Burma's Hollow Reforms

By Onello, Michelle; Radhakrishnan, Akila | Ms, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

Burma's Hollow Reforms


Onello, Michelle, Radhakrishnan, Akila, Ms


Military sexual assaults on ethnic women persist

IN NOVEMBER 2012, A 26-YEAR-old woman from Putao Township was gang-raped by seven Burma army soldiers, one of more than 100 women and girls whose sexual attacks were documented between 2010 and 2013. No one knows how many more cases were not reported. These attacks indicate a pattern of sexual violence by the military that contradicts Burmese president Thein Sein's reform agenda, as well as the government's claims of democratic transition.

Praising Burma's reforms, as President Obama did during a visit to the country (called Myanmar by the military) that same month, masks the fact that ethnic women are still not safe from sexual violence at the hands of a military that has operated, since a coup in 1962, with impunity. The military may have engineered the drafting and adoption of a new constitution in 2008, which it heralded as a transition to democratic rule and which the international community thought signaled a sea change, but such "reforms" have done little for ethnic women.

Burma is home to more than 130 ethnic groups spread over seven states, and for decades their struggle for self-determination and control over natural resources has given rise to armed conflicts with the militarywith women being the direct victims. The military uses systematic sexual violence to quell ethnic opposition and achieve multiple goals: to instill fear in the populace, humiliate and destroy communities, gain information about the strategy of ethnic armies, punish support for ethnic groups and even accomplish ethnic "cleansing. …

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