Chapter 2: Violent Abuse: Threats, Gender-based Violence, Torture and Killing

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Chapter 2: Violent Abuse: Threats, Gender-based Violence, Torture and Killing

Published date:
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
  1. Since the preliminary ceasefire, the use of extrajudicial killings and torture by armed groups, most commonly Tatmadaw, has decreased. However, violent threats continue to be used to advance the interests of armed groups, as well as the Myanmar government and private companies. These threats are frequently of a serious and violent nature, which means that community members are often fearful of retaliation if they report the abuse, which deprives them of justice.
  2. Over 25 years of KHRG reporting, villagers’ reports of GBV have not declined. Women continue to report feeling insecure in their own communities, which is in part because of the use of GBV as a military tactic during the conflict, as well as the ongoing violence perpetrated by other community members. Women also report a lack of justice, as frequently the abuse is not investigated fully or the perpetrator is not given an appropriate punishment.
  3. Torture continues to be used as a means of punishment and interrogation by some members of the Myanmar police and armed groups, which has led to reports of miscarriages of justice and a criminalisation of villagers by the judicial system.
  4. Extrajudicial killings by armed actors have decreased since the preliminary ceasefire; however, the legacy of these killings means that villagers continue to feel unsafe in the presence of the Tatmadaw.
  5. The weak implementation of the rule of law and lack of access to justice results in cases of violent abuse remaining unpunished, with victims remaining without justice or closure. The systematic violent abuses committed by armed actors against civilians during the conflict remain unpunished.

Footnotes

[1]SLORC’S USE OF WOMEN PORTERS,” KHRG, February 1993.

[2] In this quote Naw Az--- has provided her opinion about what the villagers need in order to protect themselves from the Tatmadaw, who are based close to her village. Source #107.

[3] Tatmadaw refers to the Myanmar military throughout KHRG’s 25 years reporting period. The Myanmar military were commonly referred to by villagers in KHRG research areas as SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) between 1988 to 1997 and SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) from 1998 to 2011, which were the Tatmadaw-proclaimed names of the military government of Myanmar. Villagers also refer to Tatmadaw in some cases as simply “Burmese” or “Burmese soldiers”.

[4] This information was not based on KHRG’s own research but on historical records, which are not all consistent, and this means that the accuracy cannot be confirmed. Due to the problematic nature of these historical records this case is still contested to this day. References to this attack can be found in: “Making Enemies: War and State Building in Burma,” M.P. Callahan 1998 and “The“other” Karen in Myanmar: Ethnic Minorities and the Struggle Without Arms,” Ardeth Maung Thawnghmung, 2012.

[5]ATTACKS ON KAREN REFUGEE CAMPS: 1998,” KHRG, May 1998.

[6]Dooplaya Interview: Naw A---, March 2015,” KHRG, April 2015; see also source #75.

[7] The Karen (or Kayin) People’s Party is one of four ethnic Karen political parties represented in the Burmese government, currently holding a single legislative seat. Traditionally the KPP represents those Karen communities living outside of Karen State: Rangoon, Irrawaddy, and Bago regions, as well as Mon State where there is a Karen population. Saw Htun Aung Myint, the party’s chairman, once served as a colonel in the Burmese Navy. For an example of their violent acts see source #93.

[8] See “Hpapun Interview: Naw M---, February 2015,” KHRG, January 2017.

[9] See source #156.

[10]Thaton Interview: Naw C---, June 2015,” KHRG, October 2016; see also source #64.

[11] Source #43.

[13]  A full list of the 13 points that were agreed by the KNU and the Myanmar government can be found here, Preliminary Ceasefire Talks – 2012,” KarenNationalUnionHeadquarters, 2012.

[14] Although the BGF did not sign the NCA they are still bound by the agreement because they are under the Tatmadaw army. 

[15] Article 347, “The Union shall guarantee any person to enjoy equal rights before the law and shall equally provide legal protection.” “Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar,” Ministry of Information, 2008. Article 300, “Causes death by doing an act with the intention of causing death, or with the intention of causing bodily injury as infact is sufficient in the ordinary course of  nature to cause death, commits the offence of murder.” “The Myanmar Penal Code,” Myanmar, 1861.

[16]The Myanmar Penal Code,” Myanmar, 1861. “Law Amending the Penal Code,” Myanmar, 2016.

[17]Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar,” Myanmar Ministry of Information, 2008.

[18]  Article 9.b, “Violence, extra judicial detention, kid napping, torture, inhuman etreatment, imprisonment, killingor otherwise causing the disappearance of the individual.” “THE NATIONWIDE CEASEFIRE AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF THE UNION OF MYANMAR AND THE ETHNIC ARMED ORGANIZATIONS,” Union Peacemaking Working Committee and the Ethnic Armed Organization’s  National Ceasefire Negotiation Delegation, 2015.

[19] Article 9 of the NCA focuses on the protection of civilians, however, out of the 17 points outlined in this article, only three do not use the word ‘avoid’. An example of how the NCA uses the word ‘avoid’ can be seen in Article 9.e, “Avoid unlawful and arbitrary arrest, entrapment, prosecution and pronouncement of judgment against civilians.” “THE NATIONWIDE CEASEFIRE AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF THE UNION OF MYANMAR AND THE ETHNIC ARMED ORGANIZATIONS,” Union Peacemaking Working Committee and the Ethnic Armed Organization’s National Ceasefire Negotiation Delegation, 2015.

[20] Article 3.a, “violence to life and person, inparticul armurder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.” Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949,” International Committee of the Red Cross, August 1949.

[21] Research has already been conducted into the human rights abuses committed during the conflict period, using both international human rights and international humanitarian legislation to support their findings. Most notably, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School accused the Tatmadaw of committing war crimes in eastern Myanmar between 2005 and 2008, highlighting that extensive violent abuses were committed including extrajudicial killings, rape, and torture. “Legal Memorandum: War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in Eastern Myanmar,” International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, November 2014.

[23]STATEMENT BY NAW HTOO PAW,” KHRG, June 1992; see also Source #112.

[25]STATEMENTS BY KARENNI REFUGEES,” KHRG, June 1992.

[26]DEATH SQUADS AND DISPLACEMENT,” KHRG, May 1999.

[27]PHOTO SET 2002-A: Forced Labour,” KHRG, December 2002.

[28] Source #112.

[30] Source #110.

[33]Dooplaya Interview: Daw A---, October 2015,” KHRG, February 2016.

[34] Karen Peace Force (KPF) was formed in February 1997 after splitting from the KNU/KNLA and surrendering to and signing a ceasefire with the Burmese military government. Significant parts of the KPF merged with the Burma/Myanmar government military into Tatmadaw Border Guard Force #1023 whilst others remained independent. The independent (non-Border Guard) KPF controls some administrative areas in addition to road and river checkpoints in the area of Three Pagodas Pass. Following repeated rejections of Burmese government proposals to reform KPF into the Tatmadaw Border Guard, substantial elements have since reformed in the Tatmadaw Border Guard in 2010 while others remain independent

[38] Article 27 states that civilians “shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats there of and against insults and public curiosity.”Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War,” International Committee of the Red Cross, August 1949.

[41]STATEMENT BY NAW HTOO PAW,” KHRG, June 1992.

[42] “[We]summoned [you] to attend the meeting at yyyy but [you] didn’t come, so come and arrive on 28-10-99, you are informed again.Summons to ‘Meetings’,” KHRG, November 1999.

[46] Source #34.

[48] For more information on the involvement of armed actors in recent development projects see Chapter 6: Development.

[49] Both the Myanmar Penal Code (Article 375) and the NCA prohibit GBV in southeast Myanmar, however, both are not extensive enough to provide real and substantial protections for women. The Myanmar Penal Code has significant gaps for protecting the rights of women, as it allows there to be exceptions to the crime of rape, which includes rape between a husband and wife. However, a Protection and Prevention of Violence against Women (PoVAW) Bill is currently being discussed in the Myanmar parliament and will hopefully be enacted in the near future, see “Government mulls new law banning violence against women,” Frontier Myanmar, December 30th 2016.

[50] For more information on GBV see also, “Hidden Strengths, Hidden Struggles: Women’s testimonies from southeast Myanmar,” KHRG, August 2016.

[51] Source #147.

[52]Dooplaya Interview: Naw A---, July 2015,” KHRG, February 2016.

[53] Source #46.

[54]Dooplaya Interview: Naw A---, July 2015,” KHRG, February 2016.

[56]Same Impunity, Same Patterns,” Women’s League of Burma, January 2014, pp. 14-23. See also, “Rape and Sexual Violence by the Burmese Army,” Burma Campaign UK, Burma Briefing No. 34, April 2014, pp. 1-2. “Gender and New Wars,” Christine Chinkin and Mary Kaldor, JournalofInternationalAffairs, (2013), pp. 167-187.

[57]  “Rule 93. Rape and Other forms of Sexual Violence,” International Committee of the Red Cross, Customary International Humanitarian Law Database, 2017.

[58] At the beginning of KHRG’s reporting the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women in 1993. Although not legally binding, this Declaration can give guidance on the stance of the international community in the 1990’s and can be seen in significant contrast to the KHRG reports detailing GBV in southeast Myanmar. It states that the signatories were “Concerned that violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of equality, development and peace.”Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women,” UN, 1993.

[59]  “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,” UN, 1979. Myanmar acceded to CEDAW in 1997. This Convention places the obligation on the Myanmar government to make sure their institutions do not discriminate against women. In June 2016 KHRG made a stakeholder submission to the monitoring committee of CEDAW to assist it in considering Myanmar’s state report. See, “Submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – 64th Session,” KHRG, June 2016.

[60]  “One Year On From Burma Signing Sexual Violence Declaration: No Steps Taken On Implementation,” Burma Campaign UK, Burma Briefing No. 39, June 2015.

[61] See “Resolution 1325 (2000),” UNSC, S/RES/1325 (2000), October 31st 2000; “Resolution 1820 (2008),” UNSC, S/RES/1820 (2008), June 19th 2008; “Resolution 1960 (2010,” UNSC, S/RES/1960 (2010), December 16th 2010; “Resolution 2106 (2013),” UNSC, S/RES/2106 (2013), June 24th 2013; “Resolution 2122 (2013),” UNSC, S/RES/2122 (2013), October 18th 2013. These were all unanimously adopted by the 5 permanent and 10 non-permanent members of the UN Security Council.

[62]REFUGEES FROM THE SLORC OCCUPATION,” KHRG, May 1997.

[63]SLORC’S USE OF WOMEN PORTERS,” KHRG, February 1993.

[65] “But, one young Karen ladysaid keitaw b’yaw taaw [literally‘became BurmeseArmy food’].The battalion officer [BoThuKha]didn’trapeher.Instead,heaskedoneofhissoldierswhoalreadyhada wife and children to force this girl to marry him [Bo Thu Kha]. He later raped this girl.” Nyaunglebin Interview: Naw P---, May 2011,” KHRG, July 2011.

[68] The UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment provides context of what torture is in Article 1.1, “The term “torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” UN, 1984.

[69]Torture and killing in Thaton District,” KHRG, October 2012.

[71] Source #67.

[78] This includes the Tatmadaw, BGF, KNLA and DKBA (Benevolent). See “Commander Pah Mee implicated in violent abuse, disappearance, and killing of village tract leader in Hpapun District, July 2015,” KHRG, March 2016; see also “Hpapun Interview: U A---, January 2014,” KHRG, October 2014.

[80]Thaton Interview: Ma N---, July 2015,” KHRG, February 2017.

[81] Myanmar is bound by the fact that the prohibition of torture is a peremptory norm of international law and is part of customary international law. Furthermore, as a signatory of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Myanmar government can be held accountable to its prohibitions of torture. Article 32 outlines that signatories agree not to torture civilians during conflict, “Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949,” International Committee of the Red Cross, August 1949. Further detail is given in the 1958 commentary, which states that “The prohibition of torture set forth in this Article is absolute; it covers all forms of torture, whether they form part of penal procedure or are quasi- or extra-judicial acts, and whatever the means employed. There need not necessarily be any attack on physical integrity since the “progress” of science has enabled the use of procedures which, while they involve physical suffering, do not necessarily cause bodily injury.It also goes further and says: “Like murder, torture is one of the acts listed in Article 147 as a “grave breach.” Commentary on the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, Volume IV,” International Committee of the Red Cross, 1958.

[84]FORCED LABOUR AROUND TAUNGOO TOWN,” KHRG, July 1996; see also “Tenasserim Division: Forced Relocation and Forced Labour,” KHRG, February 1997.

[86] The location was not specified in order to maintain the interviewees’ safety.

[87]TORTURE OF KAREN WOMEN BY SLORC,” KHRG, February 1993.

[88]INCOMING FIELD REPORTS,” KHRG, April 1994.

[89] Source #67.

[91] Examples of the indiscriminate and extrajudicial killings perpetrated by the Tatmadaw include the burning to death of villagers in their own homes in 1997. See, “Photos from 1997: Set 97-B,” KHRG, September 1997; see also “TORTURE OF KAREN WOMEN BY SLORC,” KHRG, February 1993; for more examples of Tatmadaw killings see, “UNCERTAINTY, FEAR AND FLIGHT: The Current Human Rights Situation in Eastern Pa’an District,” KHRG, November 1998.

[93] Source #58.

[95] Source #75.

[96] Source #157.

[97] Source #69.

[98] Source #70.

[99]Photos from 1997: Set 97-B,” KHRG, September 1997.

[100]FIELD REPORTS Taungoo and Other Districts,” KHRG, February 1996.

[103]Photos from 1996: Set 96-A,” KHRG, March 1996.

[105] Sa Sa Sa (Sa Thon Lon) was Burma’s Military Intelligence service during the Tatmadaw era. ‘SaSaSa’(or ‘SaThonLon’, for ‘Three S’s’) is the abbreviation for DDSI (Directorate of Defence Services Intelligence). Sa Sa Sa was replaced by Sa Ya Pa (Military Security Affairs) in 2004, after Khin Nyunt fell from favour. Past KHRG reports have detailed Sa Sa Sa execution squads, specially trained units tasked with finding and executing villagers who were suspected of having current or past contact with opposition groups. For more information, see “Suffering in Silence: The Human Rights Nightmare of the Karen People of Burma,” KHRG, 2000.

[106]DEATH SQUADS AND DISPLACEMENT,” KHRG, May 1999.

[107]When the soldiers asked the officer how they should kill me, he said ‘Don’t waste your bullets. Just beat him to death and cut his throat with a knife.Commentary: The Fall of Manerplaw – KHRG #95-C1,” KHRG, February 1995.

[110]SLORC IN KYA-IN & KAWKAREIK TOWNSHIPS,” KHRG, February 1996.

[113]COMMENTARY,” KHRG, September 1997.

[115]FORCED LABOUR AROUND TAUNGOO TOWN,” KHRG, July 1996.

[116]FORCED LABOUR AROUND TAUNGOO TOWN,” KHRG, July 1996; see also “COMMENTARY,” KHRG, September 1997.

[117]TESTIMONY OF PORTERS ESCAPED FROM SLORC FORCES,” KHRG, January 1992; see also “SLORC RAPE IN THATON DISTRICT,” KHRG, February 1993.

[118]COMMENTARY,” KHRG, July 1997.

[119]STATEMENTS BY KARENNI REFUGEES,” KHRG, June 1992.

[120] Source #107.

[121] Source #115.

[122] Source #107.

[123] Source #123; see also Source #107.

[124] Source #40.

[125] Source #107.

[128] “I’m glad we survived, but now Khine Khine Soe says that anyyoung woman who has been a porter for long will surely end up pregnant. It makes me very afraid to think about this, but I think she must be right.TESTIMONY OF PORTERS ESCAPED FROM SLORC FORCES,” KHRG, January 1992.

[129]SLORC’S USE OF WOMEN PORTERS,” KHRG, February 1993.

[130] “IthoughtI was going to tell him this. [When we met again] I hadn’t [even] started talking, [when] he violently abused me. He kicked me and shot [at] me [for intimidation].Dooplaya Interview: Naw A---, July 2015,” KHRG, February 2016; see also source #47.

[131] “Afterhewaskilled,hisfamilyfacedmanyproblemsbecausehewasa daily worker [worked for daily wages].” Toungoo Incident Reports: March and April 2011,” KHRG, May 2011.

[134] “I am in trouble as he is not [at] home. It costs money to follow [visit] him. Doing family business [working for  our livelihood] requires both of us, husband and wife, inorder to run [business] well. Since my husband is no there, how can I do family business [as] only me, the wife? The money that we had saved is gone as I have to follow [visit] him. My siblings also have to support me. Now, my relatives have to send my children to school. It is very difficult for my livelihood [since he is not here].” Thaton Interview: Naw C---, June 2015,” KHRG, October 2016.

[135]CONTINUING SLORC ACTIONS IN KAREN STATE,” KHRG, May 1994; see also “SLORC IN KYA-IN & KAWKAREIK TOWNSHIPS,” KHRG, February 1996.

[137] Source #176.

[139]Hpa-an Interview: Saw A---, August 2015,” KHRG, November 2016.

[140] “If you flee from your village, wewill set your houses on fire. Even though wedidnot flee, theystill fired artillery at our village. Since they did not allow us to flee, they should not have opened fire on the village. 
They fired guns inthe village but we did not see any group that they were [supposedly] fighting against.” Dooplaya Interview: Saw A---, February 2016,” KHRG, November 2016.

[141]Thaton Interview: Ma A---, July 2015,” KHRG, August 2015.

[142] “Itold [other people] “I will not go there, I will just stay with my mother”. My mother was dead here so I will stay with her here.” Source #154.

[145] During the 2015 election, and since her election as First State Counsellor of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi has promoted a policy of forgiving the abuses of the civil war, which can be described as to ‘forgive and forget’. For more information, see “Why Myanmar Can’t ‘Forgive and Forget’ Military Abuses,” The Diplomat, March 2016.

[146]LIFE AS A VILLAGE HEAD,” KHRG, July 1995.

[147] “Each month a new village head is elected. We have to do it that way; we don’t have someone who always remains as village head. The village head has to change monthly because people don’t want to be village head, and the Burmese don’t want that [a permanent village head] either. Nobody dares to be a village head for 2 or 3 months.” CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE,” KHRG, September 1999.

[149] It is not clear exactly what rank was held by Commander Pah Mee, as he had affiliations with several armed groups active in Hpapun District. According to a statement released by the KNU on October 14th 2015, Commander Pah Mee was dismissed from his position with the KNLA in response to his having committed numerous human rights violations and his failure to meet the commands of his KNLA superiors. The statement is available online at “KNU Brigade 5 respond to the media, regarding media reports of forced recruitment in Brigade 5,” ThawThiKho,October 2015 (Burmese version); English translation available at “Clarification from the Karen National Union (KNU) Mutraw District Regarding Media reports on Forced Recruitment and Other Issues in Mutraw District October 14, 2015,” Karen Kwe News Group, October 2015.

[152]FORCED LABOUR AROUND TAUNGOO TOWN,” KHRG, July 1996

[153] “But none of the villagers hiding in the forest dared come back; they thought the soldiers were killing us all.” TORTURE OF KAREN WOMEN BY SLORC,” KHRG, February 1993.

[156] Source #67.

[158] “We run for our lives whenever we see them. All the women have to sleep in one house together for safety on those terrible nights.Commentary: The Fall of Manerplaw – KHRG #95-C1,” KHRG, February 1995; see also “STARVING THEM OUT: Forced Relocations, Killings and the Systematic Starvation of Villagers in Dooplaya District,” KHRG, March 2000.

[159] Source #46.

[160] “People will look down on them [women] if they talk about it. People will gossip about them if they are raped. People will point their fingers at them. That is why they [women] do not dare to talk about getting raped. Also, parents will not like them if they are raped.Source #102. 

[161] This information is taken from informal stakeholder discussions with CBO staff. KHRG recognises limitations in gathering information on GBV, due to the sensitive nature of the topic, making it one of the most under-reported abuses in southeast Myanmar.

[162]Dooplaya Interview: Naw A---, July 2015,” KHRG, February 2016.

[163] Source #153.

[164] “I told them I dare not go there, I do not have money. I can’t speak well and dare not speak at the court.” Hpapun Interview: Naw M---, February 2015,” KHRG, January 2017.

[165]Dooplaya Interview: Saw B---, March 2015,” KHRG, November 2016.

[166] Source #63.

[167]Dooplaya Interview: Naw A---, July 2015,” KHRG, February 2016.

[168] All the proceeding information was taken from “DEATH SQUADS AND DISPLACEMENT,” KHRG, May 1999

[169] All the proceeding information was taken from “Hpa-an Interview: Saw H---, February 2016,” KHRG, August 2016.