By DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW – November
Khin Maung Win/Associated PressMuslim women at a refugee camp in Rakhine
State, western Myanmar,
last month, where deadly ethnic violence has flared between members of the
Rohingya, who are mostly Muslim, and Buddhists.
BANGKOK — Feminists,
like business people, are sensing opportunity amid the recent political liberalization in Myanmar.
Independent women’s groups are
already ‘‘very active’’ there, said John Hendra, an assistant secretary-general
of the United Nations, speaking in a telephone interview shortly after he
visited the country in October.
Women, of which Mr. Hendra is a deputy director, is planning to set up its
first representation in Myanmar
As I write in my
Female Factor column this week, there was another ‘‘first’’ last month for
women in Asia, when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean,
gathered in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, for its first ministerial-level
meeting on women.
Both moves are a sign of a
spreading recognition among governments and international agencies that women’s
issues in Asia need to be heightened.
Mr. Hendra described the Asean
meeting, which he attended, as ‘‘a very good opportunity’’ to push a stronger,
pro-woman agenda in Asia, which is home to about 60
percent of the world’s women.
the United Nations hopes to start by gathering data on the condition of women
‘‘to get a really good diagnostic of the situation there, because there is
really not very much known,’’ said Mr. Hendra.
Other major goals include passing
a law to address gender and domestic violence in Myanmar.
Currently Myanmar, Laos
and China all
are lacking such legislation. U.N. Women also wants to train woman negotiators
and mediators in conflict situations in Myanmar,
ethnic violence has flared between members of the Rohingya, who are mostly
Muslim, and Buddhists.
‘‘We are looking at the issue of
the broader peace and development process,’’ said Mr. Hendra.
‘‘Despite a lot of rhetoric and
Security Council resolutions, there is still a very low number of women
mediators, particularly in the situation in Myanmar,’’
he said. ‘‘I met some civil society women’s groups who are very active and I
will see how we can facilitate our role to make more women mediators.’’
More broadly, he said, the United
Nations is concerned about a ‘‘push-back’’ on women’s sexual and reproductive
rights worldwide. Gender violence and maternal mortality remain severe
problems, and women’s representation in parliaments remains low, averaging
about 20 percent; it is even lower in Asia, at around 17
Discussion is now shifting to
what will replace the U.N.’s
Millennium Development Goals, which were set in 2000 and will expire in
2015. Mr. Hendra called for them to have a stronger gender focus, saying
women’s needs urgently needed to be ‘‘mainstreamed.’’
‘‘We need to be looking at really
putting women more at the center of the discussion,’’ he said. The goals
adopted for the post-2015 world should be ‘‘truly transformative,’’ he said,
adding the issue was a focus of his talks with the Asean ministers in Vientiane.
BURMA/MYANMAR - CHALLENGES &
ABUSES OF WOMEN'S RIGHTS - CALL FOR JUSTICE
8, 2012 - In October 2011 a 28-year-old woman Sumlut Roi
Ja, who is the mother of 14-month-old girl, was abducted and allegedly
gang-raped by the military. She was residing in Hkai Bang village, Momouk
District, Kachin State, near to the border of China where a militaristic ethnic
conflict is taking place. Soon after she was kidnapped her family made a
serious complaint to the military post in Loije town and this complaint was
quickly spread around the country and abroad. Yet, more than two months later
no progress has been made and the military post continues to deny any
involvement. The family's desperate situation became even worse when they were
assaulted for making the complaint (AHRC-240-2011).
On the 9th of February 2012 the case was brought before the high court of
Pyithu Hluttaw Judicial and legislative Committee Naypyitaw in accordance with
Chapter 8 of the citizen's fundamental rights, article 378. The family received
help from local lawyers and human rights groups that supported the family in
their search for justice. Till this day, the accused Captains and Generals from
LIB (321) of the military have denied that they have detained female or male
villagers during the conflict.
The case of Roi Ja highlights the fact that women in Burma are not able to find
legal redress, file complaints against the judiciary or receive compensation.
This is especially damning for the women who live in conflict zones. The civil
war in Myanmar has placed women in a position where they are extremely
vulnerable. Frequently, women are forced to work as porters and unpaid
labourers for military troops and they are often raped by military personnel.
Ethnic women in areas where the junta is engaged in armed conflict face
constant threats of attack, forced marriage, rape, torture, slavery and murder
by the military. Male members of the community are often taken away to work as
porters, serve as soldiers or to be killed. Women are left on their own to fend
for themselves and raise the children as single parents.
The Burmese people have crossed the border to neighboring countries as refugees
in the last 50 years. Tens of thousands of people belonging to the ethnic
minorities of Shan, Karenni, Karen and Mon live in squalid relocation centers
set up by the military. Life is not easy for the women in these camps. Even
after fleeing to a neighbouring country for protection their trouble is not
over. Female refugees and children are the groups that are the most at risk.
Increasingly, the military employs repressive strategies in order to ensure
that any soldier or officer guilty of war crimes such as rape and sexual
violence against civilian women and girls is able to evade punishment. The
military makes use of a broad range of repressive tactics. It attempts to
create a climate of fear that prevents civilians from speaking out. Death
threats are issued if any complaints are voiced. False imprisonment, torture
and disappearances are common occurrences. Often the family members of rape
victims that complain to the military are arrested and accused of being
supporters of the resistance.
According to the documentation of Kachin Women's Association Thailand (KWAT),
women and children have suffered some of the worst crimes committed such as
rape and sexual violence. Women and girls are mostly targeted by the military
personnel during the conflict. On September 24th 2011, three separate rapes of
two girls aged 14 and 17 and an older woman aged 40 were committed by Burmese
Army troops in Muse and Kutkai townships in the Shan State of Burma.
Some of the worst human rights abuse against women takes place in the border
regions populated by ethnic minorities. According to human rights groups the
military kills, beats, rapes and arbitrarily detains civilians at will in these
areas. Impunity for crimes and human rights violations committed by the state's
security forces is deeply entrenched. The Women's League of Burma has accused
the military of systematically using rape and forced marriage as a weapon
against ethnic minorities.
"It is a failure of the Judicial body and the legal protection for women
in that the perpetrators of murder, arbitrary arrests and torture in the
conflict have not been brought to justice," Min Lwin Oo , lawyer ,the
spokesperson for Burma from AHRC states. He adds "the chief justice from
supreme court comes from the military department, so how he can bring justice
to victims of crimes committed by the military."
In Burma the judiciary is not independent. In a system that lacks transparency
and accountability, corruption and economic mismanagement are rampant at both
the national and the local levels. Judges are appointed or approved by the
junta and adjudicate cases according to its decrees. Administrative detention
laws allow people to be held without charge, trial, or access to legal counsel
for up to five years if the SPDC concludes that they have threatened the
state's security or sovereignty.
International Convention for empowerment for women
Myanmar has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on the 22nd of July 1997 with a
reservation regarding Article 29. In order to promote and protect the rights of
women and girls, the Government has established the Myanmar National Committee
for Women's Affairs in 1996, as a national machinery to carry out the Beijing
Declaration and Platform of Action. In Addition, the Myanmar's Women's Affairs
Federation had been established in 2003 to take effective measures in women's
affairs and implement the principles and guidelines laid down by the Myanmar
National Committee for Women's Affairs. According to the announcement of the
committee, free legal assistance and advice to complainants have also been
given as well as letters for taking legal action that have been forwarded to
the relevant departments.
Yet, the committee is comprised of members of the military and its followers.
It is founded by the junta and therefore the committee has no power. It does
not have a mandate that allows for an efficient advocacy effort in order to
improve the rights of women who belong to minority groups, come from poor
backgrounds or rural communities.
Political Rights and Participation
On the surface Burmese women seem to enjoy the same rights as men and
historically Burmese women have enjoyed a high social and economic status. The
new constitution which was declared in 2008, states the role and rights of
women in the Burma. But a significant event signals that women are still second
class citizens of the Burmese society and in the political sector.
During the elections of 2010, none of the women candidates were selected to the
Ministers' place where 50 seats were occupied by only men. Even though the
state has publicly stated that women should have a role to play and actively
participate in politics no women have been appointed or elected to serve as
ministers under Burma's new government. Months after the election a handful of
female members of Parliament were obtained of their positions and their liberty
(only 114 out of 3,000 candidates were women). Most of them were from the USDP
(the United Solidarity and Development Party). With a government party
dominated by a male majority how will the government be able to represent and
protect the rights of women?
To this day, women from Burma continue to belong to the most vulnerable
sections of society, they are not represented in the new government and have no
influence on the executive, legislative and judicial powers, they lack basic
rights and human rights abuse continues to be committed against them with
Police Complicity and the Lack of Legal Redress
Filing complaints on rape cases and sexual torture committed by a military
senior officer or the police is still risky business in Burma. Marital rape is
not recognized as a criminal offence in Burma. Some victims and families that
file complaints are verbally and physically assaulted and mostly the complaints
do not lead to any action being taken. In some cases, the complainant is
tortured and sentenced to prison on false charged. In some instances the
police, government officials and district law officers refuse to investigate or
prosecute rape cases where the military or government officials are complicit.
Silencing tactics and the use of forces is used to silence the accusers and
block the road to justice.
The military is capable of raping with impunity especially in ethnic zones. A
number of documented cases highlight that in the parts of Burma ravaged by
civil war there is no rule of law. The Township Peace and Development Chairman
and the police do not assist the victims in rape case committed by military.
Reports from international women's organizations such as the 'License to Rape'
and 'Shattering Silences' confirm that rape is being condoned by the military
as a strategic weapon in the war. Sexual violence by military troops and
authorities is also prevalent in ceasefire and "non-conflict" areas
throughout the country, including central areas of Burma.