System of Impunity: Nationwide Patterns of Sexual Violence by the Military Regime's Army and Authorities

Wednesday, September 1, 2004
South Eastern Asia

This report System of Impunity documents detailed accounts of sexual violence against women in all the ethnic states, as well as in central areas of Burma. These stories demonstrate patterns of continuing widespread, and systematic human rights violations being perpetrated by the regime's armed forces and authorities. Women and girls from different ethnic groups report similar stories of rape, including gang rape; rape and murder; sexual slavery; and forced “marriage”. Significantly, almost all the incidents took place during the last two years, precisely while the regime has been repeatedly denying the prevalence of military rape in Burma. These stories bear witness to the fact that, despite the regime's claims to the contrary, nothing has changed in Burma. Regardless of their location, be it in the civil war zones, the ceasefire areas or “non-conflict” areas, it is clear that no woman or girl is safe from rape and sexual torture under the current regime. Soldiers, captains, commanders and other SPDC officials continue to commit rape, gang rape and murder of women and children, with impunity.

The documented stories demonstrate the systematic and structuralized nature of the violence, and the climate of impunity which not only enables the military to evade prosecution for rape and other crimes against civilian women, but also fosters a culture of continued and escalating violence. Even when crimes are reported no action is taken and moreover complainants are victimised, threatened or imprisoned. Women and children continue to be raped, used as sex slaves, tortured and murdered across the country by the regime's armed forces and authorities. It is clear that the rapes and violence are not committed by rogue elements within the military but are central to the modus operandi of this regime. Structuralized and systematic human rights violations, including sexual violence, are an inevitable result of the regime's policies of military expansion and consolidation of control by all possible means over a disenfranchised civilian population. This is why there can be no other solution to the problem of systematic sexual violence in Burma than an end to military rule. While countries in the region, members of ASEAN, and particularly Burma's neighbours, appear willing to overlook human rights issues in their dealings with Burma, women of Burma wish to highlight that these policies of constructive engagement have grave repercussions for the citizens of Burma, particularly women and children. The political support which the regime is gaining from the region is emboldening it to continue its policies of militarization and accompanying sexual violence. It is directly placing the lives of women and girls in Burma at risk.

The Women's League of Burma therefore makes the following recommendations:

To the State Peace and Development Council:

• To immediately implement a nationwide ceasefire, and withdraw all Burma Army troops stationed in the ethnic states;
• To immediately begin tripartite dialogue with the National League for Democracy and
genuine representatives of the ethnic nationalities, to begin a meaningful process of
political reform.
To Burma's regional neighbours, including members of ASEAN:
• On the basis of the signed Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the ASEAN Region, to publicly raise their concerns with the SPDC military regime about their systematic violation of human rights, particularly rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls nationwide;
• To review their policies of constructive engagement with the regime;
• To cease providing the regime with arms and military equipment;
• To suspend all trade and investment with Burma, and stop any form of loans to the regime, until there is genuine democratic reform;
• To pressure the regime to immediately begin tripartite dialogue;
• To actively support the efforts of the UN and other key stakeholders to achieve peace, human rights and democracy in Burma.
To Burma's immediate neighbours, particularly Thailand, Bangladesh and India: As well as the recommendations above,
• To give protection to people from Burma seeking refuge, particularly from sexual violence, by allowing them access to refugee camps and the UNHCR;
• To allow these refugees access to humanitarian aid agencies, and to ensure all refugee camps provide adequate health care and counselling for survivors of sexual and gender based violence;
• Not to forcibly repatriate these refugees back to Burma.
To the international community:
• To call for the UN Security Council to place Burma on their agenda;
• To call for UN bodies to authorize comprehensive sanctions against the regime, including an arms embargo, until genuine democratic reform takes place in Burma;
• To demand that the SPDC military regime immediately implements a nationwide ceasefire and withdraws its troops stationed in the ethnic states;
• To urge all UN agencies and international NGOs operating in Burma to bear witness publicly to the atrocities committed by the SPDC and demand immediate democratic reform in Burma.

Document PDF: 

WLB, System of Impunity: Nationwide Patterns of Sexual Violence by the Military Regime's Army and Authorities in Burma, 2004