This week, which marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the women of Burma reiterated their call for an international investigation to look into the continuing use of rape and sexual violence against women in Burma, and address the issue of military impunity.
The situation since the so-called reform process began is no different from before it began. Ethnic women and girls suffer horrific sexual abuse, while military perpetrators enjoy impunity. The Women’s League of Burma (WLB) has published a new report, ‘If they had hope, they would speak’: The ongoing use of state-sponsored sexual violence in Burma’s ethnic communities’, highlighting the continuing use of sexual violence against ethnic minority women by the Burmese military.
The report also repeats WLB’s call for an international investigation into rape and sexual violence against women and calls for an end to military impunity.
Last month marked the third anniversary of the disappearance of a Kachin woman, Sumlut Roi Ja. Sumlut Roi Ja, along with her husband and father-in-law, were falsely accused by Burmese Army soldiers of having links to the Kachin Independence Army. Soldiers ordered them at gunpoint to carry corn to their outpost. Her husband and father-in-law managed to escape on the way. Witnesses saw Sumlut Roi Ja at the camp several days before she disappeared.
Three years on, Sumlut Roi Ja is still missing. She is presumed dead. As is usual with the cases, the Burmese government has taken no steps to investigate her enforced disappearance.
As part of our international campaign to bring attention to the suffering women in Burma, last year Burma Campaign UK delivered more than 2,000 campaign letters and postcards calling for the British government to include Burma in the new global initiative it had launched, the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI). This campaign was successful; months later after continued pressure on the British government, Burma was included in the PSVI.
Again in June this year, together with women’s organisations in Burma, global pressure succeeded in getting Burma to sign the Declaration to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. The declaration contains practical and political commitments to end impunity, promote accountability, and provide justice and safety for victims of sexual violence in conflicts.
However, in a pattern seen so often on so many issues, once the Burmese government said it would act, the international community stopped pressuring them to act. They judged them on their words, not their action, even though they have lied so many times before on issues such as child soldiers, political prisoners, and humanitarian aid.
As a result, five months on, the government of Burma appears to have taken no steps to implement the declaration. Instead, the Burmese government intimidated and arrested women who protested against the attempted rape of an ethnic Chin woman by a Burmese Army soldier.
Earlier this year, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the government of Burma to fully investigate crimes of sexual violence, and work with the United Nations to protect and assist survivors. This was the first time that the Secretary General had made such a call.
Given the fact that the Burmese government is ignoring the call by the UN Secretary General, and failed to comply with the International Declaration to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, it is time for the international community to conduct its own investigation into sexual violence by the Burmese Army.
This week, more than 2,000 campaign postcards from supporters of Burma Campaign UK were delivered to the British government, calling on the British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to support the establishment of an international investigation into rape and sexual violence committed by the Burmese Army.
Despite some limited reforms taking place in Burma in the past four years, women in Burma continue to suffer and we continue to require international support. As a country with a strong commitment to ending sexual violence in conflict, Britain should take the lead in building global support for an international investigation into rape and sexual violence committed by the Burmese military.
*Zoya Phan is Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK. Her autobiography is published as ‘Undaunted’ in the USA, and ‘Little Daughter’ in the rest of the world.
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