Myanmar’s army on Wednesday admitted that three of its soldiers raped an ethnic Rakhine grandmother during army operations in her village in war-torn Rakhine state in late June, reversing its earlier denials and pledging that the men will face military and civil charges.
The 36-year-old mother of four children told RFA on July 2 that she had been sexually assaulted by three uniformed soldiers in rural Rathedaung township on June 30 when they found her and some relatives hiding in a bomb shelter in their home during an army sweep of U Gar village to clear the area of rebel Arakan Army (AA) troops.
Afterwards, the soldiers instructed the women not to tell anyone about the assault and gave her 20,000 kyats (U.S. $14). They also intended to rape the woman’s daughter, but her mother-in-law begged them not to because the younger woman had given birth days earlier.
The woman, whose name RFA has withheld to protect her safety and privacy, filed charges on rape, abduction with the intent to rape, and abetting a rape offense, at a police station in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe, where she and her relatives provided accounts of the assault.
At the time, Myanmar military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun told RFA that when the army received the police report, it investigated the matter and found the accusations to be untrue. He denied that the soldiers had raped the woman and suggested that she had made up the story.
In a reverse course of action on Wednesday, however, Zaw Min Tun told RFA that the trio confessed to the crime during another round of questioning.
“First, the accused denied committing the crime,” he said. “After thorough examinations, we decide to interrogate the accused soldiers again. After that, one of the privates confessed to committing the crime.”
“Then, we interrogated the individuals related to him,” Zaw Min Tun said. “Finally, the truth about the crime emerged after repeated questioning.”
The three soldiers now will be charged under military law as well as under Myanmar’s Penal Code that covers rape cases tried in civil court, he said.
‘Justice for the victim’
In the meantime, RFA saw a confidential letter received by the Rakhine state government on Monday stating that DNA found on the body of the woman matched that of samples taken from some of soldiers who were in U Gar village on the day the rape occurred.
In response to the military’s news about the confessions, the woman who was assaulted said she wants the soldiers to receive a proper punishment.
“I filed the complaints because I want to see them get convicted,” she said. “They confessed to the crime because they know what they did is wrong.”
Mya Thuzar, an attorney from the Legal Clinic Myanmar’s Sittwe office who is assisting the woman with her case, pledged to continue pursuing the charges until justice is served.
“We will keep working for appropriate sentences and to deliver justice for the victim,” he said.
In testimony to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington, Skye Wheeler of Human Rights Watch said, “Widespread sexual violence perpetrated by Burmese soldiers has been a hallmark of the culture of abuse and impunity in Burma’s decades-long civil wars with its ethnic groups.”
“Military rape is linked to other abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arson, land confiscation, and denial of humanitarian aid,” Wheeler, a women's rights researcher, told the U.S. panel in July 2018.
At least 289 civilians have been killed and 641 injured in Rakhine state and in Paletwa township of neighboring Chin state since hostilities between the AA and the national army escalated in December 2018, according to an RFA tally.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.