Burma: A Case Study

In too many countries, women do not have a voice in governance which leads to structural inequality. GJC is developing a blueprint for democracy in post-conflict countries by securing gender equality in the law. Calling for equal rights is not enough; laws focused on the inclusion of women in power must be enacted and enforced. In our first case study in Burma, GJC has partnered with local women’s groups to ensure equal access to power and justice.

GJC’s work on Burma focuses on challenging structural barriers to ensure long-lasting democracy and justice for the people of Burma, protect women’s rights and establish a sustainable end to ethnic conflict. GJC calls on the international community to invest in a democratic future for Burma by insisting that the Burmese government dismantle these structural barriers which not only prevent true peace and democracy but also conflict in certain cases with international law.


Weekly News Roundup

By Julia d'Amours

On Thursday, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos claimed the Department of Education would reform how universities handle accusations of sexual assault. Though DeVos did not say what specific changes would be made, she remarked that universities are “ill-served by a quasi-judicial process.” DeVos’s statement focused on the rights of the accused, whom she claimed are mistreated under current systems. Critics from the Right claim DeVos’s proposal grants disproportionate weight to the testimonies of victims, while voices from the Left say it undermines essential changes made during the Obama Administration. 

On Sunday, federal prosecutors in Brazil opened an investigation of ten murdered indigenous tribe members. The altercation arose when the members of the previously uncontacted tribe encountered Brazilian gold miners along a river near the Colombian border. This is the second reported killing of uncontacted indigenous peoples this year. Survival International, an indigenous rights organization, claimed that given the diminished populations of uncontacted tribes, a single armed conflict could carry serious repercussions for the survival of the ethnic group.

On Monday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that California will file a law suit against the Trump Administration over the repeal of DACA. This comes after a coalition of 15 states announced joint legal action against the proposed repeal. California is estimated to be home to more than one in every four DACA recipients. 

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported on the bleak living conditions of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya living in Pakistan. Residents of the Rohingya-populated Arkanabad slum report police brutality, malnutrition, and lack of work and education opportunities. Rohingya in Pakistan wish to see the country taking a more firm stance against military persecution in Burma, as it holds the highest concentration of Rohingya outside of their native lands. 

On Wednesday, it was announced that Burma’s defacto leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be skipping the UN General Debate, which is scheduled to begin on September 19th. Burma has been under heavy criticism for its treatment of the Rohingya, and the UN has accused it of ethnic cleansing. Spokespeople for Ms. Suu Kyi claimed that she “has more pressing matters to deal with” and she will “speak for national reconciliation and peace” on national television instead.

Photo by Htoo Tay Zar

GJC’s statement on the situation in Rakhine State, Myanmar

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - September 9, 2017

[NEW YORK, NY] - In light of ongoing violence in Rakhine State, the Global Justice Center issues the following statement: 

The Global Justice Center calls for the immediate cessation of all acts of violence and the protection of civilian populations in Rakhine State. The Myanmar government must swiftly investigate credible reports of horrific crimes and human rights abuses against civilians in Rakhine State, including acts by its own military and security forces, and provide meaningful punishment, redress and reparations for violations. The government must allow investigators access to Rakhine State and cooperate fully with international investigations, including the UN Fact-finding Mission authorized by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017. Further, the government must ensure the safety of all civilians, including the Rohingya population, and facilitate humanitarian access and aid to affected communities. 

GJC Weekly News Roundup

By Julia d'Amours

Chile proceeds with the repeal of its total anti-abortion laws. In August, legislation was presented to permit abortion in three cases: if the life of the mother was in danger, if it the fetus would not survive, or if the pregnancy was a result of rape. Lawyers argued that a total abortion ban was inhumane and a violation of women’s rights. Though polls indicate more than 70 percent of the population supports more lenient abortion laws, the Catholic Church and elite upper class staunchly opposed the bill. The repeal is considered a major victory in women’s rights and reproductive rights, and many hope it will lead to similar legislation in the region.

Last Friday, Kenya’s Supreme Court ruled that the re-election of the sitting president would be revisited after discovery that the vote counts had been irregular. It is the first example in Africa in which a court voided the re-election of an incumbent. Many are at unease considering Kenya’s fragile political landscape—the last disputed election in 2007 resulted in at least 1,300 dead and 600,000 displaced around the country.

On Sunday, Cambodia arrested Kem Sokha, the main opposition leader, accusing him of treason. This follows accounts of government harassment on the free press and expulsion of NGOs, such as the pro-democracy National Democratic Institute. A Human Rights Watch official called the arrest “a disastrous setback” for Cambodia as the country prepares for elections next year.

On Monday, Malala Yousafzi joined an increasing number of human rights activists in publicly criticizing Myanmar’s effective leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma. More than 73,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh after they were attacked by Burmese military factions on August 25th. The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar has described the situation as “grave.” Widely seen as a champion of democracy, Suu Kyi has remained quiet on the subject of the Rohingya.

On Tuesday, President Trump broke headlines by announcing the end of DACA—the federal program that protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children. He claimed DACA’s establishment was an abuse of electoral power and rebuking it would establish rule of law. Many of those enrolled in DACA already have families, started careers, or enrolled in higher education in the US. Permits that are set to expire in the next six months will be renewed, but the Department of Homeland Security will stop processing new applications for the program. Officials say there will be no formal guidance that former DACA recipients are not eligible for deportation.

On Wednesday, the Trump Administration introduced a Security Council resolution that would empower the United States Navy and Airforce to interdict North Korean ships and evaluate if their cargo contains military equipment. It also included a ban on the shipment of crude oil, petroleum, and natural gas, which would have severe results for the North Korean population as winter approaches, and aims to block the assets of Kim Jong-un. The resolution is careful not to encompass a total blockade, which is an act of war, but permits the US and UNSC to “nonconsensual inspections.”

On Thursday, a federal appeals court permitted thousands of refugees who had been blocked by President Trumps’ travel ban to enter the country. Since June, the government has frozen refugee resettlement applications and brought resettlement programs to a standstill.  Yesterday’s ruling mandated that the government resume refugee resettlements in the next five days. It also upheld a lower court decision that exempted grandparents and other relatives from the ban. A Justice Department representative remarked that they will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Also on Thursday, the High Court of Australia ruled that a postal survey on the legalization of gay marriage was legitimate, despite the objections of same-sex marriage advocates. The results of the survey could not make same-sex marriage legal or illegal, but it could spark a vote in Parliament. Polls suggest that a “yes” vote in favor of legalizing gay marriage will prevail. The results will be announced the 15th of November.

Photo by Alsidare Hickson 

GJC Weekly News Roundup

 Wednesday, Turkey detained eleven human rights defenders near Istanbul. The activists were attending a workshop on protecting the work of human rights groups when Turkish police arrested them on the baseless suspicion of belonging to an “armed terrorist organization,” and they are still in custody. Two are leaders of Amnesty International Turkey.

Friday, the Financial Times explored Brexit’s impact on women. The British government drew attention last month because of the lack of women on their negotiating team (two of the twelve negotiators at the initial meeting were women), but concerns extend beyond that. Laws on women’s rights might change with Brexit, particularly if Britain is no longer under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. This could remove decades of progressive decisions on issues including equal pay, pregnancy discrimination, and sex discrimination laws.

Saturday, in an article about the Afghan province Ghor, The New York Times described what happens when the law provides no protection for women. Ghor’s weak rule of law and their marriage customs leave women vulnerable. There have been 118 registered cases of violence against women in the past year—with many more going unreported—and zero suspects in these 118 cases have been arrested. Extreme stories of women being abducted, shot, stoned to death and more have emerged from the province in recent years. Law officials say they have to balance justice with security when sharing borders with violent, Taliban-occupied territories.

Monday, Oregon’s legislature passed one of the most progressive pieces of reproductive rights legislation in the country. The Reproductive Health Equity Act requires health insurance to cover, at no cost to patients, a number of reproductive health services such as abortion, contraception and prenatal and postnatal care. Religious employers can opt out of covering abortion and contraception. It also reaffirms Oregon citizens’ rights to an abortion, protecting them from possible changes in federal law. The bill will now go to Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat who is supportive of reproductive rights.

Tuesday, in retaliation against the United States’ Global Gag Rule, Sweden’s development agency announced it will no longer give funding for sexual and reproductive health services to organizations that follow the Gag Rule. Sweden is also allocating new funds to organizations that agree to not follow the Gag Rule.

Wednesday, Buddhists protested the arrival of a UN human rights envoy to Myanmar. The envoy is on an information-gathering trip in the Rakhine state to investigate security forces’ human rights abuses against the Muslim Rohingya minority. The protestors said Yanghee Lee, who is leading the envoy, is too “one-sided.” Earlier this summer, Lee recommended a special UN mission to investigate the problems in Rakhine, which the Human Rights Council approved; however, Myanmar wouldn’t allow the mission members to enter the country.

Wednesday, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is re-examining the college sexual assault policies instituted under Title IX during the Obama administration. She is meeting with victims of sexual assault, men accused of assault, and higher education officials. Obama’s policies sparked a backlash from some who believed the policies and investigations went too far in ignoring the rights of the accused.

GJC at the CEDAW Session in Geneva, Switzerland

Status of women’s rights in Myanmar to be reviewed at the UN

In July 2016, GJC staff member Michello Onello and Ma Sabe Phyu, Director of Gender Equality Network, published an article in Mizzima titled, "Status of women’s rights in Myanmar to be reviewed at the UN," on the Myanmar's CEDAW Review taking place in Geneva.

Click here to read the article in Mizzima.

Global Justice Center and Gender Equality Network Call on the Government of Myanmar to Fulfill Its Obligations to End Discrimination against Women

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—July 1, 2016

[GENEVA] –  On July 7th, Myanmar’s implementation of its obligations to ensure gender equality will be reviewed by the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee). Myanmar ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1997, but this will be the first international women’s rights review of the country since the elections that brought Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) to power.

Myanmar and the Road to Lasting Peace Round Table Discussion

On February 11th, 2016, the Global Justice Center hosted a round table on Myanmar and the Road to Lasting Peace, featuring two Human Rights defenders from Myanmar, Naw Zipporah Sein and Ying Lao, and Policy Advisor at US Campaign for Burma, Myra Dahgaypaw. At the round table, moderated by the Global Justice Center’s Senior Burma Researcher Phyu Phyu Sann, participants discussed the impact and shortcomings of last year’s cease-fire and election, as well as their hopes for continued international participation in the peace process.

In November 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won an enormous victory in Myanmar’s national election, ending almost half a century of military control of the government. Despite this promising democratic election, Myanmar’s military continues to play an outsized role in governance as the country’s constitution guarantees the military at least 25% of the seats in parliament and the constitution cannot be amended without army approval. The month before the election, the military government and eight of the armed ethnic groups signed a cease-fire after almost two years of negotiations. Although the international community has heralded the cease-fire as a victory for peace in Myanmar, the round table participants noted that fighting continues in many areas of the country, especially in the Shan state and other regions with large ethnic minority populations.  One participant testified that fighting actually increased in many of these areas after the cease-fire was signed, even on the day of the national election. She urged that the international community work to include all ethnic groups in cease-fire agreements. The current cease-fire was signed by only eight ethnic armed organizations—seven other groups refused to sign, and another six were prevented from signing by the government.

In the 2015 election, Myanmar’s ethnic groups voted overwhelmingly for Suu Kyi’s NLD party, but a round table participant remarked that they are still waiting to see whether or not the new government has the power to effect change while the military retains so much political and economic power. The NLD government continues to face entrenched challenges, but the people of Myanmar made it clear in the election that they want to see change.  Round table participants stressed that armed conflict and human rights abuses are continuing to take place in their country, and they urged the international community to continue to press for a lasting and fair peace in Myanmar that includes all ethnic groups.

Indict Myanmar’s General Ko Ko

A war criminal accused of ordering attacks on civilians, murder, enslavement, execution without trial, sexual violence, pillage and torture is scheduled to testify about Myanmar’s human rights record at the UN Friday, Nov. 6th.

With overwhelming evidence of his crimes exposed in a Harvard Law School report, General Ko Ko should be arrested when he reaches Geneva. Instead, as Myanmar’s chosen representative on its human rights record, he will be granted complete immunity by the UN itself.

Despite his immunity, the Global Justice Center (GJC), in partnership with Justice Trust, developed a model indictment for General Ko Ko that will be served on Friday in Geneva. GJC is calling for Ko Ko’s arrest and prosecution, under universal jurisdiction and through the ICC, so there can be justice for thousands of Myanmar’s citizens.

“Victims of heinous military crimes, including ethnic women and girls, are entitled to justice in their lifetimes,” said GJC President Janet Benshoof.

Local efforts to hold Ko Ko accountable have been stonewalled, and advocates for justice retaliated against. Undeterred, a coalition of more than 500 civil society groups in Myanmar, supported by international human rights organizations, are urging the international community to take steps to hold Ko Ko criminally accountable for past and ongoing crimes.

You can read more about General Ko Ko’s crimes here and more about the indictment here.

Tweet #arrestkoko & support the people of Myanmar in bringing a war criminal to justice.

Myanmar's Long Road to Gender Equality: Issues for Myanmar's November 2015 UPR

Myanmar’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review (“UPR”) provides an ideal venue to question the Government of Myanmar (“Government”) regarding its failure to ensure substantive equality for women as required by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Charter, and international treaties including CEDAW. Since 2011, Myanmar’s “democratization” has neither improved women’s status nor dismantled structural barriers preventing women’s equality.

Myanmar’s failure to ensure women’s rights arises from entrenched legacies of inequality that impede genuine reform in all aspects of law. Specifically, ongoing supremacy of the military, gender inequality embedded in the Constitution and other laws, and the lack of adequate justice mechanisms including an independent judiciary serve as structural barriers to equality. No Government reforms have addressed these issues. As a result, women in Myanmar face (1) gender discrimination embedded in law; (2) barriers to access to justice; and (3) exclusion from participation in public and political life.

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New Report Exposes Critical Gaps in Burma’s National Gender Equality Plan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - October 15, 2015
 

[NEW YORK, NY] – Women will never enjoy equal rights in Burma without dismantling structural barriers to gender equality, such as limitations in the 2008 Constitution, an antiquated legal system, and the ongoing legacy of a male-dominated military leadership, according to a report released today by the Global Justice Center and the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School. The report, Promises Not Progress: Burma’s National Plan for Women Falls Short of Gender Equality and CEDAW, concludes that Burma’s national gender policy fails to acknowledge or address these structural barriers or to fulfill Burma’s international obligations to ensure substantive gender equality and faults the Government of Burma for failing to follow through on the promises it has made to advance women’s rights. The report is released in advance of Burma’s Universal Periodic Review in November, where the international community can support the fight for gender equality in Burma by exposing the lack of commitment and failures of the Government.

GJC President Janet Benshoof Question Burma’s Minister of Foreign Affairs

Below you can read the question that Janet asked Wunna Maung Lwin, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar, about accountability for human rights abuser General Ko Ko at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

Janet Benshoof:
Thank you very much, my name is Janet Benshoof, Global Justice Center. After a 4 year on the ground investigation, Harvard Law School Lawyers concluded, using the standards of the International Criminal Court that Myanmar’s Major General Ko Ko has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Karen ethnic group. I have a two-part question:
First, could you explain, given that Myanmar has been in armed conflict for 60 years if there have been any prosecutions of military commanders for international crimes: war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. And second, could you explain the government process by which 6 months after the Harvard report, the government selected General Ko Ko to present and defend Myanmar’s human rights record before the Human Rights Council next month. Thank you very much.


Response by Wunna Maung Lwin, Minister of Foreign Affair of Myanmar
To answer your first question, there is no Myanmar General prosecuted or facing any kind of trial in the International Criminal Court or any other court because some of the allegations were unfounded and untrue. Because whenever there is a military operations or whenever there is an insurgency problem, every country has to defend their people, especially the innocent people who were hampered their livelihood by those insurgent groups. So for the military commander that you have mentioned, he is the Commander of the Southern Myanmar regions. So in his region there were insurgent problems and he commanded some of the military operations in that area. He is doing his responsibility as a military commander to defend those people from the scourge of insurgency. This is one question.
Another thing is that in the next month I think we will be submitting our universal periodic review report to the Human Rights Council. So we will be sending a delegation and we will be submitting our universal periodic review for the second time.