New Report Details Ongoing Sexualized Violence in Burma

On January 13, 2014, GJC staff members Akila Radhakrishnan and Michelle Onello published an article on the Women Under Siege project blog, titled on new reports detailing ongoing sexualized violence in Burma.

Click here to read the full article. 

Burma Refuses to Relinquish Rape as Weapon of War

The event was hosted by Secretary Hague and Zainab Hawa Bangura, special representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict, and included speakers from 27 member countries who discussed the need to prevent and respond to sexualized violence committed under the cloak of war. They also highlighted the devastating effects that rape and sexualized violence wreak on individuals, families, communities, and entire nations.

By the end of the day, 113 member countries had endorsed what Secretary Hague called the “milestone” Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. The declaration holds that sexualized violence in conflict is in direct violation of international humanitarian law (IHL) and declares that the perpetrators should be pursued and arrested no matter where they are in the world. The declaration also calls upon signatory member states to do more than raise awareness to the issue and to provide better support not only to the victims but to national and international efforts to prevent and respond to sexualized violence in conflict.

But 80 nations opted not to sign the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. One of them was Burma.

For many, Burma’s refusal to sign the declaration didn’t come as a surprise. Reports of sexualized violence committed by the army and police, particularly in Burma’s ethnic and border regions, have increased over the last two years, according to some advocacy groups. And Burma President Thein Sein has done little to address the issue, preferring to highlight gains made in other sectors, including the opening of the economy to global investment and his periodic release of political prisoners.

The international community, eager to praise these reforms, has neglected to call Burma out on its sexualized violence problem, ignoring the ingrained culture of impunity that has allowed sexualized violence to flourish for decades. The military regime that came to power in a 1962 coup has used rape, particularly against women in the ethnic and border regions, as a way to quell opposition movements and retain control. A weapon of war, the practice is typically employed to keep communities compliant by sowing fear and humiliation and punishing and interrogating those who would support opposition groups. Sadly, the Burmese military junta’s campaign of widespread and systematic sexual violence continues unabated today.

It’s understandable, then, that President Thein Sein and his new admirers would not want to tarnish fragile gains, but how much do these gains really mean in the face of continued sexualized violence toward women and girls in Burmese conflict zones?

Burma President Thein Sein speaks at Chatham House in July. (Chatham House)

This is precisely why Burma’s failure to stand with 113 other nations in signing the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict was such a disappointment. More than just a squandered opportunity for the nation to demonstrate an honest and ongoing desire for social and political reform, it was a chance to turn the tide, to announce an end to the culture of silence and impunity that legitimizes rape and sexual violence in Burma.

Human rights groups in and outside of Burma were quick to condemn the government’s failure to sign on to the Declaration.

Zoya Phan, Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK, said, “The use of rape and sexual violence in conflict in Burma must be stopped. If Thein Sein refuses to cooperate, then international legal action should be taken to prevent these crimes. For many ethnic women, rape by Burmese army soldiers is a daily fear, and justice seems to be just a distant dream.”

“The government should bear the responsibility of crimes perpetrated by its army. They should ensure justice for such crimes in accordance with the law,” Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe, Central Committee member of the Myanmar Women’s Network, told the 2013 Myanmar Women’s Forum prior to the UN event.

The Burmese Diplomatic Mission to the UN in New York declined to comment by telephone and did not reply to email requests for an official statement on their failure to sign the declaration.

But it’s hard to fault the Mission for their non-answer; after all, they’re simply following President Thein Sein’s lead in ignoring the issue. One of the biggest stumbling blocks in Burma’s transition to civilian rule has been the government’s unwillingness to fully divest itself of the privileged status of the previous military junta. In fact, this lack of accountability is hard-wired into the country’s constitution, rendering the nation incapable of enforcing IHL against its military, as the Global Justice Center’s President Janet Benshoof has noted.

Ultimately, last week’s missed opportunity can be seen as less a statement on Burma’s disinterest in ending government-sanctioned sexualized violence and more an appraisal of Burma’s transition to democracy. To assent to the UN’s declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict would be to assent to accountability and to a new era of checks and balances for a government whose members seem more concerned with losing a seat at the table than addressing the issue being discussed at the table.

Perhaps this is only another hiccup on the road to reformation. Perhaps Burma will relent and commit to the mandates of the declaration. But, in the meantime, the girls and women of Burma will continue to be victimized without means of redress or protection, and the body count will continue to rise.

A version of this article was cross-posted with Women Under Siege.

First Things First: Constitutional Reform in Burma

On October 23, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights, Tomas Ojea Quintana, released the latest report on the Situation on Human Rights in Myanmar for the General Assembly’s sixty-eighth session. The report had been highly anticipated by civil society groups who are concerned with growing tensions in the turbulent nation.

Mr. Quintana, incidentally, had a closer look at that tension than he’d likely anticipated recently when, during an unpleasant trip to the Rakhine state, the lack of a government security detail led to him being accosted by an angry mob. (Burmese President, Thein Sein’s almost comical response was to insist that the mob had actually been trying to present the UN official with a letter and a t-shirt.)

It was of little surprise, then, that the Special Rapporteur’s update highlighted the urgent need for continued reforms. 2013 has seen a growing chorus of international approval for Burma’s incremental human rights gains but, let’s face it, when the forced relocation of entire ethnic villages into internally displaced persons (IDP) camps ranks among the less distressing human rights events of the year, things really haven’t improved much in Burma.

Accusations of political violence and discrimination have continued to plague the Sein administration; particularly harrowing have been the reports from Burma’s ethnic and border regions, where political opposition groups continue to be victimized by the state’s brutal military and police. Accusations of sexual violence, forced labor, human trafficking, the recruitment of child soldiers, use of prisoners as human mine sweepers, arbitrary arrests, extortion, land confiscation, denial and revocation of citizenship, and restrictions on movement, religion, and marriage, have been lobbed at the Sein administration from all directions.

That these atrocities continue despite 23 years of calls for reform indicates something’s not working. Even 2008’s new national constitution did little more than rebrand the brutal ruling military junta, who have effectively cowed the world into believing that Burma is ever on the brink of becoming overwhelmed with the reform process, prepared to revert to the hermit kingdom they once were. As a result, the timid international community is content to cajole the Burmese government into accepting piecemeal reforms that have done little to change a culture of intimidationimpunity, and deadly violence.

It seems more obvious now than ever, any real solution lies fundamentally deeper than reform at the symptom level. Comprehensive constitutional reform that divests the former military junta of its continuing grip on power in Burma by imposing civilian controls is the only option.

Mr. Quintana appears to agree. This week’s report includes numerous unambiguous statements on the need for constitutional reforms. Alongside calls for quotas to boost women’s participation in state and local decision-making and for an independent judiciary were denunciations of constitutionally-sanctioned impunity and discrimination. That Mr. Quintana, for the first time, pointed out specific enabling constitutional articles hopefully signals the UN has had enough of Burma’s half measures.

The futility of incremental reforms has been noted inside Burma, to be sure. The main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has seen its calls for an amended or completely redrawn national constitution gain momentum within the country recently and Burma’s multitude of ethnic minorities have begun to demand a seat at the table in an effort to help determine their own fate.

NLD leader and Nobel peace prize winner, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has now asked the international community to help democracy activists in Burma to amend the Constitution; she urged world leaders, including the European Union and the United States, to continue to put pressure of the Burmese government saying, “Reform has gone as far as it can without changes to the constitution.”

This push has also been championed by women’s rights groups within Burma and around the world who urge fundamental reforms are needed to address Burma’s constitutional deficiencies, such as the lack of a substantial equality guarantee which effectively excludes ethnic women from political participation. The 2008 document even shockingly includes a provision proclaiming males should be appointed to “positions that are naturally suited for men.”

A multitude of official world bodies have also repeatedly highlighted the need for constitutional reforms. Until recently, though, most have done so with glancing blows, failing to connect on the most fundamental issue, the Burmese military’s constitutionally guaranteed stake in governing the country. Until this metric is fundamentally rewritten, there will be no accountability for a government that routinely eviscerates the basic human rights of its own citizens in order to maintain its grip on power.

With the UN now seemingly on board, the next steps on the human rights situation in Burma are clear: The international community must cease lauding President Thein Sein for plodding political and economic reforms calculated to insulate the ruling regime, and attack the fundamental dynamic that sustains a culture of bloodshed in Burma. They must insist on targeted constitutional reforms that will allow full and robust participation in Burma’s government by all of its peoples. Anything less at this late stage would amount to a tacit approval of the wholesale slaughter of innocent women, children and men.

Justice in Syria

All the talk this week will be whether the United States will launch air strikes on Syria, in the wake of the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in the country’s ongoing civil war. During yesterday’s Senate hearing, Secretary of State John Kerry made the case that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has committed egregious human rights violations, including the violation of one of the most important norms of international law: the ban of using weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) against civilians. President Obama emphasized that potential US strikes is about protecting this fundamental international norm, which is threatened by the Syrian government’s alleged gassing of its own people. Yet, Syria has long been in a state of unrest – and the Global Justice Center takes a look a few other areas in which Syria is violating international law, particularly when it comes to equal protection and rights for women.

Impunity

As has been evident throughout the conflict in Syria, neither the government nor the rebel faction shave been held accountable for their crimes – even when these crimes do not respect international law. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon noted that government abuses were largest in scale. In its 2013 Annual Report on Syria, Amnesty International wrote that “the government took no steps to investigate the numerous allegations against their forces or to bring anyone to justice for alleged gross human rights violations, crimes against humanity or war crimes. The government maintained a reign of impunity, including legislation giving members of the security forces effective immunity for unlawful killings, torture, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations.”

The Global Justice Center is all too familiar with the dangers of governmental impunity through its work with the Burma Law Project. The Burma Constitution perpetuates injustice as a policy by giving complete amnesty to the military for its crimes, including systematic rapes of ethnic women. It also excludes women, just as 2012 Syrian Constitution. With the human rights violations mounting in Syria, including an alarming number of reported rapes and sexual crimes, it is clear that no matter how the conflict in Syria ends, perpetrators must be held accountable on both sides. The international community cannot allow yet another example of war crimes, especially gender-based violence, to be carried out with impunity.

In addition, according to Women under Siege, a journalism project founded by Gloria Steinem, sexual violence is and has been rampant in Syria throughout the conflict. It is perpetrated by both sides, without justice for victims (or, in many cases, even necessary medical care). Women Under Siege has been collecting reports of sexual violence in Syria to document the way rape is being used to terrorize and intimidate the Syrian people. With this data they have created a live, crowd-sourced map. The crimes documented went largely unpunished and represent only a small part of the whole, because sexual violence in Syria is largely underreported.

“With no clear future for Syria in sight, refugees are understandably cautious about who they speak to and trust with sensitive and personal information… It may be hard to put their trust in a stranger when, time and again, there has been little justice for victims of wartime rape.” – Lauren Wolfe, Director, Women Under Siege.

Gender Equality

According to data from the WEF Gender Gap Report on countries’ gender equality progress since the Arab Spring, overall the region’s score increased by a dismal 1.2% from 2010 to 2012. Syria, on the other hand, decreased by 5.3%. That’s right: Syria is moving backwards on women’s rights issues, mainly because of decreases in estimated earned income. In addition, in a list of 135 countries, Syria was ranked an abysmal #111 in the Gender Gap Index for “political empowerment” in 2012 by the report.

“[Syria]’s civil war has coincided with reduced political participation for women and sharply curtailed access to the country’s shattered economy,” wrote Max Fisher, Washington Post’s foreign affairs blogger, in an article.

But Syria is not only moving backwards; the basis on which it started never had equal opportunities for women in the first place.

“While the penal code no longer fully exonerates perpetrators of so-called honor crimes, it still gives judges options for reduced sentences if a crime was committed with “honorable” intent. The nationality law of 1969 prevents Syrian women married to foreign spouses the right to pass on their citizenship to their children or spouses,” Human Rights Watch stated in its 2012 World Report on Syria.

When this tragic and deadly conflict finally comes to an end, any future government in Syria must look towards building long-term stability. A major key to that is to have a government and a constitution that is representative. Women’s rights are not something that can be pushed to the side and fixed only after the country is considered “stable.”In reality, ensuring women’s rights is anecessary step to achieving long-term stability. There must be increased participation in the political process by women if the country is to fulfill the pledge in the 2012 Syrian Constitution of a multi-party system, replacing ade facto one-party system that has hindered democratic reform for the past several decades.

As the world waits to see if the US will strike and what the global fallout from such action will be, it is critical to examine the roots of injustice if Syria can ever hope to move forward.

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Room for Improvement: Looking back at the 2011 Egyptian Protests

Recently women have been heavily involved in protests in Egypt. This was true as well in 2011, but when the 2012 Constitution came out it had as little gender equality as the laws it was replacing.

At what point in the process did it become okay to silence the voices of women?

“[President] Morsi had promised an increasing role for women and Copts. The Constitution came after that with nothing! …  Women’s rights have been linked to religion and not to the needs of Egyptian women,” -  Azza Suleiman,  an Egyptian lawyer working to stop violence against women, said in an Amnesty International Report when interviewed.

She also condemned the opposition’s reaction: “They say it’s because there are more important issues to deal with at the moment. As if women’s problems are not as important!”

In 2012, the new government failed to deliver on its promises of democracy. Women were not equally represented (only two female members in the 36-member Cabinet). No tangible action was taken on gender issues. Authorities announced a stricter sexual harassment law in October 2012 and again in February 2013, but failedto pass it both times. Without women equally represented in the government, there was little motivation to act on gender equality issues – though women protested the unfairness from the outside. An Alliance of Women’s Groups called for gender equality in the new constitution in July, but thus far there has been little sign of movement on this issue.

The Global Justice Center knows that, where there is a constitution that excludes women and ignores the processes of justice, unrest is bound to follow. Our Burma Law Project seeks to challenge the same constitutional suppression of women’s voices in Burma. Gender parity in power is key to long-term stabilization in both of these transitioning democracies.

Amina Agami, an Egyptian woman who works with NGOs protecting human rights, said in the same Amnesty International Report that the 2012 Constitution “…does not care about women, as if they do not exist.” She also said that the Constitution could potentially provide for child marriage, and “The Constitution does not give women any chance to be at the parliament, ministry of justice or any other positions like that.”

GJC knows that to have a functioning democratic state the laws holding it together must be just. It is not possible to have such laws while women’s rights are ignored.

In the recent 2013 protests, women have been repeatedly silenced with sexual harassment while trying to exercise their right to peaceful protest. On the single day of June 30th46 sexual assaults were reported from Tahrir Square. The attacks on protesters have reached such levels that Amnesty International recently began a petition calling on Egypt to end sexual violence against women protesters. Consider also that  99.3% of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetimes.

This wide-scale suppression of Egyptian women’s voices is unacceptable. Egypt cannot move in any positive direction if Egyptian women are unable to exercise their political voice freely and unmolested.

In the next few weeks, Egypt needs to keep in mind gender equality and equal participation in government because without it a just and democratic system will never be reached. GJC aims to increase women’s roles in governments internationally. As our logo demonstrates, women make up 51% of the world’s population, but the global average for women in government is only 19.7%. We are working to close this gap, because only then will we have true representative democracy.  Women must be allowed to have an equal and respected role in government changes in Egypt. While we wait to see when and if Egypt will hold democratic elections again, one thing is clear:  The party thatultimately gains power in Egypt must make women’s rights a priority.

Legal Victory in Kenya Can Serve as Model to Fight Impunity in Burma

Girls and women in Kenya recently made history when the High Court of Kenya delivered a favorable outcome to a constitutional challenge in which 160 girls between the ages of 3 and 17 sued the Kenyan government for failing to protect them from being raped.

The girls brought the action under Section 22(1) of the Kenyan constitution, which provides that “Every person has the right to institute court proceedings claiming that a right or fundamental freedom in the Bill of Rights has been denied, violated or infringed, or is threatened.” The Kenyan criminal code contains laws that protect against rape, however they are not enforced and as a result rape has been on the rise. The petitioners accused the police of “neglect, omission, refusal and/or failure…to conduct prompt, effective, proper and professional investigations” into sexual violence complaints.

The High Court agreed with the petitioners, saying that the police had “unlawfully, inexcusably and unjustifiably” failed to respond to reports of sexual abuse in Kenya. It said police inaction and lack of enforcement has created a “climate of impunity” that shows perpetrators they can commit crimes of sexual violence and not be punished. The Court found that the petitioners’ fundamental rights and freedoms had been violated, not only under the Kenyan Constitution but also according to international law. The Court found police inaction to violate fundamental rights that are protected by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Court also considered international cases that demonstrate a consensus that states may be held accountable for failing to properly respond to sexual violence because they have a duty “to protect all citizens from violence and ensure their security of person.”

Two days after the victory, several people contacted Fiona Sampson, the Toronto attorney who worked on the case. They wanted to use the case as a model in other countries for fighting impunity in the context of sexual violence, a problem that is hardly limited to Kenya.

For the women in Burma, for example, the problem of impunity in the face of widespread sexual violence is dire. The prevalence of abuse, documented by Burmese women’s groups, UN special rapporteurs, and even the Security Council, is extensive. These violations are not anecdotal incidences of crime. Rather, the Burmese military uses rape as a weapon of war against the civilian population.

Although this problem has been reported at length, the Burmese government refuses to take any action to punish such acts. In fact, the current 2008 Constitution provides complete impunity for sexual violence perpetrated by the military by including an amnesty provision that precludes the prosecution of military perpetrators of crimes. What’s more, current law requires that any amendment to the Constitution be supported by more than 75% of parliament. Because 25% of parliamentary seats are reserved for the military, all nonmilitary members plus at least one military member must support any proposed amendment. It is therefore unlikely that the amnesty provision will be overturned any time soon.Because of this, the International Center for Transitional Justice has said that Burma presents “one of the most difficult challenges in the world in relation to making progress toward combating impunity”.

As a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Burma has an affirmative duty to ensure women are protected from sexual violence, which includes not affording immunity to its perpetrators. Like Kenya, Burma is bound under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and should be guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in developing policies and practices that protect Burmese citizens from sexual violence. Burma is violating these international obligations when it relies on its 2008 Constitution to justify inaction.

The international community should look to the recent case in Kenya as a model and call for Burma to put an end to impunity if it wants to establish viable democracy in the country. Given the Burmese military’s reliance on aid, international pressure could be highly effective. While the government continues to fail to act to combat impunity, the international community must demand a change in the constitution so that girls and women in Burma, just as in Kenya, receive the protections their government owes them.

Women Must be Included in Drafting Libya Constitution

On May 29, 2013, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) called for the active participation of women in the drafting of Libya’s constitution-drafting. The statement stresses the significant role Libyan women played in the February Revolution and the continued role they play in public life. The impact women had on the revolution is certainly true, but, we are missing a decisive point – that the participation of women in the drafting process (as well as in the political process in general) is a legal obligation under international law.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, along with CEDAW, stipulate that women should be included in the drafting of national constitutions. As applied to Libya, the Security Council resolutions, which pertain to enhanced gender roles and protections, and CEDAW, a treaty that encompasses recommendations for advancing women’s rights, are relevant in two ways. First, the laws demand women’s participation because of Libya’s post-conflict status. Security Council Resolution 1889 states that nations should ensure women’s participation during all stages of peace processes, especially post-conflict planning and peace building, by enhancing female engagement in decision making from the early stages of the recovery process. Similarly, CEDAW’s General Recommendation 23 states that women must participate in the formulation and implementation of government policy, as well as hold public office. Following the “Declaration of liberation,” Libya is currently a post-conflict state and thus falls within the scope of SCR 1889. Furthermore, the constitution-drafting process appears to be the very type of early-stage planning in which women must be involved. A constitution is a primary source of policy and law; women must be included in its drafting process.

The second way CEDAW and the Security  Council resolutions pertain to the Libyan constitution-drafting process is that they call for heightened gender perspectives in decision making processes. The special needs of women are better protected by female point of view in the lawmaking process. Thus, special measures should be taken to ensure women’s political participation. Both UNSC Resolution 1325 and CEDAW directly call for increased gender perspective; however, the latter legal entity goes one step further. In its fifth General Recommendation, CEDAW emphasizes the use of temporary special measures, such as preferential treatment or quota systems, to ensure the inclusion of a critical mass of women in governing bodies. The 23rd General Recommendation further explains that this mere removal ofde jure barriers is necessary but not sufficient, and that states must also work to address cultural barriers and stereotypes, facilitate the recruitment of female candidates, provide financial assistance and training and amend electoral procedures to ensure critical mass.

The optimal means to ensure that a gender perspective manifests in Libyan society is to entrench these values into the constitution. Such steps are legally stipulated by international law, and the appropriate means to attain gender equality, according to CEDAW, are expected to be taken without delay. To reach gender equality, CEDAW recommends temporary measures that per se favor women. A state’s social and cultural practices that are contrary to the equality goal are not accepted reasons to violate its obligations. Libya is no exception. It is the responsibility of the State to provide avenues for women to ascend to office, by reserving public office opportunities for women, as well as actively working to overcome the stigma that may preclude women from becoming candidates.

Democratic practice is also subject to international law on gender equality. In other words, a lack of female representation is not permitted merely as a failure of the population to vote for female candidates. CEDAW recommends that states use electoral instruments to ensure that at least a minimum number of women – that goes beyond mere “tokenism” and is estimated to be between 30 and 35 percent of legislative seats – in order to receive a “critical mass.”

Libya admittedly took steps towards increasing female representation by using a quota (ten percent of seats) in the first democratic election after the fall of the Gaddafi regime. However, this figure is well short of the thirty to thirty-five percent that CEDAW’s General Recommendation 23 provides is necessary for adequate representation. Furthermore, the ten percent quota utilized in Libya is ambiguous and may actually serve as a ceiling for female representation. Finally, the quota only applies to a narrow category of politicians that make up a small proportion of the government assembly.

With these concerns in mind, GJC welcomes UNMSIL’s announcement, but seeks to ensure that Libya goes further to guarantee women the political power and voice they are due according to international law. The new Libyan Constitution is an opportunity to realize gender equality and protect women’s international human rights, as enumerated by the UNSC and CEDAW. Not only do women deserve a seat at the table in drafting Libya’s constitution, as UNMSIL notes, from their participation in the February Revolution, but also as a matter of international law. All efforts must be taken to ensure women’s participation in the constitution-drafting process, and in electoral politics. Such measures will enable the country’s further democratization as it develops in the wake of the revolution.

The Gender Gap and Women's Political Power in Myanmar/Burma

The rights of women under international law, including the right to occupy positions of political power, have advanced more in the last 20 years than ever before. True political participation requires a significant number of women in all areas of governance: ceasefire and peace treaty negotiations, constitution drafting committees, political parties, executive branch appointments, and elected positions.

In Burma, the long history of militarization has reinforced and perpetuated the gender gap in power. Women are not admitted into active military service, effectively excluding them (as well as ethnic minorities) from political participation since top offices are reserved for the military. Therefore, they have also been ineligible for the employment, education, business, joint venture and travel opportunities created by military status.

Pursuant to the 2008 Constitution, the Defense Services (Tatmadaw) remain an integral and permanent part of the machinery that governs Burma and is constitutionally guaranteed complete power and autonomy. The continued military dominance guaranteed by the Constitution is the main obstacle for women in Burma hindering them from ever gaining real political power.

This timeline illustrates the absence of women’s voices from formal governing structures throughout Burmese history. It should provide an impetus for this formerly silent majority, the feminist majority, to make their voices heard and to take their turn at governing the country.

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Letter to Louise Arbour: RE: The International Crisis Group’s Policy Urging Unconditional Engagement with Burma’s Military Rulers Contradicts States’ Absolute Obligations to Respond to Burma’s Serious Breaches of Peremptory Norms of International Law, Sep

Letter to Louise Arbour: RE: The International Crisis Group’s Policy Urging Unconditional Engagement with Burma’s Military Rulers Contradicts States’ Absolute Obligations to Respond to Burma’s Serious Breaches of Peremptory Norms of International Law, September 2011

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Irish Abortion Debate Further Ignites Tensions Over Women’s Rights

A recent controversial death in Ireland has sparked worldwide debate regarding abortion. Savita Halappanavar, a young woman suffering from a potentially life-threatening miscarriage, was denied a life-saving abortion due to Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws. According to reports by Mr. Halappanavar, Savita was told told that an abortion could not be performed because “Ireland is a Catholic country”. The couple had also been informed that the fetus had no chance of survival, but that an abortion could not take place until the fetal heartbeat had disappeared.  Oddly, Ireland’s constitution itself states that abortion is legal, even if there is a fetal heartbeat, if there is a “real and substantial risk” to the life of the woman. This condition was clearly present in this case, as Ms. Halappanavar was pronounced dead only a week later. The fetus was eventually removed, but by then it was too late, causing Ms. Halappanavar to die from sepsis (infection of the blood). The problematic wording of the constitution’s requirement of “real and substantial risk” to the mother’s life clearly allows a great deal of subjectivity and discretionary action on the part of the physician. During the official inquest, hospital physicians have stated that there was nothing that could have been done to save the young woman because there was no substantive risk to her life until a few hours before her death. However, leading Irish obstetrician Dr. Peter Boylan admits that Ms. Halappanavar most likely would have survived had the abortion taken place a day or two before she became ill. It’s understandable why women around the world are outraged about the blatant violations of Halappanavar’s rights- violations that also occur in many countries around the world. How long are we going to allow women to have their health rights violated before a change is made? These unacceptable violations do not occur only in Ireland, but throughout the world, particularly in developing nations. That’s why Global Justice Center’s August 12th campaign is so adamant about bringing justice to women around the world who are being denied their rightful access to abortions. Whether in a conflict zone or a peaceful area, women’s lives should never be put at risk because of a practitioner’s religious or social beliefs. Every woman is entitled to life, and not allowing a woman to have an abortion takes away her fundamental right to live and make decisions for her own health. The denial of abortion rights to women is unjust, and in Ms. Halappanavar’s case, unlawful, and women worldwide must take action to ensure that this is put to an end.

GJC President Janet Benshoof in Democratic Voice of Burma: "It's Time for the International Community to Address Burma's Constitution"

Here's an excerpt from the article "It's Time for the International Community to Address Burma's Constitution," which was published in Democratic Voice of Burma on February 20, 2013:

The international community acts as if development and engagement alone can secure a democratic future for Burma. The United Nations and donor countries, with staggering rapidity, are investing considerable amounts of international and bilateral aid in Burma, including for “rule of law” projects designed to jettison Burma into the 21st century global legal community. However, this well-intended engagement, touting ideals of democracy and the rule of law, is built on a fallacy, which neither serves the people of Burma nor advances the global security sought by the international community.

This fallacy is that justice, democracy, and rule of law can be established in Burma notwithstanding the fact that the 2008 constitution establishing the “Republic of the Union of Myanmar” grants the “Defense Services,” under Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, complete and total legal autonomy over its own affairs, as well as immunity for its actions, however criminal or corrupt. The truth is actually quite simple: unless and until the military is placed under civilian control through constitutional amendment, talk of democracy and rule of law in Burma is just that, talk.

Click here to read the full article in English.

Click here to read the full article in Burmese. 

Definition of Sovereignty

November 2012

The very definition of “sovereignty” or of a “sovereign” state like the Union of the Republic of Myanmar, assumes that the state has complete legal authority over the military and over constitution amendment processes

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The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Calls for UN Security Council Action on the 2008 Myanmar Constitution's Removal of All Civilian Government Control Over the Military

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - November 30, 2012

[NEW YORK, NY] - On November 30, 2012, the President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Dr. David Krieger, alerted United Nations Security Council members to the security risks raised by the 2008 Myanmar constitution, which denies the civilian government any power to control the military.