RANGOON — Women’s rights advocates have called on the Burmese government to drop charges against four ethnic Chin activists who were charged for organizing a protest for justice in an alleged attempted rape by a Burma Army soldier.
After early last month signing an international declaration intended to put an end to sexual violence in conflict, the government is being criticized for not following through on its commitment, and instead using a controversial law to stifle public demonstrations.
On June 10, a soldier from the Burma Army’s Light Infantry Battalion 269 allegedly attacked and attempted to rape a 55-year-old woman near Razua, Matupi Township. According to a local women’s group, the victim was badly injured and admitted to hospital in Razua.
About 600 Chin women in total staged protests in both Razua and Matupi on June 23 and 24, demanding that the soldier, who has been arrested, be properly punished.
Although accusations of rape and sexual assault by soldiers are frequently made in Burma’s ethnic regions, activists say few cases are properly investigated, and soldiers are often given light punishments under the military’s internal disciplinary system.
Last week, charges under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law were brought against four leaders from the Razua Women’s Group for organizing the protest without first gaining the permission of the authorities, local activists said during a press conference in Rangoon on Tuesday.
Leaders of the Matupi Women’s Association said they were also threatened with charges for their protest.
Aye Ly, the Matupi group’s secretary, told reporters that both groups of women activists had asked for permission before protesting, but had been refused.
“The rapist soldier was arrested. But we worried there would be no justice as in former cases. This is not the first time that a Chin woman was raped by a soldier in Razua,” she said.
Parliament has approved amendments to the Peaceful Assembly Law that will force authorities to approve demonstrations and reduce the punishments meted out to people for protesting illegally. However, President Thein Sein has not yet signed the law into force.
“We strongly urge the government authorities to immediately stop harassing our community leaders and drop all charges against them,” a statement by the Razua Women’s Group said. “We also repeat our calls for justice in the recent case of attempted rape, and for an end to military sexual violence against ethnic women.”
Mai T. Sui Leng, director of Women’s Hand Myanmar Foundation, said a signature campaign was being launched on Tuesday, in support of the four Chin activists.
“We informed the minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement about this case and also we will send the letter to Myanmar Committee for Women’s Affairs,” she said.
Paw Lian Lwin, a member of Parliament from Matupi, was also at the press conference. “There was sexual violence but they’re not allowed to call for justice over this case. They even charged those who call for justice. If we think, based on these facts, about human rights or democracy, it is really not good,” he said.
A UK-based advocacy group has criticized that the government of Burma for its failure to act on sexual violence committed by soldiers, even after it signed up to the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London last month.
“Rather than implementing the declaration to end sexual violence, the Burmese government has arrested women who protested against the attempted rape of an ethnic Chin woman by a Burmese army soldier,” Zoya Phan, campaigns manager at Burma Campaign UK, said in a statement.
“The international community should not let this commitment become yet another broken promise by President Thein Sein. The longer the Burmese government delays taking action, the stronger the argument becomes for the international community to conduct its own investigation into sexual violence by the Burmese army. As the country taking the lead on this issue internationally, Britain should take the lead in building international support for such an investigation.”