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The Rape of Freedom in Burma

Gender-based sexual violence obstructs peace and development, particularly when it is a weapon used by military dictatorships against their own peoples. Burma is now permeated by such state-sponsored violence.

Systematic sexual violence became visible in Burma when the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) published Licence to Rape , which documents 625 cases of rape committed by the military in eastern Burma between 1996 and 2001. The report noted that nobody had been prosecuted.

Burma is suffering the impact of decades of civil war. Civilians have become the main victims of a strategy aimed at undermining the guerrillas, which has resulted in forced labor, the use of human minesweepers, and massive relocations of entire villages. There are now an estimated 600,000 to one million internal refugees.

SWAN and SHRF argue that rape is used as a weapon in the Burmese military’s war against ethnic minorities. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable ­– owing to gender as well as ethnicity – to a horrific practice whose aim is to demonstrate the army’s power and punish those who confront it. When the army enters a village, chaos erupts. Villagers are killed or ordered to pack their belongings and leave. Several of the reported rapes took place under such conditions, or when women are taken for forced labor.