BBC World Service
I have a right to...

Tin Htar Swe - Burmese

Reporter's Story

The Thai-Burma border is where all the ethnic minorities have been taking refuge because of the civil wars, human rights violations and fear of persecution.

Our material focusses on the people who fled Burma. My colleague Kyaw Zan Tha chose India, Bangladesh and Burma. I went to the Northern and Western part of Thailand.

Ethnic Tensions

There are several ethnic groups in Burma; the largest one is the Burman people. Other ethnic minorities, such as the Karen and the Shan, feel that the Burmans have double standards. They benefit from better health care and their children go to school. The smaller ethnic minorities, on the other hand, feel neglected.

It's been 40 years of military government and the ethnic minorities see the Burmese army as the enemy.

Making a Difference

A few years ago, an NGO called Earthright International produced a report titled School of Rape. It contained a list of Karen women who were raped by the army.

Recently, the Shan Women Activists Network (SWAN), a group of ethnic Shan women based in northern Thailand, published another report titled License to Rape.

This report says, over a five to seven year period, 600 Shan girls were sexually assaulted by soldiers who belong to the Burmese army. License to rape gives the lists of the army units and the officers and corporals who raped the Shan women.

According to a report published by Agence France Press (AFP), in a letter to House of representatives member Ileana Ros-Lehtiner, the Burmese Ambassador in the US, Linn Myaing, rejected the testimonies of the rape victims in the report.

In the letter Linn Myaing said, "You will find that (the report) contains nothing but unverified testimonies said to have been provided by the so-called victims on the other side of the border."

Being raped by the army has a lot of stigma attached to it. The minorities see it as systematic rape.

I went to visit the SWAN activists and they agreed to introduce me to some of the victims. One woman was raped repeatedly by soldiers; it was the most poignant interview I did during my trip.

The Testimony of One Woman

She is on my mind a lot. Her testimony is important. It also made me realise that it is worth doing my job.

I met the girl in the home of a family of farmers, who knew her. There were too many people around us so we sat in the car.

She said she was scouting for food in an abandoned field with three friends. They saw the army's soldiers coming in their direction. The three girls managed to run away but she was caught.

It was a small unit, of about 80 soldiers. They took her with them. That night they raped her, one after the other, not only the soldiers but also the officers. In the end, she lost consciousness. The next day, the troops continued their journey. She had to walk. When they rested, they would rape her.

This lasted 10 days. By that time she was too weak to walk with them and they left her. She dragged herself to a village and the villagers took her to hospital for treatment.

After that, she decided to leave Burma and walk across the border to Thailand. It took about a week. The tragedy is that the Shan in Thailand know that she was raped by Burmese soldiers, so she is looked down by them.

The Shan Minority

There are several Shan villages in the northern part of Thailand. The Shan fled Burma mainly because of forced labour. Burmese troops would come into their villages and recruit people as porters. These people are forced to carry heavy machinery, bags, weapons, food and are used as human mine shields - made to walk in front of other soldiers in case there are landmines.

According to Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) and a report by the US State Department, in the last few years, 300,000 Shan people have been internally displaced. They have been forced to leave their homes and settle in new areas. The army would then burn their villages down.

It's difficult for the Shan to make a living so they cross the border.

When they compare their life in Burma with life in Thailand they say, "Here, we are second class citizens. Nevertheless, we do not have to worry about becoming porters, forced labour, or that our villages could be attacked."

They feel safer, but it's not their home. They are farmers. They like to work in paddy fields.

Making a Difference

The girl's case hasn't been taken to court yet but it's documented. Some members of the US Congress have already raised this issue. Activists from SWAN are also seeking advice from UNHRC and various human rights groups.

The Burmese military regime has invited Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN Human rights special rapporteur for Burma, to visit the country and investigate this case.