Coinciding with an announcement that the Burmese army appointed two female representatives to the lower house for the first time, a recent report released by a women’s group accused the military of using rape as an “instrument of war and oppression.”
According to the report, which was obtained by Reuters from Thailand-based Women’s League of Burma, more than 100 women and girls have been raped by the army since the introduction of a civilian government in 2010. The report stated that more than 47 of the cases documented involved gang rape and that 28 women were killed or had died from their injuries.
The Burmese government denied the military’s involvement in carrying out these assaults.
“It’s not the policy of our military to use rapes as weapons,” said presidential spokesman Ye Htut. “If there are rape cases committed by individual members, we try to expose them and take effective action against the offenders.”
Many of the rapes occurred along northern and eastern borders, where armed ethnic groups have been fighting for autonomy from the central government. The area is home to vital development projects such as a gas pipeline that reaches China’s Yunnan province.
The authors of the report believe that the rapes, which were in many cases carried out by soldiers in uniform, were used as a way to scare communities into not supporting ethnic militias.
The cases that the group documented are just the “tip of the iceberg,” according to general secretary of the Women’s League of Burma, Tin Tin Nyo. The information gathered came mostly from victims and witnesses who “dared to speak out,” and researchers were unable to reach some areas because of security concerns leading some to believe that sexual violence from soldiers is more widespread than is commonly believed.
Although President Thein Sein had introduced major reforms since the 2010 elections that have brought political change, “the army has so far shown little appetite for change, or altering the way it operates,” said BBC correspondent, Jonah Fisher in Rangoon.
Traditionally, women in Myanmar are expected to focus on family and childrearing. The country’s main religion, Buddhism, places women to be in a subordinate position to men. Except for nursing and administrative roles, women were barred from joining the military, where much of the country’s power still rests, until last October.