Written by Phyu Phyu Sann, GJC Burma Researcher
I am part of a generation of people from Burma who grew up dreaming of and longing for justice. A generation that continues to be victimized by terrible acts of mass atrocities carried out by our own ruling regime. Extrajudicial killings, torture, and forced labor are prevalent; rape and sexual abuse by the military are rampant; and more than 200,000 civilians were forcibly displaced in the east. In regions where armed conflict is ongoing, villagers have been used as human minesweepers and the forcible conscription of child soldiers is widespread.
More that 2,100 of my fellow country women and men who dedicated their lives to the ideals of justice and democracy are now languishing in remote prison labor camps far from their homes, in atrocious conditions, enduring mental and physical torture and summary executions at the hands of the military.
When I was inside Burma, the widespread repression and atrocities made me feel desperate and hopeless – that we were on our own and no one could help us to end this circle of impunity. As part of the Global Justice Center team working to uphold international commitments to the rule of law and enforce the people of Burma’s rights to criminal accountability, my sense of desperation has changed to one of hope. The international legal tools exist to give the people of Burma justice, and the GJC is working tirelessly to see that this happens.
This fall, the military regime will entrench its power permanently through elections that will trigger the full implementation of a criminal Constitution that codifies the military control over the government. What’s more, this Constitution gives the military amnesty for the crimes it is committing against its people and ensures that no civilian judge can ever hold a member of the military accountable.
This aggressive and deliberate act by the military to enshrine impunity as a “right” is a serious breach of peremptory norms striking at the heart of Burma’s obligations under the Genocide and Geneva Conventions, customary international law, and UN resolutions on women, peace and security and the use of sexual violence in conflict.
The Global Justice Center refuses to let the Burmese junta continuously thwart the international justice system.
We are preparing a draft Security Council Resolution declaring the Burma 2008 Constitution and any elections arising therefrom null and void, as it did with the South African apartheid Constitution in 1984. The pivotal precedent set by UN Security Council Resolution 554 on South Africa provides a framework for addressing analogous constitutions and election processes that entrench repressive regimes. In the upcoming months we are seeking avenues to bring this resolution before the Security Council and asking the global community to respect its commitment to international justice by joining us in calling for a referral of the situation in Burma to the International Criminal Court.
If the elections in Burma take place this fall, the threat that Burma poses to global peace and security will continue to escalate. This is our opportunity to show the world’s dictators that global rule of law will not be flouted.
The dream of justice for the people of Burma – one that I held onto my entire life – must become a reality.
Read a speech by GJC President Janet Benshoof on advances in international law to end impunity in Burma here.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and, Global Justice Center partner, the Burma Lawyers Council (BLC) released a report entitled: “Advancing Human Rights and Ending Impunity in Burma: Which External Leverage?”. The report catalogues the presentations of leading exiled Burmese organizations, international and regional human rights NGOs, as well as renowned international legal experts from an FIDH-BLC joint seminar in May 2009.
As said by 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi in the introduction of the report: “We know that there can be no effective treatment by simply wiping the slate clean and starting anew…Burma cannot claim international legitimacy by merely plastering onto one of the worst dictatorial systems in the world a mask of democracy that fools no one.”
Global Justice Center President Janet Benshoof gave the keynote remarks, calling to end impunity in Burma through an International Criminal Court (ICC) referral, which would demand criminal accountability. This accountability is essential to sustainable peace and national reconciliation in Burma:
“The legal duty to ensure Senior General Than Shwe and other top criminal perpetrators are prosecuted for perpetrating crimes of concern to the global community is neither an option nor a “lever” for change. This legal duty, just like the criminal culpability of these perpetrators, exists today and forever. It can never be negated, suspended, or replaced by a statute of limitation, peace agreements, talks, sanctions, elections, negotiations or amnesties.
However, generations of men, women, and children of all ethnic and religious backgrounds have lived and died in Burma without knowing peace, without having received any forms of redress or justice and, without experiencing the most basic guarantees of human dignity embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are entitled to justice in their lifetime. I believe we can make this happen.”
Please access the full report here:
To read more about criminal accountability in Burma, please reference the Global Justice Center “How to Talk About Burma” tool:
The passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR 1325) in 2000 was a legal milestone for women’s equality. For the first time, the UN Security Council not only recognized the gender-specific impact of conflict and historic gender discrimination in criminal accountability, it also underscored the need for women to participate in postconflict reconstruction. Ten years later, the military junta in Burma continues to flout this legal obligation through the routine and systematic use of gender based crimes and the utter exclusion of women from peacebuilding processes. To ensure respect for the legal obligations set out in SCR 1325, the international community must address the situation on the ground for women in Burma, and women of Burma in exile.
Rampant Impunity for Gender Based Crimes
There is substantial documentation that sexual violence is used by the military junta against ethnic women in Burma as a means to consolidate military rule and destroy ethnic communities. Virtually none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice. These crimes are a threat to international peace and security.
Three concrete examples of this sexual violence include:
- October 23 to November 4, 2004 – Four Mon women held by SPDC troops at their base and repeatedly gang raped (Catwalk to the Barracks, Mon Women’s Organization, 2004)
- October 9, 2006 – Palaung woman raped, her skull cracked open and stabbed four times in her left breast (Rights Yearbook, Human Rights Documentation Unit, 2006)
- October 10, 2006 – Three naval cadets raped a 14 year old girl, none of the cadets were punished and the girl was forced to marry one of her rapists. (Burma Human Rights Yearbook, 2006)
On July 15, 2009, Burma was reported to the Security Council by the Secretary-General as a country violating Resolution 1820, citing to the impunity afforded to the military’s systematic use of sexual violence against women. Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820 and 1888 note that such crimes against women can constitute war crimes, a crime against humanity or a constituent act with respect to genocide. The Resolutions require that all perpetrators of these crimes be prosecuted in either domestic or international courts. SCR 1820 specifically recalls the Rome Statute to the International Criminal Court and prohibits any amnesties for these crimes.
Exclusion of Women from the Peacekeeping Process
Women’s peacebuilding organizations are based in neighboring countries, mainly Thailand, as a result of the stranglehold the military regime executes over all aspects of political, social and economic life in Burma. Under a constant threat to their safety, women’s organizations operate on very limited resources, and without the partnerships of UN bodies in the region. These women’s organizations are working tirelessly and courageously in the harshest of conditions to document the increasing human rights abuses by the military; and to educate women on their rights to political empowerment. However, despite the important perspectives these groups offer they are excluded from any international dialogue that takes place about Burma.
The International Community Must Uphold the Legal Obligations of SCR 1325
Recognizing that systematic crimes of sexual violence trigger the United Nations Security Council obligations under Resolution 1325 and 1820 to provide justice and accountability, the Global Justice Center advocates for the immediate launch of a Commission of Inquiry in Burma and a Security Council referral of the situation in Burma to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Unlawful Convictions of Burmese Political Prisoners are Crimes Against Humanity – U.N. Security Council Should Refer Burma to the International Criminal Court
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - November 19, 2008
[NEW YORK, NY] - Certain judges in Burma, acting under the orders of Chief Justice U Aung Toe and Senior General Than Shwe, are themselves criminally liable as co-conspirators to crimes against humanity for their acts in “trying” and “convicting” 60 political activists last week. “These acts are the latest from the junta which uses the judiciary as one of its key weapons to commit grave crimes,” says Global Justice Center President Janet Benshoof. Judges including those listed below are criminally culpable and must be referred to the International Criminal Court.
Criminal Accountability for Heinous crimes in Burma, A Joint Project of the Global Justice Center and the Burma’s Lawyers’ Council
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - July, 2008
[NEW YORK, NY] - The Security Council should act under its Chapter 7 powers and end the impunity accorded the Burmese military junta for crimes perpetrated against the people of Burma. The junta uses torture, gang rape of ethnic women, slavery, murder, mass imprisonment, and abduction of children to fill military quotas in order to retain its power in what is a failed state. These acts go far beyond a repudiation of democracy; they are criminal violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including violations of the Geneva Conventions. There is a growing international consensus that no safe harbor should exist for perpetrators of heinous crimes. The Project on Criminal Accountability for Heinous Crimes in Burma seeks a Security Council resolution establishing an Independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate the commission in Burma of the most serious of crimes of concern to the international community as a whole, which threaten the peace, security and well being of the world.
In the Wake of Historic Resolution 1820 on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict Women of Burma and International Lawyers Call on the Security Council to Refer the Situation in Burma to the International Criminal Court
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—June 20, 2008
[NEW YORK, NY] - The United Nation’s Security Council took a historic step with the passage of Resolution 1820 on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict. Resolution 1820 recognizes the importance of full implementation of Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security and reaffirms the Security Council’s commitment to end sexual violence as a weapon of war and a means to terrorize populations and destroy communities. For this commitment to be meaningful, the Security Council must provide justice for victims of sexual violence in armed conflict even when it is not politically convenient.
International Lawyers Denounce Attempt by Myanmar Regime to Give Themselves Immunity from Criminal Prosecutions and Renew Call for Criminal Investigation
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—April 14, 2008
[MAE SOD, THAILAND] The Myanmar regime, guilty of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, has revealed that it is seeking to give itself constitutional immunity from prosecution for those crimes. The Burma Lawyers’ Council, the Global Justice Center and the Burma Justice Committee denounce this attempt by the regime to avoid accountability. The recently distributed final version of the Constitution being put to a “referendum” on May 10th, 2008 now includes in Chapter XIV “Transitory Provisions,” Article No. 445, stating, “No legal action shall be taken against those (either individuals or groups who are members of SLORC and SPDC) who officially carried out their duties according to their responsibilities.” This immunity is invalid under international law and cannot be accepted by the international community.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—September 27, 2007
[MAE SOD, THAILAND] The Burma Lawyers’ Council and the Global Justice Center urge the United Nations Security Council to take all actions necessary to stop the murders of innocent people in Burma and hold the military junta commanders criminally accountable. This includes authorizing peacekeeping forces and creating an independent commission of inquiry to investigate on-going crimes. Violence is a tool of the military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), to retain control over the people of Burma who are prisoners, not citizens. The latest massacre in Burma must be the last, no more impunity for criminal actions such as the massacre of student protestors in 1988 and of supporters of pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Sui Kyi in 2003 in Depayin. It is the obligation of the international community to stop the junta from using murder, torture, and rape as tools to maintain power. The Security Council has an obligation to act under its Chapter VII mandate to maintain international peace and security as well as UNSCR 1674 on the Responsibility to Protect, UNSCR1325 on Women, Peace and Security, and the Genocide Convention.
2006: A fact-sheet on the trainings on gender justice in Iraq conducted by the Global Justice Center, in partnership with the Women's Alliance for a Democratic Iraq and the International Coordination for Gender Justice in Iraq.