Aung San Suu Kyi condemns sexual violence by Burmese army

By Thea Forbes

 

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – In a conference held by the Nobel Women’s Initiative, Burma’s own Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi condemned sexual violence against women in conflicts around the globe.

 

In a video message presented at the conference, Suu Kyi decried the use of all forms of sexual violence against women as a systematic weapon of war. She said that in Burma, especially in the areas of ethnic nationalities, ‘rape is rife’.

 

‘Rape is used in my country as a weapon against those who only want to live in peace, who only want to assert their basic human rights. Especially in the areas of ethnic nationalities, rape is rife. It is used as a weapon by armed forces to intimidate the ethnic nationalities and to divide our country', she said in her message.

 

The conference, ‘Women forging a new security: Ending sexual violence in conflict’, was held on May 23-25 May in Montebello, Canada, and was attended by more than 100 gender activists, academics, security experts, corporate leaders and Nobel Peace laureates.

 

Suu Kyi stressed the global importance of empowering women and educating men in order to end the devastating use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, used to destroy individuals, families and communities in conflict zones.

 

Heavy intensification of militarization in Burma, particularly in the areas of ethnic nationality groups, has reaped terrible effects on the lives of women and girls who are subject to physical and sexual violence from a basically unaccountable military.

 

The culture of misogyny and sexual violence against women fostered within the military has been used as a deliberate military strategy to destroy communities and subjugate the local populations in zones of conflict.

 

A United Nations Security Council resolution classifying rape as a weapon of war was passed in 2008. It defines  sexual violence is ‘a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group’

 

'Rape is cheaper than bullets'

 

Tin Tin Nyo, the general-secretary of the Women’s League of Burma (WLB), told Mizzima that she concurred that women’s empowerment and education was vital to bringing about an end to the use of all forms of violence against women. She stressed a lack of awareness within Burma of the use of rape as a weapon by the military and said that there was a 'very limited knowledge' due to state control of the media.

 

She also said that there remained a stigma attached to rape in Burma and that it was one of WLB’s biggest obstacles in obtaining data.

 

‘Rape is very sensitive and is a taboo for the people in the communities, it is never easy for the survivors of rape to actually report or express about what happened to them, because they are still living in the community where the traditional practices are very strong, traditional practices that are never encouraging for the women…so whenever the women are raped or sexually abused, these women always become the ones to be blamed, not the perpetrators’, she said.

 

According to a statement released by Canadian Friends of Burma, K'Nway Paw of the WLB, who attended the conference, said that her organization was pushing for international governments to back the proposed UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) into human rights abuses and crimes against humanity in Burma in order to eventually bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice and that WLB is ‘calling for a referral of the head of the military regime to the International Criminal Court’.

 

She noted that for political reasons the regime had managed to evade international intervention and pointed a finger at China for vetoing the effort at the UN Security Council.

 

Zoya Phan, Burma Campaign UK’s international co-ordinator, told Mizzima, 'I don’t think that the dictatorship will reform itself and stop violence against women. To really tackle this problem we need to remove the dictatorship and have a democratic government. But I do think international pressure, the threat of consequences for the violence against women, can help combat it’.

 

The Karen activist told Mizzima, ‘The use of sexual violence against women in Burma has not changed, look at what is happening in Shan State since March. Many instances of gang rape by the Burmese army. Ban Ki-moon says sexual violence against women is a silent war, but he is silent about the Burmese army using sexual violence and that encourages the dictatorship to think they can get away with it’.

 

She said that rape as a weapon of war is not only used to destroy communities, but that it was also used systematically as ‘part of the Burmanization policy by the regime against other ethnic civilians, in order to dissolve the ethnic nationalities’.

 

In 2008, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called sexual violence against women and girls in conflict across the globe a 'silent war'.



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