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A civil court in Shan State’s Muse District will hear a case involving the alleged rape of an underage Kachin girl by a Burmese solider. The case is unusual in Burma because rape perpetrators are rarely prosecuted—especially in civilian courts.
The 14 year-old girl from Nan Kut Village was allegedly raped by a private from an army regiment stationed nearby the girl’s village on 16 May.
Military courts have original jurisdiction over all cases involving armed forces personnel in Burma. However, in this case the military tribunal came under intense pressure from the media and civil society to transfer the case to a civilian court, claiming that military courts are secretive and won’t deliver justice.
After coming under intense pressure, the military tribunal only convicted the private of neglecting duty, after which the tribunal transferred the case to a civilian court to initiate proceedings against the solider for the alleged rape.
The girl’s lawyer, Daw Roi Seng, told DVB that actually the civilian district court in Muse would initiate proceedings against the solider on two charges.
“We are convinced the suspect violated the penal code prohibition against rape – Article 376 – and kidnapping – Article 363. She was only 14 years-old, so this would constitute the kidnapping of a child from her guardian. There will be two charges.”
According to the report filed at the Kutkai police station, the girl was dragged by the soldier into the bushes and raped while on her way home from the market. The military court sentenced the private to one year in prison for neglecting his duties. The decision by the military tribunal to transfer the case to a civilian court was hailed by the girl’s family, who is enraged by the incident.
The girl’s aunt told DVB that the family wants justice: “The 567th Infantry Battalion just arrived in the area on 8 April, and then on 16 May my niece was raped. I want justice!”
Mai Mai, a member of Shan State’s Kachin Literature and Cultural Organization, is providing assistance on the case. She said the one-year sentence issued by the military court was insufficient.
There have already been two civil hearings at the Muse District Court on 19 and 24 September, and the next hearing is scheduled for 2 October.
A doctor from Kutkai Township Hospital—who declined to be named—said the hospital performed a medical examination of the girl shortly after the alleged rape.
In an interview with DVB, the chief judge of Shan State’s civilian court system, Kywe Kywe, explained Burma’s jurisdiction rules in cases involving sexual violence against children.
“Regardless of whether the suspect is an adult or underage, and regardless of which organisation the suspect belongs to, he or she should be charged according to the law. But for military personnel we can’t charge them in civilian courts if a military court decides to initiate proceedings against the suspect. [As civilian courts], we can only initiate proceedings against military personnel if certain legal procedures are followed and the case is transferred by a military court.”
Seng Zen from the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT) said that only three or four cases have been brought before civilian courts—despite the fact that 73 alleged rapes and/or murders were committed against Kachin women in the three years since armed conflict broke out in Kachin and Shan states in 2011.
With the exception of these rare cases, KWAT member Seng Zen said that all other charges of rape and/or murder against Kachin women have been dropped after the plaintiffs were either given a small amount of money or intimidated into dropping the charges.
In addition, Seng Zen said that many alleged rape and/or murder cases involving Kachin women aren’t even reported or filed by the police.
As for the recent alleged rape, the 14 year-old girl was heading to the market “because she is retarded and can’t attend school,” said Seng Zen. After the incident occurred, the girl was reportedly frightened and began to stare blankly into space, the KWAT member added.
The girl’s parents and KWAT are demanding that the perpetrator be charged in accordance with the law and have called on the Shan State government to consider the girl’s future.
The girl’s father told DVB that the family filed the case because they don’t want similar incidents to happen to other girls.
“The 567th Infantry Battalion committed sexual violence against my daughter. I want to say that I don’t want this type of thing to happen,” he said. “We have filed the case because we want to warn people against committing such abuses in the future.”