Exiled Shan women’s group defends “License to Rape”

The Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) that shot to international acclaim in 2002 with its “License to Rape” report on the Burma Army’s widespread use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, today rejected claims that it was a product which came out of “hearing with one ear.”

Cover of License to Rape, published 2002
Charm Tong and Ying Harn Fah, who recently returned from a 3 week trip inside the country, speaking at the press conference held this morning, expressed their appreciation for U Aung Min, President’s Office Minister, who had supervised their visit, but nevertheless said SWAN continues to stand by its 2002 report. “It definitely wasn’t made up,” said Charm Tong. “It was the result of our investigations inside the country. We would like to make it clear that this is not SWAN’s first trip inside Shan State. Our members have been going back and forth since it was established (in 1999).”

‘License to Rape’ details 173 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence, involving 625 girls and women, committed by Burmese troops between 1996 and 2001. 83% of the rapes were reportedly committed by the officers. 25% of the rapes resulted in the victims’ death.

The New Light of Myanmar, the regime’s organ in its 4 July 2006 issue, however, said: “Of 137 (sic) accused, 135 were fabricated and only 2 were true. Those who were involved were sentenced to 10 year imprisonment.”

Speaking to Radio Free Asia (RFA) on 26 November, U Aung Min, who attended the opening ceremony of the 3-day Shan forum in Rangoon, said, “License to Rape was written after hearing things with one ear. Now that they are hearing things with both ears, I hope they will now learn the way things really happen.”

SWAN's leading members Ying Harn Fah and Charm Tong at press conference, 19 December 2012 (Photo: SHAN)

Many people were upset after listening to the RFA, the two said, quoting a woman in Kyaukme, “The rapes reported by SWAN are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more cases which are untold. We want to work with SWAN to bring justice for our people.”

The two, after attending the Shan forum, visited 11 towns and cities in Shan State, and held public consultations with the local people who reported that reforms in Naypyitaw had yet to reach them. Their grievances included continued fighting despite ceasefire agreements signed, land confiscations,  drug abuses, human trafficking and worsening environmental situation, among others.

“People in Shan State are asking what sort of peace this is, when they are losing more and more of their lands and livelihoods,” said Ying Harn Fah.

SWAN was set up on 28 March 1999 by Shan women in Thailand and along the Thai-Burmese border. Two of its 6 objectives are: “promoting women’s rights and the rights of children” and “working together for peace and freedom in our society.” The group says it is not in a rush to register inside Burma.

Update (18:00)
Both Charm Tong and Ying Harn Fah later denied they had expressed appreciation for U Aung Min's guaranteeing of their safe passage to and back from Burma.

Latest update (20 December 2013) 09:00
SHAN withdraws its phrase “expressed their appreciation for U Aung Min, President’s Office Minister, who had supervised their visit, but nevertheless” with humble apologies both to SWAN and our reader.


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