Letter to ASEAN Heads of State: ASEAN States, under the customary Laws of States Responsability are Prohibited from Recognizing, Myanmar/Burma as an ASEAN Member Because the Myanmar/Burma Constitution and Elections Violate the Most Fundamental Rules of International Law
Discriminatory Legal Systems
Recent Wave of Defecting Diplomats and War Crimes Confessions Brings Burma’s Human Rights Abuses to the Foreground
In the past two weeks, Deputy Chief of Mission Kyaw Win and Soe Aung, the second and fourth-ranking Burmese diplomats at the Burmese Embassy in Washington, have defected and are seeking asylum in the United States. Both diplomats cited the unrelenting abuse of their fellow countrymen by the military junta, sham elections, and fear for the safety of themselves and their families as reasons for their defections.
This recent wave of defections of high-ranking officials is undeniable evidence of the egregious human rights abuses that the Burmese government has been committing for decades. GJC aggressively advocates for legal action to be taken against the Burmese government in the form of a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Furthermore, the UN Security Council should pass a resolution deeming the Burmese constitution “null and void” under international law for it is a complete breach of international law and poses a threat to international legal accountability as a whole. For more information, see GJC’s legal brief, Burma’s Nuclear Strategy: How Burma’s Military Has successfully Hijacked Democracy and Made Control over Burma’s Nuclear Future a Constitutional Right of the Military.
Adding to the growing evidence of atrocities, this week, a Burmese refugee in Australia Htoo Htoo Han confessed that he committed war crimes while serving as an undercover military intelligence officer in Burma. “For so long I have lived like an animal. Now I want to release what I carry inside for 20 years. I want to say sorry to the mothers and fathers of the people I killed.” Han admits to carrying out 24 executions during a 1988 anti-government student uprising and being implicated in over 100 more killings. However, since Australia is a supporter of the pro-democracy movement in Burma, the decision of the Australian government to report Han’s confession may jeopardize the interest that some Australian corporations have in Burma’s resources, specifically their access to crude oil.
Hopefully, these defections and confessions will increase awareness of the human rights atrocities that are being committed in Burma. Furthermore, GJC hopes that this information instills a sense of responsibility in the UN and other members of the international community to provide support for take radical action against the overtly oppressive Burmese government and support the creation of a democracy.
On Tuesday, June 13, 2011 several GJC staff members and legal interns attended a screening of the controversial and disturbing documentary “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” at the Church Center in front of the UN Headquarters. The event was presented to senior diplomats, UN staff and NGOs. The film documents the final weeks of the Sri Lankan Civil War which lasted from 1983 to May 2009. During the war, rebels known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fought to create independent Tamil state in North and Eastern territories of Sri Lanka, but were ultimately defeated by government forces.
The documentary explains how the Sri Lankan government pressured UN representatives to leave the Tamil occupied regions before launching a major offensive, leaving few or no international observers of the horrors which were to follow.
The footage shows Sri Lankan soldiers committing extra-judicial killings of bound prisoners, photographs suggesting torture, and interviews of a woman who handed herself over to government forces and claims she and her daughter were raped and that she witnessed others being raped and killed. Other footage suggests that such treatment of women may be systematic. The film also shows displaced civilians killed by the government after being moved to a “no fire” zone and hospitals that were deliberately shelled by the government.
Many of the accounts in the film are corroborated by a UN Report released by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in March 2011. The report found that as many as 40,000 people were killed in the last weeks of the conflict. The Secretary General has expressed concern over potential war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both sides and has urged the Sri Lankan government to investigate alleged violations and to “advance accountability.”
The government, however, has rejected the report and called it “biased, baseless and unilateral.” The Sri Lankan government further claims that the footage of “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” is fake and that the film is not even-handed. The film, however, has been authenticated by UN specialists and suggests that war crimes were committed by both sides, with the LTTE engaging in suicide bombings, using civilians as human shields and enlisting child soldiers.
The screening was followed by a panel discussion which included Sri Lankan Permanent Representative to the UN Dr. Palitha Kohona and Former Major General and current Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Shavendra Silva. Kohona claimed many of the interviewees were lying and denied that the government engaged in systematic human rights abuses. He stated that Sri Lanka is “a mature democracy” and that any violations by individual soldiers should be dealt with internally, asserting that calls for accountability from the international community are “paternalistic.” He also rejected the 40,000 casualties figure suggested by the UN, claiming that if one counted all the bodies in the film “you would not come up with a total of one hundred persons.” Silva alleged that the filmmakers were funded by the LTTE and demanded that the country be allowed to deal with issues domestically.
The screening timely comes soon after the Sri Lankan Justice Ministry has received a summons from a US Federal Court for President Mahinda Rejapaksa. The summons is connected to three civil cases filed under the Hague Conventions and the US Torture Victims Protection Act by relatives of victims of alleged extra-judicial killings. The Sri Lankan government has indicated that it will not respond to the summons. The cases will be founded on the principle that the US, as well as other countries, may exercise universal jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Similarly, the GJC is currently investigating the possible use of universal jurisdiction to prosecute Burmese war criminals. Specifically, the Burmese military junta routinely employs rape, torture, slavery, murder, mass imprisonment and abduction of children to fill its military quotas, all of which war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. Moreover, the new Burmese Constitution provides military criminal impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Given that Burma is a party to the Fourth Geneva Convention and to the Genocide Convention, which require parties to enact domestic legislation to implement the treaties, the Burmese Constitution is a prima facie violation of its obligations.
In addition to the UN Security Council’s ability and, indeed, imperative to declare the Constitution “null and void,” fellow state parties may refer the issue of Burma’s noncompliance to the ICJ. As with the recent US summons of Sri Lankan President Rejapaksa, however, states need not necessarily rely on the Security Council or the ICJ to ensure accountability for war crimes. For violations of rights that are erga omnes, or owed to all, any state may use universal jurisdiction to arrest and prosecute suspected war criminals. GJC is working to encourage certain states to exercise this tool to arrest and try Burmese officials who travel to their territory.
“Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” may be viewed online at the British Channel 4’s website until July 13:
Burma: Comparison of New Government Officials with the Council of the European Union List of Sanctioned Regime Members
This list gives the name of the Burmese government official, the position in new government, the department, the code on the EU list, name on the EU list, and position & department on the EU sanction list.
A list is provided for: New Cabinet Members, new Deputy Ministers, new Chief Justice, Attorney-General and Constitutional Tribunal, new Chief Minister of Regions or States, and new Commanders-in-Chief.
We are pleased to share with you a crucial step in our work to repeal the illegal U.S. policy that prevents women and girls raped and impregnated in conflict from accessing abortions.
Previously, we wrote about the international legal arguments that we were developing to challenge the abortion restrictions that the United States places on all of its humanitarian aid going to organizations and governments working in conflict countries.
After six months of research and advocacy, Janet, Akila, and Gina from the Global Justice Center are in Geneva raising these legal arguments at the UN Human Rights Council’s Review of the United States. They are meeting with member states of the Human Rights Council to urge them to question the US about these restrictions that effectively deny necessary care to the thousands of girls and women raped and impregnated during war.
Today, we are excited to report that Norway has taken the lead by submitting the following question:
“The Global Justice Center (GJC) filed a shadow report for the universal periodic review of the US expressing concern with regard to US blanket abortion restriction on humanitarian aid and abortion speech restrictions on US rule of law and democracy programs. Does the US have any plans to remove its blanket abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid covering the medical care given women and girls who are raped and impregnated in situations of armed conflict? Does the US government apply abortion speech restrictions on its rule of law and democracy programs?”
These questions form the very basis of the Human Rights Council’s recommendations. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is the UN body tasked with monitoring the human rights records of the 192 members of the United Nations. Every four years, member states are required to have a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in front of the Human Rights Council, during which each country receives recommendations on how to comply with their human rights obligations.
The US State Department has said they intend to comply with the UNHRC’s recommendations, so Norway’s questions sets the stage for changing U.S. policy in order to better protect and advance the rights of women and girls raped and impregnated in conflict.
Women who have been raped and impregnated in armed conflict in countries such as the Congo and Sudan have the legal right to non-discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions. This includes the right to abortions wherever victims of rape request them.
As a party to the Geneva Conventions, the United States must change its policy of attaching conditions to its humanitarian aid which prohibit recipients from speaking about abortion.
Click here to read the Global Justice Center’s Call to Action that we are distributing right now to Human Rights Council member states in Geneva.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010 09:00-10:00
This event is a short documentary film screening and discussion about women of Burma breaking the silence on the abuse they’ve endured at the hands of the military regime.
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).
Letter to Bernard Kouchner. Re: Response to the Ministry’s Press Release on Burma, February 2010. France
Letter to Bernard Kouchner. Re: Response to the Ministry’s Press Release on Burma, February 2010. Appendix
WINTER, 2010: On the Issues publishes an article by GJC founder and President Janet Benshoof, titled "Justice for Aung San Suu Kyi: End Male Power Structures."
This article discusses the unfair imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi, but also the steps that need to be taken to right the injustice to her, Burma and the global community. These steps do not end with freeing her and giving her a place as an elected official; they also need to include gender equality in power structures. As the article explains, justice is a right and all women should be given access to it.