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RIGHTS: Burmese Rape Survivors Speak Out

Sabina Zaccaro* - IPS/TerraViva

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 8 2010 (IPS) - “Seven Burmese military soldiers attacked me and three of my friends,” said Chang Chang, from the northern Kachin State of Burma.

Rape survivors risk their lives by speaking out, says Lway Aye Nang, general secretary of the Women's League of Burma. Credit:

Rape survivors risk their lives by speaking out, says Lway Aye Nang, general secretary of the Women's League of Burma. Credit:

That was when her life going to school and working on the family farm was shattered.

“Without warning, a major, captain and other Burmese military soldiers came into the karaoke shop where we were and forced us to leave with them. They took us to the military camp, 20 minutes travel from there,” she recalled. She said they could see their Burma Army military uniforms when they arrived at the shop.

“I could see some weapons on them too. They put all four of us into a room. Later, they separated us into different rooms and locked the doors. We begged them to let us stay together in one room. But they yelled at us and threatened us.”

In a firm voice, Chang Chang told a touched audience at the U.N. women’s conference last week how she was abused and threatened by the soldiers. “We were raped all night. It was very dark, so it was hard to know exactly how many soldiers raped us. I remembered seven of them… Seven raped me.”

“They threatened me and said that they would harm me, and harm my family, if I spoke out about what they did to me. I could only cry.”

After the Burmese BBC service broadcast a report that captains from Battalion 138 had raped four girls under 18, the Myanmar Women Affairs Federation came and took the girls from their homes. All of them were sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for violating prostitution laws. The soldiers went unpunished.

Thousands of women in Burma reportedly suffer daily at the hands of the ruling military junta. Rape, sexual violence, forced labour, torture, imprisonment and forced relocation are common ordeals that these brave women face.

Chang Chang is one of 12 courageous women from Burma who have come to the Mar. 1-12 Commission on the Status of Women to share their stories in front of a special International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women of Burma.

“This people’s tribunal will raise international visibility of the situation of women in Burma,” according to the Nobel Women’s Initiative and the Women’s League of Burma who have brought the 12 testimonies to New York. “It will also allow the world a glimpse of the strength of the women of Burma as builders of democracy. They are testifying in the hopes that their act will lead to real change.”

Rutha, 22, was five months pregnant when she was taken by the soldiers. The troops caught her and a group of other girls from Pyin Oo Lwin township. “When night fell, a soldier came to get me and took me to a room. I told him I was pregnant and begged him not to do any harm, but he did not listen,” she said.

“Even when I begged him, he forced me anyway and slapped my face,” Rutha said. “I was so scared and I screamed. Then he threatened me, ‘If you continue screaming I will punch your baby through your stomach.’ I shouted and he slapped my face.”

“He said if I shouted again they would stab me. So, I had no choice but to be quiet and let him rape me. I could only cry while he brutally raped me. I thought I could rest after the rape, but someone else came in as he left the room. I begged him not to harm me, but it was just in vain. He pulled me very hard onto the bed. One after another (they came), up to four.”

Once, Rutha saw a girl try to escape. The soldiers shot and killed her. “I saw it with my own eyes. Some people commit suicide because they are pregnant from being raped by the soldiers and they are shy and feel shameful even though it was not their fault,” she said.

Explaining why she decided to testify at the U.N., Rutha said, “I believe that sharing my story can help protect other girls and women from what I have suffered. I’m sure they also hope for a safer place for to stay, like I do.”

“Burma is so isolated and people are living in silence,” Lway Aye Nang, general secretary of the Women’s League of Burma, told TerraViva. “This kind of information does not really go out to the world,” Nang explained, “that’s why it is so important for the world to know about this and also… take action against Burma.”

Nang said these women are being sexually violated by their own government, their own regime, which is supposed to be helping them. “The only way to deal with this is to put the pressure on the regime and hold the government of Burma accountable for all these crimes,” she said.

Today, the women live in fear for their families who are back in Burma. “They live in a culture where women are silenced, and when a rape happens all the blame comes to the woman. And they definitely risk their lives by speaking out,” Nang stressed. But speaking up is the only way for them to escape the additional torture of silence.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of witnesses.

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