Thursday, 21 November 2019

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KWO’s report on horrifying abuse of women village chiefs

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Horrifying abuses heaped on ethnic Karen women in Burma, who became village chiefs because male village heads were at greater risk of being killed, has been revealed by an ethnic women’s organization in its latest report released on Thursday.

The Karen Women’s Organization’s (KWO) latest report “Walking Amongst Sharp Knives” is based on interviews of 95 Karen women from 2005 to 2009 on their experience of being village heads and being targeted for systematic abuse by Burmese Army troops across Eastern Burma.

The report states that in lowland Karen areas in Eastern Burma women are increasingly taking up the role of village chief, as male village chiefs are more likely to be killed by the Burmese Army. It exposes for the first time the impact of this dramatic cultural shift.

“This change, overturning deeply engrained tradition, has put women further into the front line of human rights abuses being committed by the Burmese Army and their allies,” the report said.

The abuses experienced or witnessed by the women chiefs documented in the report include: crucifixion, people burnt alive, rape, many forms of torture and slave labour.

The practice of electing women as village chiefs has spread through lowland Karen areas of Eastern Burma since the 1980s, as Burma’s military regime has expanded control and increased persecution of these war-torn communities. With men increasingly reluctant to risk their lives as chiefs, women have stepped in to assume leadership in the hope of mitigating abuses. However, testimonies of women chiefs show that, far from being exempt from the brutality of the Burmese Army, they have faced ongoing systematic abuse, including gender-based violence, according to the report.

The source of information is based on interviews with current and former women chiefs from five districts of Eastern Burma: Papun (Mutraw), Dooplaya, Thaton (Doo Tha Htu), Nyaunglebin (Kler Lwee Htu), and Pa-an. They are of the ages between 25 to 82. About one third are still serving as chiefs of their communities.

“Apart from being witness to numerous instances of abuse and murder of fellow-villagers, the chiefs themselves have suffered brutal punishment for alleged non-cooperation. One third of the women interviewed had been physically beaten or tortured. The women also testify to ongoing sexual violence. They also describe being forced to provide “comfort women” for the Burmese Army troops,” the report added.

Many of the abuses described in the report would appear to be in breach of international law, including five articles of the Rome Statute, of the International Criminal Court.

KWO is urgently calling on the United Nations Security Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by the Burmese military dictatorship. It also urges the Royal Thai Government to grant continued protection to those refugees, who have fled military attacks and human rights abuses. In addition, the Thai Government should suspend investment in projects such as dams and infrastructure, which is fuelling militarization and abuses, and increasing refugee flow into Thailand.


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