BURMA: WOMEN’S DAY — No protection for women 

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 impunity.

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.

The policing system in Burma is ruled by a military dictatorship, so there is no legal action taken against military perpetrators. There are legal provisions, but they are not being enforced. In Penal code, article 376 it is stated that “Whoever commits rape shall be punished with transportation for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine, unless the woman raped is his own wife and is not under twelve years of age, in which case he shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”. However, article 375 makes an exception in certain types of rape cases. It states that: “Exception — Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under thirteen years of age, is not rape.” This article is a direct violation of the rights of women.

We need to listen to alternative voices in order to truly assess the existing conditions for women inside Burma. Only then can we ensure that improvements are made. It is critical that women inside Burma have access to information about their rights under CEDAW and the state’s obligations to secure the rights of women.

The AHRC will continuously stand in solidarity for the women from Burma who are deprive of the dignity and rights under 2008 constitution. We demand accountability from the Burmese military government for and  urges the government should be figure out what the remedies and compensation to the women in Burma.

The new government in office has furthered political reforms and changes are taking place inside the country. However, a legal framework that protects the women of Myanmar is still needed. Women from all over the country that live in conflict zones and in areas where there is no conflict are still not guaranteed justice, because there is no rule of law in Myanmar.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-052-2012
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),
Issues : Impunity, Minorities, Victims assistance & protection, Violence against women, Women's rights,