President U Thein Sein decision to sign the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence a week before the global summit in London on sexual violence in conflict has been labeled a “PR Exercise” by a British based human rights advocacy organisation.
Burma Campaign UK called on the Burma government to “immediately publish concrete actions it will take,” having signed the declaration.
“The timing of the signing, on the eve of the global summit on sexual violence in conflict being held in London next week, is clearly designed to maximize positive publicity for the Burmese government.” Burma Campaign UK said in a statement.
Burma Campaign also insisted on an end to impunity to acts of sexual violence committed by Burma’s military. “There is no single step that will end sexual violence by the Burmese Army, but one of the single most effective steps would be to end impunity. If soldiers or those who command soldiers know they will go to jail if they commit rape, that would be an effective initial deterrent.”
Zoya Phan, campaign manager at Burma Campaign UK, said that though the government decision was a welcomed step in the right direction, an independent inquiry into sexual violence in conflict was needed in Burma. “We welcome the Burmese government signing the UN sexual violence declaration, but signing alone is meaningless without an immediate action plan for implementation. This is just a first step on a very long road,” she said.
Zoya Phan cautioned that Burma’s government had made commitments before which had not been kept. “Just because Burma signed the international declaration on sexual violence, it doesn’t mean they will do anything about it. There should be a six-month deadline for seeing implementation of the declaration in Burma. Foreign Secretary William Hague deserves a lot of credit for helping to persuade the Burmese government to sign this declaration, but he should remember Thein Sein’s broken promise on releasing all political prisoners and keep up the pressure to make sure he keeps his word this time.”
A January 2014 report by the Women’s League of Burma, a multi-ethnic umbrella group representing 13 women’s organisations from across Burma, documented more than 100 cases of military perpetrated sexual violence over the last four year, with victims as young as eight years old. Of the women abused, 47 were gang raped and 28 women were either killed or died of their injuries.
The WLB claimed in the report that sexual violence has been a deliberate strategy used by the Burma Army. “These crimes are more than random, isolated acts by rogue soldiers. Their widespread and systematic nature indicates a structural pattern: rape is still used as an instrument of war and oppression.”
Burma Campaign urged that high-ranking military figures be held accountable, including the President himself, U Thein Sein. “Under international law, when rape and sexual violence is committed in conflict, the commanders of those soldiers committing rape can also be held legally accountable. This accountability should go right to the top and include the head of the army, and the head of state, currently President Thein Sein.”
Burma is the 150th country to sign the Declaration and join the worldwide initiative to combat sexual violence in conflict, which was launched in September last year by the British Foreign Secretary William Hague and UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura.