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Burma Signing Sexual Violence Declaration Should not Just be PR Exercise

By Burma Campaign UK  •  June 6, 2014

Burma Campaign UK today called on the government of Burma to immediately publish what concrete actions it will take, within a specific time frame, to actually implement the ‘Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict’, which it has finally signed.

Under President Thein Sein, Burma has gained a reputation for making promises of reform, garnering international praise for doing so, and then not delivering on its promises. Recent examples include the failure to release all political prisoners by the end of 2013, the opening of a UN human rights office, stopping hate speech, and ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

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. A delegation of women from Burma are attending the summit to highlight the ongoing use of sexual violence by the Burmese Army.

Burma is the 150th country to sign the Declaration and join the global initiative to combat sexual violence in conflict, which was launched by the British Foreign Secretary William Hague and UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura, in September 2013. The declaration contains practical and political commitments to end impunity, promote accountability, and provide justice and safety for victims of sexual violence in conflicts. Although it took more than 8 months for the Burmese government to sign the declaration, it is a welcome step in the right direction, but must be accompanied by practical steps to implement the Declaration.

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. Suspected perpetrators of sexual violence should receive a fair trial, in line with international standards, and be sentenced. 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.

The following steps should be taken by the Burmese government within 6 months:

  • To end impunity and hold perpetrators of sexual violence to account.
  • To support an independent investigation involving international expertise.
  • To amend the 2008 Constitution that condones sexual violence by guaranteeing impunity for sexual crimes.
  • To ensure full women’s participation in peace negotiations as well as in political, social and economic development.
  • To repeal repressive laws against women, including making rape in marriage illegal.
  • To allow international support for civil society organisations, including women’s organisations such as the Women’s League of Burma, for their work in documenting cases of rape and providing support for victims of sexual violence.

There is no doubt that domestic and international pressure led to the Burmese government signing the declaration. Over the past 3 years, with numerous cases of rape and sexual violence by the Burmese Army since Thein Sein became President, there has been growing international attention on this issue.

Earlier this year, for the first time, 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. The British government has also discussed the sexual violence issue with the Burmese government on several occasions. There have also been numerous resolutions from the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council, and reports from the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar/Burma.

There is still an urgent need for an international investigation into rape and sexual violence, to ensure an end to impunity.

“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,” said Zoya Phan, Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK. “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.”

Media Contact:
Zoya Phan on +44 7738630139

A Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict can be downloaded here:https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-declaration-of-commitment-to-end-sexual-violence-in-conflict

Read Burma Campaign UK’s Briefing- Rape and Sexual Violence by the Burmese Army – an ongoing story of abuse here:

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