Relations between the U.S. and Myanmar have improved during the presidency of Thein Sein, but many rights groups still worry about human rights abuses and ongoing ethnic conflict.ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images
A women's group says that Myanmar's military is still using rape as a weapon of war, with more than 100 women and girls raped by the army since a 2010 election brought about a nominally civilian government that has pursued rapprochement with the West.
The Thailand-based Women's League of Burma said in a report made available to Reuters Monday that 47 of the cases documented were gang rapes and 28 of the women were either killed or had died of their injuries. It said several victims were as young as eight. The report was dated January.
The group said the issue showed the need for legal reform in Myanmar, also known as Burma, and for changes to a 2008 constitution to ensure that the military is placed under civilian control.
Myanmar's government denied rape was used as a means of war.
"It's not the policy of our Tatmadaw (military) to use rapes as weapons," presidential spokesman Ye Htut told Reuters.
"If there are rape cases committed by individual members, we try to expose them and take effective action against the offenders. It would be very helpful in taking action against the offenders if those who prepared that report could send us the details of the cases," he said.
The report from the women's group comes less than a month after a bipartisan group of prominent U.S. senators, Bob Menendez, Marco Rubio, Ben Cardin and Bob Corker, introduced a bill that said the Myanmar government should not receive any funds made available to the Pentagon in 2014 until there is reform and rights abuses are addressed.
The bill, which makes an exception for human rights and disaster response training for the military, also calls on the Pentagon and the State Department to present a report on U.S. strategy for military-to-military ties with Myanmar, including an assessment of the Myanmar military's rights record and the link between a deepening of such ties and reform.
The State Department said it was aware of the report and urged the Myanmar government to investigate all the allegations.
"Despite tremendous progress in Burma over the past three years, significant challenges remain, including further improving the country's overall human rights situation," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
"These violations highlight the need for professionalization of the Burmese military, especially to promote understanding of and respect for human rights."
The women's group said most of the rape cases it and its member organizations had documented were linked to offensives by the Myanmar military in the northeast of the country against ethnic minority Kachin and Shan insurgents.
It said that in the past three years, the Kachin Women's Association Thailand had documented 59 cases of sexual violence by Myanmar government soldiers. The Shan Women's Action Network had reported another 30 cases involving 35 women and girls.