The Palaung Women’s Organization (PWO) has urged Myanmar [Burma] National Human Rights Commission to investigate human rights violations, including sexual violence, by Burma army troops.

Burma’s ethnic minorities have been suffering human rights abuses through brutal military operations in the name of national unity since the 1950s. Attacks on these resource rich ethnic areas are routine. There is a steadfast demand from Burma’s ethnic groups to enjoy equal political, social and economic rights. The Constitution needs to guarantee the rights of self-determination and of equal representation for every ethnic group compliant with democratic norms. It is also essential to encompass provisions against racial inequities.

Yesterday, Palaung Women’s Organization (PWO) and Ta’ang Student and Youth Organization (TSYO) released a press statement against human rights violations, including violence against women, in Palaung areas. The two organizations also released a report – Update of human right violations by the Burma Army during offensives in Palaung areas (March and April 2013) – on the same day, highlighting offensives and abuses by government troops during first 4 months of 2013. As a result, the report says, thousand of local people have been displaced from their hometown as internal displaced persons to Mantong, Namkham, Kuitkhai townships and there are increasing numbers of IDPs freshly in Tangyan township too.

In their press statement, the groups mentioned that during the past four months, the Burma Army has been carrying out fierce military offensives in Palaung areas against the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

The Palaung Women’s Organization (PWO) and Ta’ang Students and Youth Organization (TSYO) say that they are seriously worried the brunt of the hostility on local communities, who have suffered widespread abuses by the government soldiers.

The map shows details of human rights violations in Palaung areas. (Pic: The Palaung Women’s Organization (PWO))

PWO and TSYO also state in their report that soldiers raped women and forced young girls to work as porters. Some villagers were killed by landmines while they were forced to work.

The two organizations say in their statement that there have been hostilities in Palaung areas since 2011. Furthermore, thousands of people have had to flee their homes amid offensives against the KIA, TNLA and SSA-N. Thousands of people have been displaced in Mantong, Namkham, Kutkhai and Tangyan, the statement says.

According to the press statement, two women from Yay-Pone village, Mantong Township, Northern Shan State, were recently raped by Burmese soldiers from LIB 502 on April 19 and 20, 2013.

A villager from Yay-Pone said: “It is very difficult for the victims to speak out about rape. They were threatened by the soldiers not to tell anyone, so the rest of the community is scared. It is very dangerous for us to speak out.”

Even though the President Thein Sein Government has been holding peace negotiations and signed ceasefire agreements with various ethnic armed groups, its armed forces are still launching military offensives, and committing widespread human rights violations in ethnic areas. The government’s peace initiatives thus appear to be just a public relations exercise in preparation for the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014, and the upcoming 2015 elections. They are not sincere about seeking a political solution to the conflict, the two organizations said in their statement.

PWO also urges the government:

1. To stop increasing the number of Burma Army troops in ethnic areas, withdraw all troops from these areas, and stop all military offensives.

2. To immediately stop rape, torture, all kinds of violence against women and other serious human right violations by Burma Army troops.

3. To authorize the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to investigate the human rights violations, including sexual violence, by Burma Army troops.

4. To take responsibility to ensure that Burma Army troops who have committed sexual violence and other serious crimes in ethnic areas are brought to justice.

5. To allow humanitarian agencies to freely access and assist the IDPs until it is safe for them to return home voluntarily.

Even though the government has made a commitment to restore the rule of law, its respective authorities, including the local administrators, judges and police, are still abusing power without restraint.