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Now is the Time to Act, Sexual Violence Must End in Burma

By Burma Partnership  •  July 1, 2014

9-june-2014-British-Embassy-in-Rangoon-IrrawaddyOn 10 June 2014, the Burma government prepared to sign the ‘Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict’ at the end of a three-day global summit, which aimed to “shatter the culture of impunity for sexual violence in conflict.” On the same day, a woman was brutally beaten by a Burma Army soldier during an attempted rape in Rezua, Chin State. The eyewitnesses who spoke to the Chin Human Rights Organization said that the women was held down by the soldier, while he repeatedly beat her. She was rushed to the hospital and is fortunately now in recovery.

However, this brutal event has lead to a series of demonstrations in Rezua and Matupi, Chin State this week, calling for an end to sexual violence. According to The Irrawaddy, protesters held placards that stated: “Stop raping; We are humans, not animals. We are humans, not property.” Though the organizers requested to hold the rally, the local police denied their applications and they have been arrested for staging a peaceful demonstration without permission, ironically under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law.

This recent case of attempted rape is not a one-off incident of a rogue Burma Army soldier. A report produced by Women’s League of Burma (WLB) ‘Same Patterns, Same Impunity’ demonstrates how the sexual violence inflicted by the Burma Army soldiers are systematic in nature and a part of a wider structural system of politicizing women’s bodies and abusing them as instruments of war and oppression. The data collected by WLB and its members found that since the 2010 elections, over 100 cases of rape has been documented, of which 47 were brutal gang rapes and victims were as young as eight years old. Most of the documented cases were linked to Kachin and Northern Shan State where military offensives have been taking place since 2011, indicating that rape and sexual violence is in fact, used as a weapon in an attempt to demoralize the ethnic communities and to assert dominance over them.

In addition, the court-martial system established by the 2008 constitution allows the military to evade prosecution by enabling the accused to be tried in a military court rather than a civilian court. As recommended by the former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma in a report produced by the UN Secretary-General, “amendment of constitutional provisions to provide better accountability and civilian oversight over military tribunals” is the first step in bringing justice and access to appropriate forms of complaint for the survivors of sexual violence. The perpetrators must be held accountable, while protection and assistance should be provided to survivors so that they can begin to recover from the trauma without further humiliation and intimidation from their communities.

The issue of sexual violence in conflict is moving up the international agenda, but the international community must keep pressuring the Burma government to uphold their promise of ending sexual violence. Now that Burma has signed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, what the people of Burma are “looking for is concrete action from the Burmese government to end sexual violence,” said WLB in a statement during the global summit.

It is time for the Burma government to live up to its rhetoric of transformation and democracy by ensuring that all people in Burma, including women, can be a part of this transition. This means that respect for women, their safety and their rights, must be urgently promoted and prioritized by the Burma government. Not only is sexual violence prohibited under all applicable international law, rape is also criminalized under Article 375 of the Myanmar Penal Code, with severe penalties stipulated under Article 376.The Burma government should commit to enforcing existing laws on top of amending the Constitution and enacting any additional laws, such as the Anti-Violence Against Women Law drafted by women’s groups, that are required to prevent rape and sexual abuses taking place with impunity.

The Burma Army must not be allowed to continue using rape and all forms of sexual violence as a tool to instill fear and oppress the ethnic communities. There must be an independent investigation into current and past human rights violations including sexual violence in order to stop the pattern of impunity. Without an end to sexual violence, there can be no peace or democracy in Burma.

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