Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Ethnic Armed Groups in Shan State: A Growing Resemblance of SAC’s Moral Decline and Disturbing Conduct?

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A widely circulated photos on the internet recently has depicted a deeply disturbing incident in which a young woman, approximately 20 years old, is surrounded and subjected to gang rape by a group of young men dressed in green military uniforms.

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The individuals in the group, as depicted in the pictures, are observed wearing long green military trousers, some in black shirts, and some of them are even seen without shirts.

The incident occurred a year ago in Mark Mong Lein village, which is part of Man Pone village tract in Mong Yai township in Northern Shan State. It appears that these photos were only leaked on the internet a year after the incident occurred.

The fact that this incident was made public just one year after it occurred raises some serious questions. The Shan community has expressed concern, saying there might be many unreported instances of armed groups violating human rights.

The incident of rape occurred within an area under the control and operation of the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA). The perpetrator responsible for the crime was observed wearing a uniform resembling that of the SSPP.

In response to the incident, the SSPP/SSA took action and arrested four people involved in the crime. According to their confessions, it has been disclosed that the group of perpetrators consisted of two individuals who carried out the rape, a photographer, and an individual who passively witnessed the disturbing incident unfold.

Stop rape sign
Stop rape sign.

“The two rapists are members of people militia group under SSPP/SSA. Both the photographer and the individual who witnessed the incident are civilians,” according to someone with authority or responsibility within the Man Pone village tract area. “The two bystanders involved, one who took the photo and the other who witnessed the occurrence, have been sentenced to three months in prison. The trial for the two rapists is still ongoing.”

As of now, the SSPP has not released a public statement regarding this incident. The Shan Herald Agency for News attempted to contact the SSPP for a response, but their phone was unavailable or turned off.

“In my opinion, all four individuals are involved in the crime, and they should be held accountable, including those who were mere bystanders. It is essential that they do not receive lenient sentences upon appeal,” expressed a man who holds some kind of official position in Mong Yai township. He further commented, “the person responsible for taking the pictures has been sentenced to only three months in jail, which is a relatively light punishment.”

The two Shan young individuals who committed the act of rape are presently undergoing trial, and the case remains unresolved.”

“In my opinion, the daring of individuals to engage in such awful actions stems from their prior involvement in similar offenses. What is particularly distressing is their decision to share these images on social media. This behavior is akin to attacking or disrespecting our own people and each other. It is disheartening to witness such actions against our own community,” said a 50-year-old who is one of the in-charges of Man Pone village tract.

The young woman who fell victim to the gang rape is currently experiencing deep trauma, leading her to withdraw from social interactions due to a profound sense of shame.

“The young woman also suffered trauma, and it would be difficult for her to lead a normal life afterwards. We heard that she received compensation, although we are unsure about the exact amount. Currently, her parents and relatives are taking care of her. In my opinion, the perpetrators should receive life sentences or even the death penalty,” stated the man.

The act of a group of young men raping a woman in an area where ethnic armed forces operate is indeed a despicable act. It not only violates the victim but also constitutes an insult to the Shan revolution organization, which is dedicated to fighting for equality and the rights of the Shan nationality.

“If the armed forces fail to take decisive action and the perpetrators are not held accountable and given appropriate penalties, such as life sentences or the death penalty, it will send a dangerous message and encourage future incidents of rape and crimes committed by armed groups,” emphasized a Shan woman activist from Northern Shan State, who is over 40 years old.

SSPP SSA troops Photo SSPP Info
SSPP SSA troops. Photo: SSPP Info.

The gang rape that was carried out by a number of males has already caused the victim great embarrassment. Additionally, posting videos and images of the crimes on websites and social media simply makes the problem worse because it is a cruel and unethical behavior. The manner in which such stuff is distributed is insulting and demeaning. A greater insult to the Shan community’s reputation and dignity would result from the responsible parties’ failure to take the proper action, highlighted the activist Shan lady.

“When we came across these pictures, we were utterly shocked. We vehemently condemn both those who committed such a heinous act and those who shared it online. We firmly believe that those responsible for these acts must be held accountable in a thorough and effective manner,” reiterated the Shan woman activist from Northern Shan.

This incident is unfortunately not the first of its kind in Northern Shan State. On January 23, 2022, following the military coup, a distressing incident occurred in which a 15-year-old woman from Pan Lone village, under Namtu Township, was subjected to rape by a member of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

Furthermore, in July 2020, another troubling incident occurred involving a 16-year-old girl from Chaung Hsar village tract, under Namtu Township. Allegedly, she was raped by a member of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA). However, the RCSS/SSA denied these allegations, claiming them to be false.

In early November 2021, severals incidents took place in Kutkai Township, where a 62-year-old woman was raped by a soldier from the military council (SAC). Similarly, in May of the same year, a 13-year-old nun was also subjected to rape by a soldier from the military council in Kutkai Township.

Such pattern of sexual violence have been perpetrated by the military council at various times. According to a report released on February 6 of this year by the Burmese Women’s Union (BWU), there have been a total of 15 documented cases of gang rape committed by military council soldiers in the two years following the coup.

“Throughout different regimes and under military rule, the majority of rape cases and gang-rapes have been attributed to the military. However, it is shocked to witness a shift where such crimes and acts are now being committed (by ethnic armed organizations) in Shan State,” expressed Nang Noan from Northern Shan State.

Therefore, the ethnic armed forces, just like the military council, have become a question of whether the soldiers’ morals have been broken and commit similar acts as the military council.

“SWAN totally condemns any kind of violence. Therefore, we urge the relevant organization to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation and take immediate action. It is crucial for the responsible authorities to intervene without delay, providing both physical and psychological healing and support to the survivor and their families,” emphasized a member of Shan Women Action Networks (SWAN).

In addition, SWAN strongly condemns the posting and sharing of images, including those of the survivors or the woman who was raped, on social media. It is highly inappropriate and disrespectful.

“We strongly urge people to refrain from posting and sharing any further pictures, including those of the survivors,” emphasized a member of SWAN.

According to the information gathered by SWAN between March and April, there have been seven cases of domestic violence against women, including two cases of rape, one case of child rape, two cases of sexual coercion, and one case of intimate partner violence.

It is worth noting that Myanmar is a member country that has committed to Security Council Resolution No. (1325) of the United Nations, which addresses the importance of women’s participation in peace and security processes, as well as the prevention and response to gender-based violence during conflict.
Security Council Resolution No. 1325 includes provisions to safeguard women and girls from gender-based violence in war zones or conflict areas, as well as violence perpetrated during times of war.

The resolution specifically addresses the protection against rape and other forms of sexual abuse. Additionally, it calls upon all parties involved in armed conflicts to take specific measures to prevent and address such acts of violence.

In the context of Myanmar, despite being a member country that has committed to Resolution No. (1325), the safety of women in conflict areas is currently not ensured. Both the government and the ethnic armed forces and organizations have been unable to provide adequate protection. Furthermore, there is a lack of effective legal safeguards to protect women, as highlighted by an individual working on women’s rights issues.

“As for me, I want people from the armed organization to take more effective measures. I want the rapists to be punished either with the death penalty or a life sentence. In any case, at least I want them to serve a long prison term,” stated Sai Fah from Mongyai.

If the perpetrators of these gang rapes are not given severe punishments, it is as if they are allowing more crimes to be committed against the dignity of women in the future, emphasized Sai Fah.

“If they are unable to set an example even within the armed organization, despite the demands for appropriate punishments such as the death penalty or life sentences, it will give the soldiers permission and incentive to commit crimes again. Severe punishments should be imposed to prevent future crimes,” Sai Fah pointed out.

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