12 Karen women village heads remain detained on International day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

November 25, 2010

HURFOM, Kawkareik: While November 25th marks International day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the SPDC continues to implement systemic violence against women as a political tool throughout Burma. The following is an account of 12 women village heads that remain detained with no explanation, and no clarification of their health or whereabouts.

On October 29th 2010, after having been to invited to a meeting at an unknown location by Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No. 231 by Cpt. Zaw Thu Win, 12 women village heads and village committee members from Kawkareik Township, Karen State were arrested by LIB No. 231 at about 10:20 AM. LIB No. 231 is under the direct command of the Burmese army Southeast Command (SEC) based in Moulmein.

Kawkareik Township is a heavily contested area, and is considered a ‘black area’ or free fire zone, in which the Burmese army frequently uses extortion, forced labor, imprisonment, torture, rape and summery execution as tools to suppress dissent.

Previously, village heads were men, but due to the significant violence practiced by Burmese troops against village leaders[1], men no longer volunteer to be village heads. As a result these area villages now employ female village heads and councils of women to administer the villages.

The following is a list of the villages that were targeted, and the names of the village heads and council members who are still missing:

Thadar Ku village Ywa Thit Gone village An Kaung village Myo Houng village
Naw Mu Wa Htaw (45) Naw Baw (46) Phee Naw Lu (60) Phee Naw Kyi (60)
Naw Palaw Tha (50) Naw Kawkar (48) Naw Kyi Aung (39)
Naw Yee Than (45)
Naw Paw Chit Aye (40)
Naw Kaw Ku (32)
Naw Kawlar (30)
Naw Say Say (45)

No official reason has been given for the arrest of these women by LIB No. 231 or the SEC.

However area residents have told a HURFOM field reporter that they believe the arrests are related to the recent desertion of soldiers from the Karen National Union – Peace Council (KNU-PC) and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA)[2]. On October 18th, more then 20 soldiers with full kits from he KNU-PC surrender to the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Brigade No. 6 commanded by Col. Joe in the Kokraik area. On the same night 28 soldiers from DKBA Battalion 908 with full kits, previously under the control of Lt. Col. Kyaw Kyaw, also surrendered to KNLA Brigade No. 6.

As of November 21st, a team had been formed by one or two villages from each village, to go to Kawkareik town, the headquarters of LIB  No. 231 to open a dialog with Burmese authorities to determine why the village heads were arrested, where they wre taken, and what is their condition. Villagers are concerned that these women there will face sexual harassment, torture, or rape by Burmese soldiers, as these has been a frequently practiced abuse against women in the past.

Mi Sauh Ta Jo, coordinator of HURFOM’s Women and Child Rights Project (WCRP) commented:

This action seems like the Burmese army is still committing violence against women, especially in the minority ethnic areas. We, WCRP, are totally against these actions, especially not only [when] the authorities are perpetrators, but also [in general] against discrimination between men and women. There is a purpose behind these unlawful activities – to make fear amongst the community [and] to use this fear to oppress and rule these ethnic communities. The perpetrators of these crimes – they should not do this. The Burmese government should respect what they signed in the CEDAW [Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women] agreement that they signed in the past.  We ask that they stop this kind of violence and immediately release these women.

Despite the Burmese governments’ 1997 commitment to participate in the CEDAW, these acts indicate that the regime continues to use violence against women as a daily tool in its campaign against ethnic minority communities. This violence disregards the CEDAW’s articles and significantly violates the human rights of these ethnic women. These arrests also undermine the daily survival of communities that are located in free fire areas, by eliminating necessary leaders and administrative structures.

It is important that support be maintained for organizations like the Women’s League of Burma (WLB) and other ethnic women organizations that submit these cases of abuse directly to CEDAW. HUFOM will continue to conduct research in the area to update this information.

[1] As HURFOM research indicates, at least 4 village headmen have been killed in the last 12 years in the Kawkareik area.

[2] At the time of these arrests the KNU-PC and DKBA maintained a ceasefire with the Burmese State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

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