SLORC'S USE OF WOMEN PORTERS
An Independent Report by the
Karen Human Rights Group
February 16, 1993
The following testimonies were given by women who have recently been forced to carry ammunition and supplies for SLORC troops. These women were enslaved for over a month, and their ages range from 15 to 60. Their stories are typical of those told by the thousands of women regularly used as porters by SLORC troops.
Please note that in Karen culture, it is extremely difficult for a woman, particularly a young single woman, to admit to having been beaten and raped. Some of these women have shown great courage by speaking of these things when interviewed, even though most of them went through severe emotional strain just by recalling their experiences, and the testimonies often had to be spoken through tears or broken by sobs. Some have chosen not to face the pain of speaking of their worst experiences, while others have limited the detail of their descriptions. To press these women on this point would be a human rights violation in itself. Therefore, their accounts of rape and humiliation at the hands of the soldiers should be taken as conservative accounts, or in some cases as understatements. The full horror of their experiences was often impossible for them to speak of; it is left to the reader to try to imagine it.
The names of the women have been changed, and their addresses and some other logistical details of their stories have been omitted from this report, in order to protect their villages against retaliation by the SLORC. Please use this information in any way which may help put a stop to these barbarous crimes against humanity.
NAME: Paw Ghi Lah
A few months ago 9 soldiers came to my house and captured me. They took 9 women from our village, aged 15 to 38, even though there were men in the village at the time. They took us to the Army Camp, then they gave us six 60 mm mortar shells each and forced us to carry them into the mountains the same day.
On the way we saw many men porters all tied together around the waist with rope so they couldn't escape. The women weren't tied, but there were 3 soldiers driving each of us. The soldiers only carried their haversack and gun while we carried their shells and food. We got no rest. They made us walk all day and all night, and they always cursed and abused us, shouting "Go on - Carry 0n!" Just once a day we got one small milk tin of rice [about 300 ml.], which we had to cook and share between 9 of us. We got no salt or water or anything with it. The soldiers had canned meat and other good things, but not for us. When the soldiers stopped to rest and eat, another group of soldiers drove us on in their place. We never got a break.
When we were on the mountains we got no water. We never got a bath until we got to the frontline, and then we had to walk 2 hours down the mountain and 2 hours back up to carry water for the soldiers every day. When we got to the frontline and put down our loads they made us stay there but gave us no more food. There was a ricefield there, and if we wanted to eat we had to pick the rice off of the stalk and peel it with our teeth until we tilled a little milk tin, and then cook it.
When we were slow they cursed and pushed us up the mountains, beat us with their fists and slapped us around the head. On the way one young woman had dysentery and couldn't keep going so the rest of us had to help her along. She was beaten by the soldiers for not keeping up. The soldiers wouldn't give us any medicine. We were all very weak and, crying every day. If the soldiers saw us crying they cursed us very rudely and abused us.
We saw hundreds of men porters too. They were beaten with rifle butts. They got too weak and asked for water, collapsed and were beaten to death. I saw three men killed like this along the way, although we were usually kept separate from the men. When we got close to the fighting the officer ordered his troops to go ahead. They didn't dare, so 20 or 30 of them took off their uniforms and made the men porters put them on and go first, together with us carrying the ammunition. Then the soldiers came behind.
At night the 9 of us had to sleep on the ground. Soldiers came and pointed guns at us and forced us to go and massage the Captain and make a fire for him. We had to take turns doing this for an hour each, every night. Sometimes the soldiers pointed guns at us and ordered us to have sex with them. We had to. I was raped three times in that month by the Captain. I don't know about the others because were all so ashamed to talk about it, in case our whole village might find out.
When there was fighting we tried to lie down under trees or bushes. Sometimes we had to carry ammunition to the soldiers right at the front. If we didn't dare, the soldiers beat us and forced us. I saw some men porters wounded and carried back, but if they were bleeding much then they were just left without any treatment to die. I saw 20 porters wounded, and 5 who died.
After more than a month they finally let us go home. We all needed medical treatment for a whole month for weakness, malaria or other things. Many women came back pregnant, and then their mothers had to get medicine to get rid of the baby. Nobody could want such a baby.
Now life is terrible in my village. My father is dead. He died 7 years ago, when the Burmese soldiers came into our village. They captured him, and tortured and beat him to death. They accused him of helping the Karen soldiers, but he was an innocent farmer. Now I only have my mother, and she has to make a farm, raise children and, still has to pay "porter fees" to the soldiers to keep from being taken as a porter herself.
Now ten young girls at a time from the village always have to go to fetch water for the soldiers at the Army Camp, wash the officers clothes and give them their baths, and at night we have to pat and massage the Captain and sing him to sleep in his room. There's nothing we can do - there's always a soldier there, pointing a gun at us.
NAME: Naw Paw Htoo
FAMILY: Single Farmer
I was taken as a porter in October. They said it would only be for 4 days, but then they kept me for one month and 4 days. The soldiers came to the village and asked for 5 men to go, but all the men had fled the village so they took 3 women instead. They made me carry a big tin of rice, and we had to carry early in the morning until very late at night, every day. Altogether there were 25 women in our group, and something like 100 soldiers.
When we were too weak to carry our loads, they scolded us and beat us. They beat me with guns and sticks in the head and the back, and kicked me in the hips with Army boots. I got big swollen bruises. The others were also beaten.
They fed us like dogs. They just put a bit of rice and yellow beans on a leaf in the evening, and it had to last us the whole next day. By then it smelled bad and we could barely eat it. In a month we only had a chance to bathe 3 time, and we never had enough water to drink. I got malaria and told them, but they just said I was lying. They said, "You're not our relatives so we don't care for your lives." They just pushed me and made me keep carrying. They never gave medicine for the sick. Some of the women couldn't carry anymore. The soldiers just left them behind, and we had to help them along to save them. But they weren't carrying loads anymore, so the soldiers wouldn't give them any food at all.
At night the soldiers carried the wounded back and we had to carry the torches. When there were many wounded we had to walk all night. Usually all 25 of us slept in a rice storage shelter. At night I couldn't sleep because I often saw guards come and take the youngest girls away. I saw them take 3 girls away like this regularly. It was dark so I couldn't see, but I think all the girls they took away were raped.
Two times I had to carry separately from the rest of the group, and ended up alone in the forest with the soldiers at night. Both times the soldiers came to me and beat me, showed me their guns to keep me quiet and then raped me. The first time I was raped by six soldiers, and the second night this happened I was raped by four soldiers. I was so very ashamed but I was very afraid, and there was nothing I could do. I tried to shout but the soldiers clamped their hands over my mouth.
By the end we were all sick. We'd asked over and over to be set free, but the soldiers refused and scolded us and beat us. We hadn't had food for days when finally the Captain said we could go, and then they gave us no food for the trip.
Then when we got home many of us were pregnant. I was pregnant myself. We all had to get medicine to get rid of the baby. Now I'm in debt 1,000 Kyat for medicine. One of my friends who came back pregnant got rid of the baby too, and she's been very sick and thin ever since. She's still very sick.
NAME: Pi Seh Wah
FAMILY: 6 children and 2 granddaughters Farmer
[Note: Pi Seh Wah did virtually all of the talking in this interview. Pi Hser Paw only interjected at times to - corroborate what was being said by Pi Seh Wah]
PI SEH WAH: I had to go as a porter for a month. The soldiers made me carry 3 big shells, and we had to get up very early in the morning to climb to the mountain top. On the way I felt very tired. I thought I was going to die. Every day we had to carry up the mountain and down again. I was sweating and couldn't breathe because I am very old, and the soldiers kept poking and nudging me with their guns because I was slow. I felt like my heart was breaking! The soldiers only gave me a handful of rice to eat so I asked them, "How can I carry your loads and survive on this?" I cannot survive among them.
On the hilltop there was no food to eat, and we had to find our own food in a cultivated field that was there. We had to gather rice, put it in a bag and make a place to pound it for cooking.
We got weak and dizzy from our loads. I saw one porter who was too weak to go on, and they tortured him, kicked him with their boots, and beat him with their guns in the head, until his face was bleeding. I've never seen anything like this. Why does this SLORC have to torture the men like this? I don't understand it. We are all human beings together.
I knew we would all have to escape, or the SLORC would keep torturing us all like this. At first I was too afraid to try to escape, but as things got worse I became braver and didn't care anymore. I started to think, "Some others have escaped; why am I so afraid to escape? Am I stupid?"
They made me carry rice up the mountain for two days, and after that I had to carry ammunition. When they first took us as porters they said it would only be three days near the village, not far away up in the mountains. The SLORC was lying to us. They kept us for a month, and we had to find our own food and carry all their ammunition for many days. We didn't even have clothes for changing and some women had were menstruating. It was awful.
I wasn't well. I felt headaches and dizziness. The rest of our group of 7 women-escaped, but I was too weak to run away, so only I was left, along with my friend Pi Hser Paw, because she is also old. We were afraid after the others escaped that the SLORC would torture us and ask us questions, so we knew we had to escape.
Pi Hser Paw asked me if I was strong enough to escape. She said, "If we stay here, the SLORC will kill us." So one day when there was fighting, we sneaked into the forest and slowly, slowly tried to get away. Pi Hser Paw looked up and called "Tiger, Bear, if you want to eat me, come now. We don't care if we live anymore. It would be better to die". I was quiet because I was very afraid to die and it is very bad to speak like that to the forest, but Pi Hser Paw asked me, "What does it matter? It makes no difference if we die now."
For 6 days in the forest we had no food. We had to survive on only the water we could find to drink. We had nothing, not even betelnut to chew. When the SLORC took us away we only brought betelnut for 3 days. We are old, and we suffer a lot without it. It was very hard in the forest with no food, and we didn't know the way. I saw a bear in a tree and called to it, "Go ahead and eat me, and I cursed my life because it didn't matter any more."
After 6 days in the forest, we finally got to our village. When I got to my house, I couldn't even go up the steps. My children had to help me inside.
The SLORC always does things like this to us. Every month, every house in our village has to pay the SLORC porter fees, and we all have to make roads and buildings for them, sweep the road for landmines, fetch their water for them, and so on. All of us, old or young. And they always come for our rice, chickens and other things. I had only 2 bullocks, and the soldiers came and killed both of them. We're all so afraid of them. When they make us work for them, the women and children never even dare look in their faces. We can't understand their language, and even that makes them angry. All the children cry and run as fast as they can if they see a Burmese soldier.
NAME: Naw Ghay Htoo
FAMILY: Single Farmer
I was taken by the SLORC in October. They used me as a porter for one month and 2 days. I had to carry 6 shells, or one and a half tins of rice, and it weighed about 20 viss [32 kg.]. I couldn't carry it, but they beat me in the back with a stick, kicked me, slapped and pushed me, and I had to keep going. I had Pain inside. They hit me and knocked me down, then made me get back up and go again. They treated all of us like this.
I was with 25 women, all single. The oldest was 30, and the youngest about 15 or 16. When we walked there were two soldiers to every woman. Some of us got sick, but we got nothing, no medicine. Even if we couldn't carry, we had to try to carry. The soldiers forced us.
I saw women who were so thirsty they tried to grab a handful of water from a stream as we walked along, but they were so weak that when they leaned to the stream, they just fell over. We tried to help them, but the soldiers told us "Don't pity them - it is all of your fate to carry like this".
At night we all had to sleep on the ground, like dogs or pigs. At night - it wad terrible. The soldiers raped me. They pointed a gun, and forced us to follow them. I can't describe it to you. I can't talk about It.
I couldn't shout. Even if you shout, nobody can help you. When they want to beat us, they beat us. As they like.
I was with them for 33 days, then they let us go. One of my friends was sick and died along the way. Another woman died when we got back to the village. All the women with our group were raped, and some became pregnant. It's been two months now, and I haven't menstruated yet. If I find out I'm pregnant, I'll have to find a way to stop it. I've felt sick ever since I got back. When I was taken as a porter, both my parents were at the farm. They didn't know I went. My mother was sick - and my father. I don't know what to say to them.
NAME: Cha Ka Ri
FAMILY: Single Farmer
I was a porter for one month. I had to carry shells and rice, about 20 viss [32 kg]. It was too heavy, and when I couldn't carry it the soldiers scolded me, beat me with big sticks and guns, and kicked me with their boots. They beat me until I was throwing up and they showed me their guns to frighten me. When I fell, my friends had to help me get up.
There were nine in my group, and they treated us all the same. We had to walk all day without resting, and we only got a little rice that smelled bad. Some of us got sick but when we asked for medicine we were beaten, so we just had to stay quiet. We couldn't escape because they guarded us with guns, and there were landmines all around.
We wanted to go home and cried. We were so weak from carrying, and without food or water. We had pain in our chests. Later when we finally arrived at home, we ate like starving people.
We were in the front line. When there was fighting, we could only hide under the trees. We had to sleep on the ground. At night the soldiers came and asked us to sleep with them. They forced us, and we couldn't dare shout, because the soldiers stuffed our mouths shut with cloth.
When I got back home I was sick. I needed a drip like quinine, and it cost a lot of money. Out of nine of us, five were really ill when we got home. One of the women still can't walk well even now.
I've had to go to work for the SLORC before, but never so far away. They often make me go work for them in their camp. Now I don't dare go back home. If I do, the soldiers will only torture me again.
NAME: Naw Si Po
FAMILY: Single Farmer
I'm 15 years old. The SLORC came to my village and told us we had to go help them for a day and then they made me a porter for over a month. I had to carry a heavy load, and when I couldn't they pushed me and shouted at me to climb the mountain quickly. The soldiers are very bad people - they're always pushing us and shouting at us. And when we were sick, we still had to carry. When I couldn't carry they hit me with a gun or a stick in the back, or with their boots. When I wanted to rest they slapped me. There were nine of us, and they did the same to us all.
They took us to the front line, and there they made us carry water for them every day. We had to carry it 2 hours up the hill from the stream. They made us dig bunkers for them, and build fences, and cut grass. When we didn't have to carry ammunition they made us cook rice, pack it and carry it to the soldiers at the front. We never got to rest. If we couldn't work, they beat us and forced us to work, every day. We couldn't escape because many soldiers always guarded us with guns.
They made us bury dead soldiers and porters too. We had to bury about 2 bodies each day for the whole month. Some of them had been blown apart, and we still had to bury them.
When there was no food we had to pick rice in the field and peel the husks with our teeth before cooking it. We got very weak and ill and thin. We got malaria and other diseases. At night we had to sleep on the ground under a tree. The soldiers often came and forced us into the forest with them. In the forest they asked, "Do you love me?" Then they raped me. They raped all of us.
Now I don't dare go back home. We have to go and work for the troops all the time. They always take the women to go and work for them.
NAME: Naw Muh
FAMILY: Single Farmer
Im 16 years old. When the soldiers came I was watching our cow out in the field. They said I had to follow them. The soldiers took 5 or 6 of us from my village, and they said we had to go with them for 4 days. I had to stay with them for a month, carrying shells and rice. Sometimes I had to carry 3 or 4 big shells. We had to go over mountains, carrying all the time with no rest. Just go, and go. Sometimes I was weak, or had pain. They didn't give me any medicine, or enough food. I was sick from carrying things. I had fever and exhaustion. I am so small, so they sometimes made me carry smaller things than the others, but I never got to rest. After a month, I ran away with my friend but we didn't know the way. We found a village, and the villagers took care of us and sent us home. My parents were very upset; they gave me medicine, and asked me how the soldiers treated me. I was captured when I was out in the field, so my mother and father never knew what had happened to me. After I got home I was sick for a whole month.
The following testimony is from a male 64-year old porter. His story is included in this report because he was taken along with a group of women porters, probably to 'keep them in line'.
NAME: Pu Eh Pleh
FAMILY: Wife and six children, 10 grandchildren Farmer
At the end of October the SLORC sent a letter to our village asking for porters. Then the soldiers came. The men in the village had already fled, so they took 9 young women away, and I had to go with them. The letter they had sent said we would only have to do 4 days' work at their camp, but they took us all to the front line.
Each of us had to carry 12 shells over mountains, me included. It was very heavy. Then we had to go back and forth from their base camp to the front every day, carrying 2 very big [120 mm] shells or food supplies right to the front line. We had to start at 5 a.m. every day, and we never got back to the base camp until about 8 oclock at night, after dark. On the way back we had to carry the wounded. Even the women had to carry the wounded, even though we were suffering from dysentery or malaria ourselves. When there were many wounded or we had to go slowly, we didnt arrive back until 2 a.m. but even then we were taken at 5 a.m. again to carry shells or rice.
We had to cook our rice in the evening, and it had to last us until the next evening. They only gave us one big fistful of rice for 2 people each night. We had no spare clothes because theyd told us we were only going nearby for 4 days. We had to sleep on the bare ground, and it was very cold at night and raining. We made little shelters with just enough space to lay down and a bad roof, just to keep us off the ground. The soldiers guarded us and kept us inside a round bamboo fence with only one way out. We couldn't escape at night. Some other groups of porters were even kept tied up at night. We could only wash when we went to carry water. I only got a bath 5 times in more than a month, with soldiers guarding me. We even had guards when we went to the toilet. We always had guns pointed at us.
There were many, many porters from Burma - Shwegun, Pa'an, Myaingalay, Thaton. Most were men, and they were kept all tied up with rope day and night. I saw 7 other groups of women porters, with 57 women altogether.
I saw two men porters from Shwegun try to escape and hide. The soldiers surrounded them and brought them back. Then they tortured them and beat them with rifle butts, until one of them was bleeding badly from his forehead and all around his eyes. I saw another porter beaten in the upper arm until he couldn't move or hold it any more. I think it was broken. After that he didn't have to carry, but 2 or 3 days later I never saw him again. I don't know if he was sent back or killed but porters who can't carry are usually killed.
I saw 2 porters wounded in the fighting, one with a broken leg and the other with a broken hand, and they were sent back from the front. Many of us got sick with dysentery or malaria, but they never gave us medicine.
After more than a month we went home. It's been 3 months now and I'm still not well. I've had fever, headaches and weakness ever since. One of the women in our group had a high fever as soon as we got back. After 2 or 3 days she went unconscious and died. She was 16 years old. Another woman from a village nearby also died after returning.
Now the SLORC is forcing people in my village to sweep the road for mines very day, because their officers come along the road in their cars. Each time they take one woman and two children to do this. They have to take all their own food and sweep the road with branches for 3 days, then others must go to take their place. Every village is forced to send people to do this. Last year a mine exploded and destroyed an Army food truck. They made our village and 11 others each pay 44,440 Kyat. Another time one of their soldiers deserted and every village had to pay 50,000 Kyat. Now the SLORC has sent out an order that if one of their trucks hits a mine, every village will have to pay 100,000 Kyat. If we don't have the money, we'll have to sell our pigs, cows, and belongings, even our elephants.
Last year they made us all take turns sweeping for mines by driving bullock carts filled with stones along the road. If a mine explodes your cart, that is your fate. The soldiers told us that even if this happened, our village would have to pay a big fine for the mine. Even the family of the villager killed would have to pay.
Every day we also have to send a messenger to their camp to report that our village is "clear" of Karen soldiers. If we don't report one day, we're fined 200 Kyat. The SLORC also forces us to send them one porter every month, for the whole month. No one from the village dares go, so we have to pay to hire someone from Burma for 3,000 Kyat each month. Last month the SLORC demanded two porters, so it cost us 6,000 Kyat. We also have to sell a lot of our rice to the SLORC at a really bad price.
Last rainy season there was fighting just one days walk away, and they made all of us take food to the frontline soldiers every day. They also built a pagoda on top of some mountain they captured and every village had to pay 1,000 Kyat for it, plus 10 Kyat for every house in the village. Now they say they're making a temple beside the pagoda and every village must pay another 1,000 Kyat. Even the Christian families have to pay. Nobody wants to pay and we all hate the SLORC, but there's nothing we can do. We're all too afraid of them.