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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2730

A Burmese Perspective - Mass Rape as a Weapon of War

By Kanbawza Win

After seven long years of peace negotiations with the Myanmar army (Tatmadaw), the latest round of peace talk failed to produce anything, so it is time for the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities of Burma (Shan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon and Rakhine) including all the pro-democracy 8888 generation and patriotic Myanmar to identify themselves on the side of Justice, Truth, Equality (federalism) and Democracy and throw their lot with the civilized world headed by the United Nations.

Behind the corrupt and unrestrained Tatmadaw was the ultra-Buddhist nationalists headed by the outlaw Burmese Bin Laden monk, who mechanized the revival of anti-Rohingya violence with the Myanmar racial supremacists’ master race ideologues and not the rule of law. Currently, without some popular support which the generals are desperately seeking are on the precipice because there are a lot of well-meaning Myanmar who would like to see their own military leaders tried for similar crimes against Burmese during six decades of tyrannical military rule.

For this epic decision, let the contemporary authenticated History of the Union of Burma be the judge, to see whether this hypothesis is correct or not. The world didn’t know that in Burma, the non-Myanmar races of the ethnic nationalities combined together, is nearly double the size of the Myanmar race, even though in all the census were used by hook and crook to change the statistics to impose the chauvinist Mahar Myanmar rule and treat the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities as colonial subjects.

So it is high time for the ethnic nationalities to with the pro-democracy groups to get rid of the marauding army. Unless the Tatmadaw which has transformed itself into an Imperial Myanmar Tatmadaw is not replaced with the Union Federal army composing of all the ethnic nationalities for the country’s defense, the country is headed for balkanization. Isn’t it much better to have a balkanized Burma than a hundred years of civil war with millions of people being killed and faced the international condemnation and to be a perpetual pariah in this civilized world?

Contemporary History

The Union Jack was still waving in Burma, when the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities unanimously decided to join the Myanmar to take independence under the leadership of Aung San, (to be exact the Panglong Conference of Feb 12th 1947) with a promise that the non Myanmar ethnic nationalities be treated as equal like the Myanmar. But as soon as independence was attained, the Myanmar (People’s Volunteers Organization, the Red and the White Myanmar Communists) forces that did not respect the Union and rebelled and it was the ethnic nationalities army (formerly under the British) that made a supreme sacrifices to protect the Union and its capital Rangoon, vividly proving that the ethnic nationalities love the Union more than the Myanmar. Then in 1949 chauvinist (Mahar) group led by General Ne Win forced the Karen to rebel by attacking them, however it was in 1962 this Myanmar Tatmadaw demonstrated its true colour by a coup d’état, killing more than a hundred Rangoon University students on 7th July, (the government never released the exact figure up to this day) with the theory that “if the future think tank of the country were eliminated only the Mahar Myanmar Tatmadaw will rule the country in perpetuity”. Since then the universities standard were lowered, send off to remote areas and is more closed then open finally leading the country to the least developed status.

By this time most of the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities saw the writings on the wall and since there is no other choice took up arms. But the Myanmar Generals saw this, as a step to implement its chauvinistic (Mahar) Myanmar policy and promulgated the Burmese Socialist Constitution of 1974 which confiscated land and its populace from the ethnic states to make it into fourteen Divisions and States, a ply form of Myanmarnization. This was completed when General Than Shwe change the name of the country from the Union of Burma to Myanmar compelling the UN and the world to recognize that dictators can change the name of the country without the consensus of its people and promulgated the current fraudulent and manipulated 2008 Nargis Constitution with aim of controlling the country from behind on whoever wins the election under the guise of democracy.

Raison d'être of Rape

The Myanmar interpreted their history as the lineage of Lord Buddha himself, when about 3,000 years one of the princes of Lord Buddha line lost his throne to his brother and left Bramah kingdom (in India) to settle in Tagoung, hence the Burmese saying of Bamar A Sa Tagoug Ga implying that Burma originated from Bramah. But it was a mythology when the authenticated history was compiled by a Burmese Military Muslim scholar Saya U Ba Shin proved that it was originally a Tibeto-Burman tribe originating from Kansu in China that migrated to Burma, in search of greener pastures and later other tribes such as Karen, Kachin and Chin followed. The Shan race belonging to Sino-Thai comes in from the east while the Mon Khmer comes from Southeast and that is why there are so many dialects and races in Burma.

But the Bramah race later known as Bama now Myanmar were a militant and steadily subdue their predecessors such as Pyu, Kanyan and Thet (whose heritage can still be seen in their pagodas of middle Burma) and implemented its ethnic cleansing policies.

So this xenophobic, ethnic cleansing policy had been engrained in their blood. They interpreted that Burma was a monolithic whole since the first Burmese kingdom of Pagan in 1044 until it fell to the British in 1824. The Myanmar Tatmadaw viewed that the ethnic nationalities are still wild and uneducated inherently inferior (culturally/socially) and distrustful and have the fear of Myanmar domination. They believe that if the Myanmar do not -oppress these non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities would oppress them and sincerely believes that if given a chance the ethnic nationalities would split from the country. For them, national reconciliation means assimilation and preventing disintegration. All the ethnic nationalities and their languages, traditions, culture and values are to be assimilated into those of the Myanmar race hence, if the Tatmadaw falls everything falls. They believe that their mission is to protect and that the country would fall apart without them.

An average Myanmar view the ethnic nationality as somewhat the necessary evil of the country where he is destined to live forever and that it is his unbounded duty to lead him to civilization. He must be showed the real civilization of the Myanmar people and finally lead him to Buddhism on to Nirvana. It is a historical duty to bring these ethnic nationalities into Myanmar race. In the long run if only there one race, one religion and one country Burma will be able to govern and stand tall in the international community is their basic philosophy.

Hence raping became one of their rationale for the avowed goal. By raping non Myanmar ethnic nationality women Tatmadaw send a clear message that they will do like this again, if the resistance ethnic group continue to resist and did not obey their command. This also sends another message to the second targets i.e. the populace under their control that everybody must obey the Tatmadaw command or else face the consequence of rape. So the ubiquitous threat of rape is a form of terrorism. Rape served as a double edge dagger not only to the women survivors who were its immediate victims but also the men socially connected to them.

These deep-rooted racism has permeated and so the Divide and Rule Policy was implemented on the non Myanmar ethnic nationalities with the 3 As method of Annihilation, Absorption and Assimilation. The latest victim happens to be the Rohingya case. The 3Bs method of Bullying the people, Bribing the leaders and Bombing the people were used against the non Myanmar ethnic nationalities while lip-service of respecting for ethnic nationalities’ culture through ritualized holidays and propaganda efforts were implemented. This is the crux and the philosophy of the ethnic cleansing policy. In fact, ethnic cleansing has been going on since the days of absolute monarch of the Burmese dynasties. It was vividly written by the Burmese historians themselves of how U Aung Ze Ya founder of the Third Burmese kingdom cruelly cleanse the Mons and endeavoring to wipe out its civilization something like what Rome has done to Carthage.

How another king Bodawpaya cleanse the Rhakhine forcing them all to Bengal and this was proving beyond doubt because even in the First Panglong Conference of 1947 the Mon and Arakanese were not invited and treated as a conquered race of Myanmar. Even now the government went on ahead with the Myanmarnization by forcibly naming the major landmarks like the newly constructed bridge over the river in Mon capital was given a Myanmar name raising ire and resentment of the locals Mon. Erecting the statue of a Myanmar hero in the capital of Karenni whom they forcibly name as Kayah State, when Karenni has been an independent state throughout history since the days of Burmese kings or British rule.

To be candid rape as a weapon of war has been in existence for quite sometimes particularly in Africa and later in Bosnia. The Tatmadaw just copy from these examples as is practicing it on its ethnic nationalities as a means of ethnic cleansing to create a policy of a great Myanmar nation. Sexual violence as a weapon of war in ethnic cleansing was implemented, as girls and women have been singled out for rape because women are viewed as repositories of a community’s cultural and spiritual values. Due to the well-known impunity for rape, survivors and families are extremely reluctant to complain about rape. In the rare cases where victims do complain, the military often responds with violence. The UNHCR found that refugee families frequently cite rape as a key factor in their decisions to seek refuge. Tatmadaw is overtly targeting civilians; says Benjamin Zawacki, Southeast Asia, researcher for Amnesty International “The violations are widespread and systematic.’’ A well-documented phenomenon for at least a decade, “License to Rape” report inspired a level of interest and outrage on the part of the international community.

A classic example is a well-documented rape and murder of the two Kachin Christian missionaries Tangbau Hkawn Nan Zing and Maran Lu Ra, in the Church compound, of Kwang Hka village, Nam Tao Township, by the soldiers of the 503rd Light Infantry Regiment was never admitted nor its DNA results made known. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing himself has said he also wanted to know the truth, but the case was shut up to this day. This explicitly means that the Generals themselves were involved in this ethnic cleansing policies. So why not persecute the General and his henchmen?

An average soldiers did not feel any remorse or regret but instead they are even proud to do that as it is their bounden duty to clean the country of the undesirable ethnic nationalities. This is the psyche and rationale of the Myanmar Tatmadaw that compels them to rape and pillage the country. Hence it is predictable that it will continue to do that in the future also because rape by a Myanmar soldier is considered as a reward of his hard work.

Unwittingly, rape has become a political institution in Burma. That soldiers who rape “enemy women” are not to be reported. A soldier may rape because he was ordered, or because he felt like it. Superior officers, on the other hand, may look the other way because of the martial purposes such rapes serve. Burmese soldiers may not always be given direct orders. They may be induced in other ways, for example, they may be given reason to believe that if they do not participate, they will be beaten or raped themselves. Hence the attitude of a Tadmadaw soldier to ethnic women, “We will do everything to ensure that your children become Myanmar”.

No Truth or Justice

Justice has many meanings; it is a concept that is far broader than mere naming and shaming, or barefaced retribution. Justice is anathema to both the Tatmadaw and the NLD because it involves acknowledgment of responsibility. Justice process is holistic and encompass restoration of damaged relationships, recognition of suffering and forgiveness by sufferers, and rehabilitation and reintegration of both victims and perpetrators. If justice could be considered in such expansive terms, and a robust program embarked upon, it would contribute to real, long-lasting peace, national reconciliation, democracy and development for all people in Burma. Any form of justice or accountability, or even a mechanism by which past wrongdoing may be acknowledged, is glaringly absent in Burma indicating that Myanmar people as a whole is yet to be in the rank of the civilized people of this universe. Both the military and its civilian counterpart could not comprehend that accountability for wrongdoing is essential for a successful peace process. Hence its Peace process could not move forward not to mention its democratic transition. Of course, true democracies do not allow impunity and will not engage in systematic violations of their peoples’ rights or mass atrocities. Now the world has seen that in Burma as long as the Tatmadaw is in power it is impossible for it to undertake a justice process itself. Its actions are characterized by vociferous denials, cover up and distraction to shield it from scrutiny.

Widespread sexual violence perpetrated by Burmese soldiers has been a hallmark of the culture of Burmese contemporary history. Despite promises made during the country’s democratic transition since 2011, the Tatmadaw continues to shield its soldiers from prosecution for crimes committed in military operations including in Kachin, Shan, and Rakhine States. Military rape is linked to other abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arson, land confiscation, and denial of humanitarian aid. The apparently hopeless situation facing Rohingya survivors of brutal gang rape by Burmese security forces, now in the miserable sanctuary of Bangladesh refugee camps, has been brought upon countless other victims over several decades, among many of Burma’s ethnic minorities.

The Next Rwanda

The 444-page report, of the UN Fact finding mission on Rohingya rape containing 875 interviews with eyewitnesses to serious crimes, and another 250 interviews with diplomats, researchers and others, is arguably the most comprehensive single human rights document on Burma. The gross human rights violations and abuse are shocking for their horrifying nature and ubiquity, because they stem from deep fractures in society and structural problems that have been apparent and unaddressed for decades. Fuelled by the level of denial, normalcy and impunity these abusive patterns are reflective of the situation in Burma. Reading is not just the heart-wrenching testimony of ethnic cleansing, torture and the wanton killing of unarmed civilians in all corners of Burma, but making bare how the Tatmadaw appear smugly immune, with so many prominent people providing cover and support, all with a rising popular nationalist sneer at international pressure as widespread official denials prevail. It is this culture of complicity between perpetrators and bystanders that have nourished this national conflict.

Real Buddhism is very tolerant and not concerned with other religion and is becoming popular in western countries as it answers many of the problems in modern materialistic societies including deep understanding of the human mind which are both very advanced and effective. However, the emphasis changes to customs and culture and majority of the people in Burma and Sri Lanka belong to Theravada (the small wheel type) and the national armed forces have exploited to their advantage. Buddhist nationalism has become increasingly prominent in Burma since the country began opening up in 2011, with growing tensions sparking roiling communal violence in Rakhine State.

There is a perception gap when it comes to religious extremism now very much highlighted by the Burmese Bin Laden monk in which he caste Muslims regularly being unfairly cast as terrorists while Buddhists are generally depicted and understood to be pacifists. As P. Robinson said “The problem is far too many Westerners fail to understand that Buddhism, like any other religion, can be misused for political purposes,” and Tatmadaw anticipating that its protégé USDA of losing another open elections deliberately stir up Buddhist nationalism targeting the Muslims.

The Burmese leaders could not comprend that Justice has many meanings; it is a concept that is far broader than mere naming and shaming, or barefaced retribution. Justice involves acknowledgment of responsibility and must be holistic and encompass restoration of damaged relationships, recognition of suffering and forgiveness by sufferers, and rehabilitation and reintegration of both victims and perpetrators as what South Africa had done. If justice could be considered in such expansive terms, and a robust program embarked upon, it would contribute to real, long-lasting peace, national reconciliation, democracy and development for all people in Burma. They simply could not comprehend that accountability for wrongdoing is essential for a successful peace process. Of course, true democracies do not allow impunity and will not engage in systematic violations of their peoples’ rights or mass atrocities. Now the world has seen that in Burma as long as the Tatmadaw is in power it is impossible for it to undertake a justice process itself. Another clear sign of the ensuing impending genocide like Rwanda is that the government has openly declared war on the media and its contempt to mock the international community of free speech. In their heart of hearts, the Myanmar Tatmadaw is anathema to both federalism and democracy not to mention the free speech, truth and justice as their greatest enemy.

Business always overrules the conscience and surprisingly Burma’s immediate neighborhood has not issued any statement on the report or expressed any concern. The hush-hush brigade of Burma includes India and ASEAN and particularly China has constantly shielded Burma the UN Security Council through its veto because Burma is a strategically important country for Beijing, as its unique geographical location gives Chinese markets and military planners direct access to the Bay of Bengal.

So rather than pressuring the Tatmadaw perpetrators to justice, neighboring countries have not just been laying the red carpet for the accused generals, but also going after those trying to initiate discussions on how to make Burma accountable for its crimes. Regional forums of South and Southeast Asia like BIMSTEC and ASEAN laid out red carpet welcome without a whisper on the Burmese atrocities including the Rohingya crisis. In their vested and often self-serving foreign policy equations, there is no place for accountability, justice, and human rights. Even if these concerns do appear, they are relegated to the bottom as minor functions of a larger mainframe of transactional, realist foreign policy. Hence it become the louden duty of Western countries to take the duty of civilizing the Myanmar people.

Even though the Trump administration cut aid, the bill FY19 moved that the United States Congress together with the United Nations should help women suffering from sexual violence with the House of Representatives voting overwhelmingly (382-30) to bar US assistance or cooperation with Burma’s military until those responsible for human rights were held accountable the Senate did not pass. The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo committed publicly of releasing the findings of the extensive and intensive investigation into crimes against the Rohingya the Trump administration had so far refused to do so, lest it would push Burma into the Chinese orbit.

It is rather sad to see that the Trump administrations could view only from the business vintage. The situation of Burma needs the attention of the International Criminal Court, or other credible international judicial tribunal and an interim measure should establish with the General Assembly endorsing. Victims have a right to justice as their participation in the mechanism will contribute to their realization of rights in the long term meanwhile all the non-Myanmar ethnic women associations both inside and the peripherals of Burma including the Women League of Burma should support truth, justicenational reconciliation.

- Asian Tribune -

A Burmese Perspective -  Mass Rape as a Weapon of War
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