A senior official with a women's rights group in Burma, also known as Myanmar, says the Burmese military is committing acts of sexual violence in conflict-ridden ethnic regions of the country.
In an interview with VOA Wednesday, Julia Marip of the Women's League of Burma
said such acts are happening despite the country's transition to a civilian government and its recent democratic reforms.
Marip made her remarks one day after the league issued a report documenting more than 100 cases of sexual violence committed by the military since 2010, including 47 gang rapes with victims as young as age eight.
The report said such acts are happening in areas where Burma's minority ethnic groups are fighting the military.
The government denies that rape is being used as a tool of war, but Marip says women and girls are being targeted for sexual violence with "impunity."
"This is really, really seriously happening in the ethnic areas. And the military is still attacking to the ethnic area because … they really want to control the ethnic area. These ethnic areas have rich natural resources, so that means they take the security and the control of the ethnic areas. Because of these military attacks, most women have been targeted for sexual violence. This is happening widespread with impunity," said Marip.
Her organization's report said the crimes are not random events, but part of a "widespread and systematic pattern of sexual violence." The report said that since 2010, Burma's government has conducted peace talks with ethnic groups, but has failed to address the sexual violence or "hold perpetrators accountable."
The report points out that rape is a crime under Burmese law. But Marip said the attackers are not being held accountable because of what she described as a 2008 constitutional provision that grants amnesty to those accused.
"And in this 2008 constitution, they guarantee the protection for the crimes that they have committed, and then 25 percent of parliament seats are reserved for the military. So that means they don’t fear anything because they got special guarantee from the 2008 constitution," she said.
Marip also said the victims are scared to speak out, for fear of retaliation.
“It is very, very difficult to get the document, actually, because they have been threatened not to speak out against these crimes that have been committed. Then their family member is also threatened, so mostly people, women, who have faced these crimes not like to speak out," she said.
The Women's League of Burma, which consists of 13 organizations representing ethnic areas in the country, is urging an end to these crimes, calling them "atrocities." It says sexual abuses by the army will not stop until there is "a genuine civilian government" in Burma.