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GlobalPost’s Hanna Ingber returns to Myanmar, also known as Burma, where she lived for a year under the harsh rule of the military junta, and brings us the stories of women fighting for access to basic health care, political freedom and justice.

Myanmar army accused of widespread rape in Kachin State

Kachin women gather evidence, but leaders and some activists say time isn't right for investigation.

LICENSE TO LIE

The new government set up a National Human Rights Commission late last year. But the commission said in February that it did not think the time was right to investigate reports of abuse in ethnic regions.

"The national reconciliation process is political," chairman of the National Human Rights Commission Win Mra said at a press conference in Thailand. “To investigate into conflict areas would not be appropriate at this time."

Previously, the official party line of the former Myanmar junta was to deny all allegations of human rights violations. Often, they accused ethnic rebel armies, like the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), of committing their own atrocities.

In 2002, Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) released a report, “License to Rape,” that detailed 173 incidents of rape and sexual violence committed by the Myanmar army in Shan State between 1996 and 2001. The report attracted international attention, and the junta investigated. Their team wrote their own report, denying the allegations: “License to Lie.”

HRW took issue with the methodology used by the junta’s fact-finders, who reportedly went to villages and essentially asked rape victims to raise their hands, according to Mathieson.

HRW says it does not have evidence that the army orders soldiers to rape ethnic women, but attributes the widespread violence to impunity among troops. HRW has also documented abuses committed by the KIA, supporting some of the junta’s claims.

THE WORLD WAITS

Given recent reforms, many international observers appear willing to wait and see whether the situation improves. 

The United Nations human rights expert for Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, recently told the Democratic Voice of Burma that a UN-led Commission of Inquiry into the ethnic violence was no longer politically feasible. What is needed instead, he said, is “the initiation of a process of justice and accountability” within the country.

Ah Hkawn
(Hanna Ingber/GlobalPost)

During US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Myanmar last February, she too stepped back from a previous call for a UN war-crimes probe into abuses.

“We are going to support the principle of accountability, and the appropriate mechanism to ensure justice and accountability will be considered," she said, according to AFP. "But I think it's important to try to give the new government and the opposition a chance to try to demonstrate they have their own approach toward achieving that.”

DOCUMENTING THE TRUTH

In the meantime, there are those working quietly to document crimes so that when the time is right, they are ready.

Ah Hkawn, a young Kachin woman, spent half of last year investigating physical and sexual abuses by the Myanmar army against her people. She and an American researcher hiked for days through the mountains near the Chinese border. They lugged water and instant noodles through the nonstop rain to reach distant villages where people had been affected by violence.

Ah Hkawn, whose straight black bob frames her round face, says the reforms give her hope but that, as long as violence continues, she must look out for her people.

Activists still fear retaliation and must be careful, she said. They only bring forward cases of victims who live in territory controlled by the ethnic rebels or are already dead.

In the second part of this Special Report, "Beyond Aung San Suu Kyi: Women in the New Myanmar," GlobalPost’s Hanna Ingber returns to Myanmar, also known as Burma, where she lived for a year under the harsh rule of the military junta, and brings us the stories of women the world has not seen nor celebrated, but who have worked quietly and persistently toward change.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/120619/kachin-state-myanmar-army-sexual-abuse-rape