Karen women serving as village chiefs face torture and rape, according to new report

The Karen Women’s Organization published a new report on Feb 25, 2010 titled “Walking Amongst Sharp Knives,” which details the atrocities facing ethnic-minority Karen women who serve as village chiefs in Burma. The report details crimes committed by the Burma Army against these brave women, who are volunteering for leadership positions in increasing numbers as Karen men become fearful of ill treatment. Burmese troops have gang-raped, murdered, tortured beheaded, forced into labor and prostitution, and crucified Karen women chiefs, the report states. “Gender-based violence” was a major threat to these women leaders, with soldiers raping them, their daughters, forcing them to do labor or interrogating and torturing them while they were pregnant. Other women are used as “mine sweepers, walking in front of soldiers in heavily land-mined areas. The report was compiled between 2005 and 2009, and one-third of the women in the report are still village chiefs.

The Burma Army’s actions against Karen women are part of the regime’s attempt to exterminate a 60-year insurgency by Karen ethnic guerrillas. Women chiefs are often punished by troops who suspect they support the guerrillas, but are also accused of working for the junta by Karen insurgents. Although the United Nations has evidence of atrocities against ethnic minorities in Burma, the regime denies allegations of human rights abuses, saying its troops are working in “anti-terrorist” operations.

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