by Sarah Armitage. Cross-posted from inspiremagazine.org

The Burmese military is using rape and sexual violence against ethnic women and girls as part of a deliberate strategy to attain and strengthen control.  Charity worker Sarah Armitage reports
 
Rape. It may be a small word, but it has a meaning that carries the power to destroy individuals, families and entire communities. All around the world, rape is used against women as a show of power and control. In Burma, it is also used as a weapon of war.
 
A couple of weeks ago the Burma Army, the military force of the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council), began a new offensive along the border in Karen State. Almost 4,000 civilians fled for their lives across the Moei River into Thailand creating an extensive emergency crisis. In the days leading up to the attacks, the Burma Army entered villages in the area forcibly recruiting soldiers and porters.
 
On 12 June, Naw Pay and Naw Wah Lah chose to stay in their homes rather than try to outrun the Burma Army soldiers heading towards their village, a few hours’ walk from the border.

Naw Pay, aged 18, was eight months pregnant and Naw Wah Lah, aged 17, had a six-month old baby to care for.  It was a decision with dire consequences. When found by the soldiers they were taken out of their homes and gang raped. Afterwards, both young women and the unborn child were brutally murdered. Karen-Women
 
Tragically, this is not an isolated case. Over the past few years, a number of women’s groups based in Burma have produced reports documenting the systematic use of rape and sexual violence by the Burma Army against ethnic women and girls.

The number of known rape victims, some going back as far as 1995, is just under 1,900.  However, this is only a fraction of the true number as so many women are afraid or unable to speak out about what has happened to them.

Sometimes rape is carried out with such extreme brutality that for the victim, death can be the only possible outcome.
 
The SPDC, although they would deny it, encourage their military to use rape as part of a deliberate strategy to attain and strengthen control within ethnic areas.

The horrific sexual assault and deaths of Naw Pay and Naw Wah Lah proves that ethnic women and girls in Burma live under the constant threat of rape during the course of their everyday lives. It could happen at any time – in their homes, whilst working on the farms, going to the market, travelling to school or collecting firewood.
 
Targeting women – those who are seen as the main carers – can destabilise a community. Rape humiliates and instils fear, which in turn causes distrust and disunity.
 
In 2008 the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed a resolution that rape and sexual violence used in armed conflict should be classed as a weapon of war and those who perpetrate it can be tried in an international criminal court for crimes against humanity.
 
However, words and resolutions mean very little to a regime intent on power at any cost, and unless there is real and lasting intervention from the UNSC and the wider international community the SPDC will continue to deny their actions and neglect any obligations to any international conventions they have ratified.
 
Partners, the charity I work for, cannot give back to the families of Naw Paw and Naw Wah Lah their daughters, wives, sisters, mothers or grandchild, but we can commit to not allow their deaths to be in vain.
 
Sarah Armitage is UK National Director & Childcare Projects Co-ordinator at Partners Relief & Development UK