A barren promise of reform – rural communities still abused in Burma

Reports by human rights groups accuse the Burma Army of ongoing abuses including rape, torture and murder.

The recent visit in November by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was supposed to nudge Burma’s military leadership towards reform. But the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) claims that Burma’s political reforms are almost meaningless whilst human rights continue to be widely ignored in a country stricken by mass poverty.

One report by the KHRG on rural testimonies of abuse in eastern Burma alleges a culture of endemic brutality in the Burma Army. Usually, the targets of brutality are the ethnic minorities living in East Burma. Individual testimonies of villagers are used in the report to document cases of threats, torture, rape, forced labor, and the deaths of civilians.

Attacks on civilians by the Burma Army are frequently reported and documented. One such case in the report describes how villages in Toungoo district suffered threats and violence by Burma Army units who suspected them of assisting rebel groups. According to one Toungoo villager, “they [Burma Army] killed villager’s livestock… destroyed the church and shot the walls of houses.” The report provided photos of houses and furniture with what seem to be riddled with bullets.

The ‘landmine epidemic’ across the Thai-Burma border also takes a toll on civilians. According to the report, the Burma Army places landmines in order to defend a position, but often fails to remove them when they move elsewhere – thus many villagers are dotted with the deathtraps. “The villagers don’t dare work in their hill fields or travel”, one villager said.

The report provides pictures of what seem to be two dug-up landmines taken nearby village communities in Dweh Loh Township, Eastern Burma. In what seems to be a worrying trend villagers are using landmines they ‘unearth’ to deter the Burma Army, ‘recycling’ them for their own use. “We plant landmines to protect ourselves” said one villager.

The report alleges that members of the Burma Army murder villagers in cold blood, after having raped them. In one horrific case the report provides graphic photos of a young, naked dead woman, dated 22nd December 2010, the photo was taken by a KHRG volunteer. In the photo, the victim’s bruised body indicates she was physical abused. The report alleges that this woman, is a local villager in Eastern Burma, who was taken away by army soldiers, raped and then murdered.

Another case involves the testimony of a 17-year-old Burma Army deserter and child soldier, who, in the report, describes how a sergeant and three other members of his army unit had raped and killed two girls in June. “Three soldiers came back and told me that two girls were raped” he said. After the girls had been raped he claims, “The girl who was raped by the officer was killed. Her head was cut off. Another girl who was raped by them was killed like this. They did not cut off the [other] girl’s head. They stabbed her with a knife.”

Despite a nominally civilian administration under Thein Sein, Burma’s military commandeers 40% of the national income — less than 3% is spent on healthcare. Claims of Burma Army abuses by human rights groups, such as the KHRG, undermine the perception that Burma’s new government will herald meaningful changes to the lives of Burmese people.

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