pretty Mon ladies each from 16 villages, including Khaw-za village, to participate in a “Fashion and Beauty Show.” The show was held in Khaw-za village, southern Ye Township, where the No. 3 Tactical Command was based. There also, the most beautiful women were reportedly selected and often raped by soldiers after the show.  In both cases, women’s families were fined if they tried to avoid their daughter’s participation. (Source: “Terror in Southern Part of Ye Township – Part II,” The Mon Forum, HURFOM, 29 February 2004)

 

Despite the extensive supply of evidence and testimony of rape and sexual violence, the SPDC holds firm that claims of rape are fabrications and refuses to concede to both international and domestic calls for independent and transparent investigations into the many rape reports. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Burma, Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, has proposed conducting independent investigations for the purposes of corroborating information provided to him about rapes in Shan State and Karen State perpetrated by members of the Burma Army. Yet, the SPDC has not agreed to his offer. Moreover, in 2002 and 2003, reports emerged of military authorities’ efforts to conceal evidence of these human rights violations by forcing villagers to sign affidavits indicating that rapes never occurred or training villagers to lie to international monitors such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

 

Denial on the part of the SPDC and refusal to investigate and prosecute perpetrators not only leads to a culture where sexual abuse of women is permissible and women's protests are insignificant, it also invalidates women's attempts to speak out and for women's experiences to take public space.  The political nature of rape is nowhere more evident than in the SPDC's manipulation of the rape reports as attempts to derail ceasefire efforts, the National Convention and Burma's path towards democracy. A statement made by the SPDC following the release of Shattering Silences stated, "While the whole country is preoccupied in the building of a unified and peaceful nation some individuals and interest groups based in foreign countries are resorting to malicious allegations in the derailment of the positive steps being taken in the country. Their latest ploy, such as "rape used as weapon of war" against the Kayin (Karen) women is not only absurd, but regretful to realize that nothing will stop (them) in their attempt to discredit the government and to derail its systematic transition to a sustainable democracy."  Women are silenced not only by the taboos in their community and by their inability to take action against perpetrators, but also by the political rhetoric of the State (source: "Myanmar Rejects 'Absurd' New Rape Allegations," AFP, 4 April 2004). Yet, women do continue to speak out about the abuse. “What kind of transition to democracy involves raping women? We can’t be silent about this,” said Naw Hset, a KWO member involved in compiling the Shattering Silences report (source: “KWO Affirms Commitment to Peace Process,” KWO, 5 April 2004). 

 

Women outside of the ethnic border states and areas of armed resistance are also subject to sexual violence perpetrated by state sanctioned personnel. According the U.S. Department of State, eyewitnesses reported that government sponsored attackers raped several female democracy supporters during the 30 May attack on the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi, also known as the Depayin Massacre. In general, it is unsafe for women to travel at night without a male escort. Employers of women who work at night must provide some form of transport to return workers to their homes. Even taxis are reportedly dangerous for women at night, with the risk of both robbery and rape. Sex workers traveling at night must typically pay substantial additional fees to taxi operators or risk being raped, robbed or turned over to the police. Sex workers arrested by police are sometimes raped and robbed while in custody. There are also no laws against sexual harassment in Burma. (Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2004, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 28 February 2005)

 

Domestic Violence

 

Domestic violence against women, including physical, emotional and sexual abuse, is also a significant and increasingly prevalent problem in Burma. The HURFOM estimates that approximately 80% of families in Burma have suffered from domestic violence.  Most people have little knowledge about domestic violence and other gender-based human rights problems. Domestic violence is considered a private matter between a husband and wife and cultural taboos often prevent women from reporting incidences of abuse. EarthRights International, a human rights NGO, has indicated that men may believe that it is their right to control their wives through violence, and women are criticized for divorcing abusive husbands (source: “Facing Violence Amongst Ourselves: Domestic Violence in Refugee Communities," EarthRights International, 2003). In two cases reported by the HURFOM, women who filed for divorce after being repeatedly beaten by their husbands were forced to pay their husbands compensation because they had been the party to file for divorce. (Source: “Discrimination and Violation against Women in Burma,” HURFOM, 31 March 2004)

 

People from Burma living in refugee camps in neighboring countries are especially susceptible to domestic violence.  According to EarthRights International, “They [refugees] have limited contact with the outside world, no way to make a living, no land, no livelihoods, no income. People are bored, they are anxious because they have no money to buy food and clothing, and they see no change in the future. For the men, who are, according to stereotypes and social roles, supposed to provide economically for their families, it can create a lot of frustration. This frustration and feeling of powerlessness can lead to a desire to take control over something, anything. Sometimes, violence within the family becomes the way men try to deal with their frustration and try to feel like they have some control over something in their lives.” (Source: “Facing Violence Amongst Ourselves: Domestic Violence in Refugee Communities," EarthRights International, 2003)

 

Women who have been raped are sometimes punished and even killed by their own family members.  A woman interviewed by EarthRights International revealed the story of one such victim who had been raped by her brother’s friends. “After knowing this, the parents felt so angry with the daughter that they beat her to death, put her body into a big bag and threw it into the river. She did not get any mercy even though she told them that she had been raped. The parents did not accuse their son.” (Source: “Facing Violence Amongst Ourselves: Domestic Violence in Refugee Communities," EarthRights International, 2003)

 

Physical Violence against Women - Partial List of Incidents for 2004

 

Karen State

 

(See note above about Pa-an and Papun Districts in section 7.3)

 

Pa-an District

 

On 16 September 2004 at 4:00 pm, troops from DKBA 999 fired a round of M-72s in Ta Krai Ni village, wounding 3 villagers.  Those villagers were:

  1. Naw Moe Loe, female, age 53;
  2. Naw Paw Ler, female, age 13; and
  3. Saw Dah Ler, male, age 11.

(Source: CIDKP, 2004)

Shan State

On 27 February 2004, a USDA member beat 7 villagers with a stick while they were engaged in forced rice planting in a rice field near Kaeng Yaang village. The victims were:

  1. Lung Kham Yad, male, the village headman;
  2. Lung Kham Leng Lern, male;
  3. Zaai Saang Mawng, male;
  4. Naang Kham Suay, female;
  5. Naang Yaen, female;
  6. Naang Yong, female; and
  7. Naang Mo Kham, female. 

Naang Yaen was 3 months pregnant at the time of the incident.  As a result of the beating she suffered a miscarriage the next week. (Source: SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, July 2004)

 

On 28 February 2004 at about 9:30 pm, 4 SPDC troops led by Commander Tin Soe from the artillery unit about 1 mile west of Kun-Hing town entered a house in No. 3 quarter of Kun-Hing and arrested a woman named Naang Kham Ing. According to the local people, some time ago the SPDC commander had courted Naang Kham Ing, frequently visiting her house. However, Naang Kham Ing already had a boyfriend and she later married him. Naang Kham Ing was found dead in a bush near the road leading to the military base the next day.  Her throat had been slit.  (Source: “A Woman cut to Death in the Throat in Kun-Hing,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, June 2004)

 

On 8 June 2004, SPDC police and members of the "people's militia" forcibly entered the house of Zaai Tui and his wife, Naang Leng, in Yaang Wo village in Kaad Fa village tract, Kaeng-Tung Township.  Zaai Tui and Naang Leng were accused of hiding methamphetamine tablets in their house. The police and militia searched the house and found nothing. They arrested and tortured Zaai Tui and Naang Leng.  As a result of the torture, Naang Leng incurred severe wounds on her forehead and waist. The group also took all the money and valuables found in the house, worth approximately 1,900,000 kyat.  (Source: “Villagers Tortured and Robbed of Their Property in Kaeng-Tung,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, October 2004)

 

On 9 June 2004, 4 SPDC troops from LIB 525 led by a Corporal came to the house of Naang Mya Ung (female, age 22) and told her that their Major had ordered them to take away her pig. Naang Mya Ung refused, as the pig was her only source of food.  The troops seized the pig and when Naang Mya Ung screamed for help, the troops shot her dead. They loaded her pig on a truck and drove away.  Attempts by Naang Mya Ung’s parents and community leaders to file a complaint were unsuccessful. (Source: “A Displaced Woman Shot Dead, Her Pig Stolen, in Laung-Khur,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, August 2004)

 

On 24 September 2004, a patrol of about 30 SPDC troops from LIB 515 led by Commander Kyaw Win Naing attacked a group of villagers (13 men, 11 women and 4 children) at a rice farm near Wan Paang village in Wan Heng village tract, Lai-Kha Township. The troops said that Shan soldiers had recently passed by that way and asked the villagers whether they had seen them and knew which way they had gone. When the villagers said that they had not seen the Shan soldiers, the SPDC troops accused the villagers of telling lies and beat the men with sticks. The women were questioned one by one and each woman was slapped once.  The troops accused the villagers of cultivating rice with the intent to support it to the Shan resistance. After that, the oldest villager present, Lung Zaai Long (age 51), was singled out and severely beaten and kicked until he lost consciousness. An ox-cart had to be brought in to carry him home as he was so severely wounded that he could not walk. Many of his relatives judged by his injuries that he would not live long. (Source: “Farming Villagers Severely Beaten, One of Them Close to Death in Lai-Kha,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, February 2005)

 

Mon State

 

On 4 February 2004, troops from LIB 586 arrested and tortured Mi Tin Shein (age 55) and Mi Pa Khin (age 50) in Kabya-wa village.  Mi Tin Shein is the wife of the rebel leader, Nai Hlein, and Mi Pa Khin had helped Mi Tin Shein by providing shelter to her in her home.  According to a witness, after being arrested, both women were seriously tortured.  During the interrogation, the Burmese soldiers beat their bodies with bamboo sticks and cut their faces with knives until the other villagers could not recognize them. Under the duress of the torture, Mi Tin Shein gave the names of 6 villagers with contacts to the rebel soldiers, who were subsequently arrested.  The names of those villagers are:

  1. Nai Hara, male, from Win-tamort village;
  2. Mi Hla Tin (his wife), from Win-tamort village;
  3. Nai Suu, Kyone-kanya village headman;
  4. Nai Gone Sakar, Kyone-kanya village headman;
  5. Nai Hit, male, from Kyone-kanya village; and
  6. Mi Mya Kyi (his wife), from Kyone-kanya village.

After being arrested, all 6 villagers were seriously tortured. The LIB 586 soldiers brought the villagers to the jungle to find hidden guns supposedly left by rebels and to show them the rebels' temporary bases.  When the villagers could not do this the soldiers tortured them and pointed knives at their throats.  During the rest of their incarceration, they were beaten with bamboo sticks and gun-boots.  According to Mr. Suu (age 59) the soldiers beat his entire body while he was tied up, hung him from a roof and burned him with cigarettes.  They were eventually released for a ransom of 100,000-300,000 kyat per person.  The soldiers held Mi Mya Kyi for over 2 weeks, torturing her continuously.  (Source: Gross Human Rights Violations in Ye Township, HURFOM, September 2004)

(See section on Rape and Sexual Violence- list of incidences for sexual violence against women.)

 

Rangoon Division

 

On 18 April 2004 at about 2:30 pm., Police Corporal Aung Naing Soe attacked a betel nut seller, Ma San San Htay (female, age unknown) on Thida Street in Thida ward, Kyinmyindaing Township, Rangoon Division. After complaining about homeless people in the vicinity, the officer began clearing them away. Ma San San Htay was resting when the officer kicked her awake. The officer then hit her in the mouth, grabbed hold of her hair and dragged her along the road by her hair for over 50 yards while abusing her verbally. At this time, Kyaw Min Htun (male, age 26) came by on his bicycle and tried to intervene. The officer hit Kyaw Min Htun. Kyaw Min Htun responded by hitting the officer and breaking his nose. He was arrested and charged with crashing his bicycle into and attacking the officer without warning while the officer was performing his duties.  On 24 June 2004, the Kyinmyindaing Township Court found Kyaw Min Htun guilty of assaulting the police officer in the course of his duties and sentenced him to 2 years imprisonment with hard labor (Case No. 247/2004). (Source: Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) Urgent Appeals Deck, 30 August 2004)

 

7.8 Rape and Sexual Violence - Partial list of incidents 2004

 

Incidents of Rape and Murder

 

Arakan State

 

On 27 April 2004, A Rohingya girl, Shajeeda (age 12),  living in Rakhine State was raped and murdered by a member of the Nasaka border security force while she was with her cattle on a hillside near Kyi Kan Pyin Village in Maungdaw Township North.  At 4:00 pm, a Nasaka border security officer took the girl, raped her and strangled her to death. (Source: System of Impunity, WLB, September 2004)

 

Shan State

 

In January 2004, Naang Kham (female, age 25) from Kun-Hing town was raped and killed by SPDC troops from Kun-Hing-based artillery unit about half a mile west of their base. Villagers reported witnessing 3 - 4 SPDC soldiers taking away a person to the area where Naang Kham's body was found the following day. She had apparently been beaten to death after being raped and sexually tortured, and a dry cell battery was still stuck in her sex organ.  She was found naked with a fracture wound to her head.  The woman's father, Lung Zin-Ta, and some relatives attempted to file a complaint against the SPDC soldiers.  Although he met with only denial from the military, he continued to be vocal about the incident.  In October 2004, Lung Zin-Ta was found beaten to death after having been arrested and taken into custody by 5 SPDC troops. (Source: “Daughter Raped and Killed, Father Killed for Complaining in Kun-Hing,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, January 2005)

 

On 13 March 2004, Naang Hawm (age 19) from Haai Ngern village was going to Murng-Kerng town market and was raped and killed by a patrol of SPDC troops from Lai-Kha-based LIB 515 in the forest about 5-6 miles south of Murng-Kerng town.  Following Naang Hawm's disappearance, SPDC troops spread news that they had caught and killed a woman who was a wife of a Shan soldier. After 5-6 days, Naang Hawm’s body was found by some forest gatherers in the forest about 5-6 miles south of Murng-Kerng town and her relatives were informed. When Naang Hawm’s relatives saw her body, it was almost beyond recognition.  However, they recognized the clothes she had worn, which were scattered beside her body, and her other physical characteristics. It was evident that she had been raped. (Source: “A Woman Raped and Killed in Murn-Kerng,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, July 2004)

 

On 25 April 2004, Naang Zum (age 18) was forcibly taken from her garden by a group of about 15 SPDC troops and into a nearby forest. The soldiers wore no insignias but were apparently SPDC soldiers, according to some local people who saw them entering Naang Zum’s cucumber garden.  The SPDC troops gang raped Naang Zum and finally stabbed her in the neck with a knife and killed her. The incident occurred in the forest about 40 yards from her cucumber garden. Naang Zum was the daughter of Lung Kyawng Wong and Pa Kyawng Sa of Murng-Su. (Source: “A Woman Gang Raped and Stabbed to Death in Murng-Su,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, June 2004)

 

On 28 August 2004, Naang Thawn (age 22), who was 3 months pregnant, and her friend, Naang Wun (age 20), were arrested, gang raped and shot dead by a patrol of 20-25 SPDC troops from LIB 514, led by Commander Maung Myint, in a forest in Murng Khun village tract, Murng-Kerng Township. Some time later, some SPDC troops were heard telling villagers that they had raped and killed 2 women because they were wives of Shan soldiers. (Source: “Two Displaced Women Gang-raped and Killed, One was Pregnant, in Murng-Kerng,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, January 2005)

 

In November 2004, Naang Ting (age 29) was raped and killed while her husband, Zaai Zaam Myint (age 32), and another man, Zaai Thun Nae (age 21), were forced to serve as porters for 2 days before being killed by SPDC troops from LIB 515, led by Captain Kyaw Kyaw Aye, in Paang Saang village tract, Lai-Kha Township.  Naang Ting was stopped by a patrol of 30 soldiers while bringing rice to the men harvesting rice in the fields.  Despite having permission from the authorities to travel for the harvest, she was accused of taking food to Shan soldiers.  She was forced to take the soldiers to where her husband and friend were working and the 3 of them were arrested.  After traveling with the soldiers for 30 minutes, the SPDC troops stopped in the jungle and gang raped Naang Ting. They eventually shot her dead. Zaai Zaam Myint and Zaai Thun Nae were forced to serve as porters for 2 days before they were also shot dead by the troops. (Source: “A Displaced Woman Raped and Killed, 2 Men Killed During Forced Labour in Laika,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, February 2005)

 

Tenasserim Division

 

Note: Mergui-Tavoy District is an area demarcated by the KNU as part of Karen territory. Mergui-Tavoy falls into SPDC demarcated Tenasserim Division and is under the patrol of the 4th Brigade of the KNLA. The SPDC does not recognize Mergui-Tavoy as an official district.

 

On 26 June 2004, Colonel Maung Lwin Oo, with his troops from IB 101 Column 1, based in Tenasserim, came to Manoroue village area at Lay Law K'Tei Hkee (an area where villagers were hiding). The troops saw Saw Randy's hut and shot at it. Saw Randy's wife, Naw Aung Thein Me, who was in the hut, was shot in her hand. The troops entered the hut and raped Naw Aung Thein Me and killed her immediately. They cut off her ear lobes to take her earrings. They also took possessions estimated to be worth 9,000 kyat from the hut. (Source: Monthly Human Rights Situation Report; Tenasserim Division, Mergui-Tavoy District Information Department, KNU, June 2004)

 

On 4 November 2004, the active company from LIB 557 Column 1 arrived near Kyauk-tu village in Tavoy Township, Tenasserim Division, and arrested villager Naw Dah (aka) Ma Khin Myo Oo (age 25) at her father, U Saw Eh Htoo's, plantation hut. They accused her of supporting KNU Company 1 Battalion 10. She was interrogated, tortured and raped by the same soldiers until she died. (Source: ABSDF, 2004)

 

Incidents of Rape

 

Chin State

 

On 13 July 2004, Captain Phu Thaw, company commander of SPDC LIB 50, tried to rape a Chin farmer, Daw Marie (age 30), in her home in Sabawngpi village.  Daw Marie's husband was not at home when the captain suddenly covered the mouth of the woman with his hand and pointed his pistol at her and tried to rape her.  Her struggles and cries alerted the neighbors who were able to prevent the rape from occurring. (Source: SPDC Captain Tried to Rape a Married Woman,” Rhododendron News, CHRO, September-October 2004)

 

Karen State

 

(See note above about Pa-an and Papun Districts in section 7.3)

 

Dooplaya District

 

On 16 February 2004 at 12:00 pm, Private Ahn Gyi of SPDC IB 32 raped Mu Yone Kyi (age 27) and slapped her twice on the face.  The soldier was under the control of Htee Hta Baw camp commander, Sergeant Kyi Noo. Mu Yone Kyi is the wife of Saw Yin Htwe and the mother of 2 children.  She is from Lay Khaw Hti village in Kya Inn Township. (Source: CIDKP, 2004)

 

On 5 September 2004, troops from SPDC IB 51 led by Battalion Commander Zaw Min made 3 attempts to rape nuns while sleeping at the monastery in Anam-gwin village, Win-yae Township, at 12:00 midnight, 1:00 am and 2:00 am respectively. The 6 nuns were:

  1. Nan Moe Moe Myint, nun hood name Ma Pa Pa Waddy (age 13), daughter of Saw Pah Lu Kho from Htee Po Baw village.  Her lower robe was pulled away;
  2. Naw Paw Aw Ka Wah, nun hood name Ma Nanda Waddy (age 8), daughter of Saw Hla Shwe from Ta Nyin Gon village. Her lower robe was pulled away;
  3. Naw Mu Hser, nun hood name Ma Nanda Sandi (age 11), daughter of Saw Hla Tin from Htee Po Baw village.  Her lower robe was torn;
  4. Naw Moo Nay Hser, nun hood name Ma Wi Mar Lar (age 13), daughter of Saw Kyaw Klu from Than Ba Ya village.  There was sexual contact but she was able to  struggle and escape;
  5. Naw Mu Thaw Eh, nun hood name Ma Yu Pa Marlar (age 14), daughter of Saw Chit Hti Toe from Than Ba Ya village.  Her legs were pulled; and
  6. Naw Lu Lu, nun hood name Ma Thi La (age 11), daughter of Saw Win Tha from Anan-gwin village.  Her lower robe was torn.

(Source: CIDKP, 2004)

 

Toungoo District

 

On 7 January 2004 at about 9:00 pm, Sergeant Tin Shwe and one of his friends from SPDC LIB 124, under the command of Bo Aung Naing Oo, abducted a woman, Naw Thay Po (age 36), from Kaw Soe Kho village in Tan Da Bin Township, Toungoo District. They also abducted 1 of her young children. At a place between Kaw Soe Kho and Kler Ler village, these SPDC troops raped her. The village headman followed them and brought Naw Thay Po home at about 1:00 am. Although she was brought back home, she could not speak normally until the time of this report, as she was still in shock. On that night, Sergeant Tin Shwe went to Maw Pa Doe village, summoned a girl named Naw Htee Ye, and looted from her a pair of earrings and a gold ring. On 5 February 2004, Company 1 Commander Aung Naing Oo of SPDC LIB 124 put under duress Kaw Soe Kho village head, Saw Ta Tu, pastor Saw Htoo Heh and Naw Thay Po's husband, Saw Peter, and forced them to sign their names to a document stating that:

  1. Sergeant Tin Shwe was not carrying a weapon on the night of 7 January;
  2. Sergeant Tin Shwe took Naw Pay Po only as a guide; and
  3. Sergeant Tin Shwe did not rape Naw Pay Po.

(Source: Shattering Silences, KWO, April 2004)

 

On 16 February 2004 at 12:00 pm, Private Ahn Gyi of SPDC IB 32, under the command of Htee Hta Baw Camp Commander Sergeant Kyi Noo, raped Mu Yone Kyi (age 27), the wife of Saw Yin Htwe and the mother of 2 children from Lay Khaw Hti village in Kya Inn Township. When she reported the rape to Sergeant Kyi Naing, he slapped her in the face 2 times. No action was taken against the rapist.  (Shattering Silences, KWO, April 2004)

 

Pa-an District

 

On 1 August 2004, an SPDC soldier from LIB 357 under the command of Captain Khin Maung Htay raped Naw Haw Thay in Pa-an District, Karen State. The victim was too terrified to reveal more details. (Source: Shattering Silences, KWO, April 2004)

 

Karenni State

 

On 7 July 2004, a Karenni girl, Daileh (age 15), was raped by SPDC soldier Ngae Lay of LIB 428/531 and IB 72 beside the military base, near Hoya in Pruso Township, Karenni

State.  She was traveling home from Hoya when soldiers blocked her way.  Ngae Lay threatened her with a grenade and raped her behind some bushes off the road.  Her parents reported the incident but no action has been taken.  Daileh now reportedly suffers from depression and a mental disorder. (Source: System of Impunity, WLB, September 2004)

 

Mon State

 

In February 2004, Mi Choma (age 19), daughter of Nai Kmao Done and Mi Pu from Mi Tawhlar village in southern Ye Township, was raped by soldiers from SPDC Battalion 28 while she was in custody at a detention center near her village. Mi Choma and her parents were arrested by the soldiers and held in detention for 10 days.  On the final day of their detention, Mi Choma was separated from her parents and raped by the soldiers. (Source: "Burmese Army Perpetuates Rape," Kao Wao News, 5 February 2004)

 

In February 2004, it was reported that Mi Aye (age 20) from Kaw Hlaing village was arrested and gang raped by soldiers from IB 586, under the command of Captain Hla Khaing.  Mi Aye and her father, Nai Win, were accused of having contact with a Mon guerrilla group and were taken away to stay with the troops of Captain Hla Khaing during the military operation in their area.  They were held for 2 months and forced to stay at the military base where Mi Aye was gang raped by the soldiers. (Source: "Burmese Army Perpetuates Rape," Kao Wao News, 5 February 2004)

 

On 17 February 2004, 3 Mon women were gang raped by Captain Hla Khaing and soldiers from LIB 586 in Mon State. The women were:

  1. Mi Myat Hlay,  age 20, from Ywa Thit;
  2. Mi Soe Win, age 25, from Thae Khan Village; and
  3. Mi Za Tile, age 17, from Sin Gu Village.

Mi Myat Hlay was detained for 2 days and serially raped by the Captain of IB 58, Captain Hla Khaing, after being accused of having contact with Mon armed groups. Following his example, soldiers under his command also gang raped the women. (Source: System of Impunity, WLB, September 2004)

 

On 19 February 2004, a Mon woman, Mi Mya Htay (age 17), was raped by Corporal Naing Naing from the Fourth Military Training Centre of Southern Command in Kyoun Ka Dat Village in Thanbyuzayat Township, Mon State. (Source: System of Impunity, WLB, September 2004)

 

Bilin Township

 

On 7 November 2004, while the military was engaging in offensives in Karen State, soldiers from SPDC LIB 378 under Operation Command 9 arrived in Ler-ka-ter village. There, the soldiers lined up the villagers and demanded money from them.  In addition, the soldiers raped villager Naw Ma Daw (age 32). On the same day, 2 soldiers from

LIB 378 arrived at Mae-wae-hta village in Bilin Township and raped teenager Naw Cho Mar (age 13) while she was collecting vegetables in the forest. (Source: ABSDF, 2004)

 

Ye Township

 

On 12 January 2004, SPDC Tactical Command No. 3 ordered the village headmen to send 3 unmarried women every day to do basic work such as cooking, carrying water and finding fire wood for the military column while they were operating a military campaign in southern Ye Township, Mon State.  Soldiers in the Tactical Command No. 3 used these women for forced labor by day and raped them at night. The women came from many households in Khaw-za village and 6 other nearby villages.  The women were rotated daily with new unmarried women from the villages. “After having dinner, they demand to have massage, and when night fell they raped us. We did not dare resist at all,” said a 23 year old woman who was raped by these soldiers, but who wished to remain anonymous.  (Source: "Terror in Southern Part of Ye Township – Part II," The Mon Forum, 29 February 2004)

 

In February 2004, it was reported that Captain Hla Khaing of LIB 586 raped a 20-year-old woman who wished to remain anonymous.  The woman is the daughter of Nai Sway from Toe-tat Ywa Thit village.  The Captain had arrested the woman’s father and tortured and interrogated him.  The Captain called the woman to come and negotiate for the release of her father.  When she came, she was detained and raped repeatedly over the course of 2 days. Soldiers under the command of the Captain raped a 17-year-old woman from Sin-gu village.  The soldiers also held a knife to the throat of a 25 year old woman from The-khone village. However, she was able to call for help and was rescued by nearby villagers.  Following the incidents, the women did not dare live in their villages any longer and fled. (Source: "Terror in Southern Part of Ye Township – Part II," The Mon Forum, 29 February 2004)

 

In February 2004, it was reported that a 20-year-old woman from Kaw-hlaing village, who was 5 months pregnant, was arrested by the troops of Burmese Army LIB 586 and gang raped over a 2 month period. Her father, Nai W—, was arrested by the commander of LIB 586, Captain Hla Khaing, on the suspicion of being a rebel agent and she was arrested soon after.  She was transported with the troops of LIB 586 and raped by both the commander and the soldiers.  She was not given adequate food, she became very weak and she begged the soldiers to kill her.  When the soldiers passed through Yinve village (approximately 5km from her home), the woman gave birth to her baby in the eighth month of her pregnancy. She is currently being taken care of by villagers there. (Source: "Terror in Southern Part of Ye Township – Part II," The Mon Forum, 29 February 2004)

 

Shan State

 

On 28 September 2004, Naang Nguay (age 30) from Zalai Khum village in Ter Leng village tract, Lai-Kha Township, was gang raped by 3 SPDC soldiers when she went to gather firewood in the forest in Lai-Kha Township.  After the rape, she was accused of being the wife of a Shan soldier. Each soldier kicked her 3 times.  Naang Nguay reported the rape to her husband and village leaders but without witnesses or information about the troops unit, no complaint could be made.  (Source: “A Woman Gang Raped and Killed in Lai-kha.”  SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, February 2005)

 

Kaeng-Tung Township

On 9 February 2004, Na Kyaw (not her real name) (age 39) from Naa Pao village in Naa Pao village tract, Kaeng-Tung Township, was going to buy consumer goods at Murng Lung village in Murng-Sart Township when she came across a group of SPDC troops from LIB 580 taking security about 2 miles north of Murng Lung village.  The troops questioned the woman and forced her to stay with them, claiming it was for her own security to do so. When night came, the troops took Na Kyaw to where they camped for the night. There were altogether about 10 SPDC soldiers from Murng-Sart based LIB 580 camping at that place with a captain being their commander.  Na Kyaw was raped by all 10 SPDC troops during the night and was only released the next morning. The SPDC troops warned Na Kyaw not to tell anyone about how she had been treated or they would come after her and kill her. (Source: “Gang Rape in Murng-Sart,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, May 2004)

Mong-Ton Township

 

On 16 April 2004, Nang Seng La (not her real name) was gang raped by 12-14 troops from SPDC IB 245, led by a second lieutenant in Mong Hta village in Mong-Ton Township, southern Shan State. Two days later, the battalion commander himself arrived in Mong Hta to handle the case. The Second Lieutenant and his team were sent back to the Battalion HQ. The victim was given 150,000 kyat, equivalent to approximately US$ 150. She was warned not to reveal her story. She was placed under close observation and was forbidden to leave her village. (Source: System of Impunity, WLD, September 2004)

 

Murng-Paeng Township                                                 

 

On 20 April 2004, 3 women were going to the market at Paang Kaetu village when they came across a group of about 25 SPDC troops from LIB 514, led by Commander Kyaw Win. The SPDC troops, who were guarding the road, stopped the 3 women and gang raped them for many hours, from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm, before releasing them.   The 3 women from Wan Huay village (not their real names) are:

  1. Naang Mon, age 19;
  2. Naang Zing, age 21; and
  3. Naang Lern, age 24.

The women immediately returned to their village and related their plight to their relatives and community leaders.  The leaders decided against reporting the incident for fear of further violence and reprisals. (Source: “Gang Rape and Torture in Murn-Paeng,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, October 2004)

 

On 4 May 2004, 2 sisters, Naang Poi (not her real name) (age 16) and Naang Aam (not her real name) (age 21) were gang raped by a patrol of 30 SPDC troops from IB 43 while they were working on a rice farm near Naa Khaw village in Murng Pu Awn village tract, Murng-Paeng township.  When the troops, led by Commander Myint Hla, had left, Naang Aam treated her unconscious sister and they returned to their village, about 2 miles away. (Source: “Two Sisters Gang Raped in Murn-Paeng,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, October 2004)

 

On 1 June 2004, a group of 30 SPDC troops from IB 43 led by Commander Saw Naing came to Lung Awn’s house (age 51) in Murng Pu Awn village in Murng Pu Awn village tract, Murng-Paeng Township.  The troops asked the man for a walkie-talkie or a cell phone. When Lung Awn said he did not have any, the troops searched his house. They beat and kicked him and burnt his buttocks with candle fire, causing serious wounds. The man's daughter in law, Non Zing, was dragged onto a bed and raped by 6-7 soldiers, who then shot her in the thigh. (Source: “Gang Rape and Torture in Murn-Paeng.” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, October 2004)

 

On 22 June 2004, Naang Seng (not her real name) (age 19) was gang raped by a patrol of 12 SPDC troops from IB 43 while gathering 500 pieces of split bamboo for the military with her husband, Zaai In Phom (not his real name) (age 24), in the forest near Naa Khaw village in Murng Pu Awn village tract, Murng-Paeng Township. While they were doing their forced labor, the troops, led by Commander Aung Naing Oo, came to them, tied Zaai In Phom up, and gang raped Naang Seng in front of him. When Naang Seng screamed and struggled, the troops covered her mouth with their hands, grabbed her arms and legs and continued to rape her until all of them had finished. (Source: “Gang Rape during Forced Labor,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, October 2004)

 

Ho-Pong Township

 

On 7 July 2004, a patrol of 30 SPDC troops from IB 249 led by Captain Thein Kyaw beat up Lung Kan-Tha, (age 57) until he lost consciousness, gang raped his daughter, Naang Khawng (age 31), until she too lost consciousness and stole their oxen. The 2 villagers were stopped on their way to gather firewood in Murng Pawn village tract, Ho-Pong Township.  They were accused of transporting rice for Shan soldiers.  The village leaders reported the incident to the battalion commander of IB 249, however no action was taken. (Source: “Daughter Gang Raped, Father Beaten, Oxen Stolen, in Ho-Pong,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, November 2004)

 

Nam-Zarng Township

 

On 31 July 2004, 3 Palaung women were raped at gunpoint by 3 soldiers from LIB 516 and LIB 517 in the former Naung War village in Namzarng Township, southern Shan State.  The soldiers were based at a gravel quarry in the southeastern Military Control Zone Two, Mile No. 9, on the Kholam-Wet Saya road and although they wore no identification tags, they were recognized by villagers.  The women were:

  1. Mae Song, age 35;
  2. Mae Aik Linn, age 30; and
  3. Mae U Don, age 12.

Mae Song was struck by a gun by the soldiers several times when she tried to refuse their demand that she lie down for them. While the soldiers were raping Mae Aik Linn, another tortured her husband and proceeded to rape her cousin, Mae U Don.  (Source: "SPDC's Soldiers Rape Palaung Teenager," PYNG & PWO, August 2004)

 

On 14 August 2004, 3 Palaung women were raped by SPDC troops from IB 66 led by a Sergeant, locally known as “Sara Kalaa”, near Maak Mong Lao village in Nam-Zarng Township. The 3 women were:

  1. E Oo, age 12;
  2. E Suay, age 25; and
  3. Me Zoi, age 40.

The 3 women were just outside their village when the incident occurred.  The troops concerned were on patrol of the area at the time.  Although the village leaders of Maak Mong Lao village had lodged a complaint with the SPDC military authorities at Kho Lam village in Nam-Zarng Township, no action, to the date of this report, October 2004, has been taken. (Source: “3 Palaung Women Raped, Including a 12-Year-Old, in Nam-Zarng,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, November 2004).

 

Tenasserim Division

 

(See note above about Mergui-Tavoy District in  section 7.6)

 

Mergui/Tavoy District

 

On 14 March 2004 at about 10:00 am, Daw Mi Than (age 54), wife of U Pho Mya, who lives in Kyauk Hlayga village in Thayetchaung Township, Tavoy District, was repeatedly raped by Second Corporal Maung Toe and 2 other SPDC soldiers from LIB 402 Company One while she was on the way to her farm. The rape took place about 2 kilometers from the village. (Source: System of Impunity, WLB, September 2004)

 

On 5 June 2004, 2 groups of the People's Militia from Pawat village mistakenly opened fire at each other in Pawat Plaw Pa Htaw village in Tenasserim Township, Mergui District, during the night. During their fighting, 2 villagers were injured by a stray shell. After the accident, 1 of the militants raped a woman in the village. The village headman reported the case to No. 2 Tactical Command office. After that, No.2 Tactical Commanding HQ asked IB 101 to investigate the case. The Commander arrived to the village and asked Oo Kyaw Win, the leader of the militants, about the rape case, but he said nothing. No militant was disciplined. (Source: Monthly Human Rights Situation Report; Tenasserim Division, Mergui-Tavoy District Information Department, KNU, June 2004)

 

On 10 August 2004, an 18-year-old Mon woman was repeatedly raped near her village in Yebyu Township, Tenasserim Division, by a Sergeant from SPDC LIB 406.  She was traveling with 5 men when they were stopped and robbed by the Sergeant.  The men were left to continue on their way and the woman was held and raped for 1 day and 1 night.  The Sergeant then returned her to her village where she was treated in hospital for 3 days. LIB 406 and LIB 273 were responsible for security in this area.  There were reports of at least 10 other Mon women being raped by Burmese troops in this area in early 2004 when the SPDC was fighting against a Mon splinter group in the southern part of Ye Township.  (Source: HURFOM, 2004)

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