Myanmar Detains Three Soldiers for Alleged Rape and Murder of Kachin Woman

Rights groups say the military justice system lacks sufficient transparency to deliver justice.
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Myanmar Detains Three Soldiers for Alleged Rape and Murder of Kachin Woman Myanmar army soldiers patrol a village in Maungdaw township, western Myanmar's Rakhine state in a file photo
Photo: RFA

Myanmar’s military has detained for investigation three soldiers accused of raping and murdering a 55-year-old ethnic Kachin farmer, but the slain woman’s family, neighbors, and activists say they fear the military’s legal system lacks the transparency to ensure justice will be served.

The incident took place in the country’s northernmost Kachin state, near Myanmar’s border with China, in a region has seen fighting between a local army and the military junta that overthrew the elected civilian government in a coup on Feb. 1, triggering widespread protests and armed clashes.

Khaw Ywe, a resident of a small village in Kachin state’s Bhamo district, went missing July 14.

Her husband, Yin Fu, had been waiting for her to sow seeds in the rice paddies of their farm, but went home after sunset when she did not show up—only to be told by other family members that Khaw Ywe had gone out to the fields that morning.

The family searched for Khaw Ywe the next morning and first found her bag of seeds on a road, and what appeared to be signs of a struggle. They later found her body with multiple stab wounds in a forest about a mile away.

“It was a case of rape and murder,” Yin Fu told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“There were many stab wounds. We want [the military] to deal with the killers effectively in accordance with the law. They didn’t seem to regard this as murder,” he said.

A military encampment lies between Khaw Ywe’s home in Nwe Lan village and the family farm. On her way to the farm, she had to pass through about 20 acres of army camp land.

The family lodged a complaint on July 15 with the Myothit police station in Bhamo’s Momauk township against the three soldiers, but the family told RFA that they remain unsure whether the police would take the case.

On July 17, the military acknowledged the incident in a statement saying that the three soldiers had accidentally killed Khaw Ywe in an altercation.

The army detained the three soldiers and ordered an autopsy on Khaw Ywe’s body. Evidence has been sent to the military’s chemical office, but the statement did not specify if rape or murder had occurred.

A spokesperson for the Kachin State Women’s Network (KSWN), a rights organization assisting Khaw Ywe’s family, told RFA that the military justice system cannot be trusted based on experiences in similar cases in the past.

“I don’t think they will take full responsibility. It would be better to file a case in a civil court right now,” she said.

“There have been many such incidents in the past. No one knows if they really did anything to the perpetrators. In many cases they just pay around 300,000 kyats [U.S. $182] as compensation to settle the case,” said the spokesperson.

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an ethnic armed group, told RFA that it does not trust the military justice system due to a lack of transparency, even when the military prosecutes soldiers.

“I think this needs to be addressed more effectively. We see all the time that they take only mild action, such as saying the crime was a quarrel or they refuse to do anything about it,” said Col. Naw Bu, the KIA’s Information Officer.

“I think effective action should be taken against soldiers who torture civilians on the battlefield and commit crimes like rape. If they lawfully want to take action as they are always saying, they need to take action according to the law,” he said.

Nickey Diamond of the Fortify Rights NGO said that Myanmar would need to reverse the Feb. 1 coup and become a democratic country again in order to take any kind of real action against military personnel who commit crimes.

“Rape and murder by soldiers are also war crimes. As a human rights group, we condemn such acts of using rape as a weapon,” Diamond said.

“I think we can only take action under a democratically elected government because right now the military is building up its power by committing acts of terrorism,” he said.

Nwe Lan is a small village of about 150 houses populated mostly by farmers.

In late April, heavy fighting broke out between the military and the KIA near the village. A 72-year-old man was killed, and 27-year-old woman was injured during the fighting, and the villagers fled.

Now that the rainy season has arrived, residents have returned to farm their land. Khaw Ywe’s family were among those who fled in April, but they returned to work in the fields in the third week of June.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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Cecil Khin
Jul 20, 2021 11:59 PM

According to the Defence Services Act, soldiers committing murder or rape against a civilian cannot be tried by a military court but they can be tried only by civilian criminal court.

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