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.


Ten Years Later: Enforcing Security Council Resolution 1325 for the Women of Burma

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).

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On The Issues, “Justice for Aung San Suu Kyi: End Male Power Structures"

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.

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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.

Letter to the NY Times Editor, Justice for Myanmar

The letter "Justice for Myanmar," by a spokesman for 88 Generation Students, was published in the Editorial section of the New York Times, in response to the Times' article "Exiles Try to Rekindle Hopes for Change in Myanmar," also included in this document, published on August 6, 2008.

The Op-Ed published on August 12 points out that the article published by the Times does not represent the view of all Burmese exile groups. Not everyone thinks that President Bush and other world leaders should negotiate with the military juntas; many want access to justice and criminal accountability.

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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.

Scoop Independent News, “Burma Regime Denounced For Giving Selves Immunity”

Scoop Independent News publishes an article titled "Burma Regime Denounced for Giving Selves Immunity".

This article focuses on international law organizations (Burma Lawyers' Council, Global Justice Center and Burma Justice Committee) calling for a better constitution for Burma, and a criminal investigation into the crimes committed under the military regime. This constitution will not bring lasting democracy or peace.

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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.

Justice in Burma

The Washington Post publishes an article by GJC founder and president Janet Benshoof, titled "Justice in Burma."

This article responds to Fred Hiatt's Op-Ed on Burma, and explains why it would be wrong to make compromises for the military juntas; the people of Burma deserve access to the ICC, along with full investigations and justice.

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Lawyers call for criminal accountability for SPDC regime

The Nation publishes several Op-Eds by lawyers, calling for criminal accountability in the SPDC regime.

The first Op-Ed in this collection is one co-authored by Janet Benshoof, founder and president of GJC, and U Aung Htoo, of Burma Lawyers, titled "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".

There are six other Op-Eds included as well.

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International Lawyers Call for Criminal Accountability for Myanmar Regime

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.

Criminal Accountability for Heinous Crimes in Burma: A Joint Project of the Global Justice Center and the Burma’s Lawyer’s Council

The Global Justice Center and the Burma Lawyers' Council publish, in a joint project, this fact sheet on criminal accountability for heinous crimes in Burma.

This fact sheet gives information on the project on criminal accountability, and states that the Security Council should end the impunity accorded the Burmese military junta for crimes perpetrated against the people of Burma, as well as establish an Independent Commission of Inquiry. The fact sheet also explains the Security Council's Obligation to Act under Chapter VII.

 

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Using International Law in the Struggle for Democracy and Women's Participation in Burma

2006: A fact sheet on how to use international law to improve gender equality and ensure women's participation.

Excerpt:

The effort to achieve peace, security and democracy in Burma (called Myanmar by the current government) is an on-going battle against a repressive and brutal military regime. Burma is presently controlled by the SPDC, a military regime that took over Burma by force and refused to turn over power to the National Democratic League, the democratically elected government led by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Sui Kyi. A major part of the effort to achieve peace, security and democracy in Burma (Myanmar) is the struggle by the women of Burma to change strongly-held ideas about women’s role in society, including the belief that women do not belong in political leadership and should be subordinate to men. Within this movement, the Global Justice Center advises the Women’s League of Burma on how to use international law to ensure the inclusion of women in all aspects of the democracy-building process. In addition, the Global Justice Center looks for new and creative ways to use international law to address the widespread rape of ethnic women by the military.

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Using the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women to Advocate for the Political Rights of Women in a Democratic Burma

Article written by GJC Fellow, Andrea Friedman, for the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender on using CEDAW to advocate for gender equality in Burma.

Excerpt:

The military dictatorship ruling Burma has had a firm grip on the country for over forty years.2 Despite authorizing a democratic election in 1990, the junta refused to turn over power, and jailed many elected to office. Forces for a democratic Burma remain strong, although the draconian measures taken by the ruling regime have forced the majority of those fighting for democracy to organize in exile. These groups in exile are joined together by a vital fight to bring peace to Burma after decades of violence, a peace that would enable them to return home. Unfortunately, the inclusion of women in this effort has been pushed aside in the name of a larger struggle, likely with the assumption that equality will be addressed once there is democracy. This assumption undermines democracy itself. Critical to the formation of a democratic Burma is the inclusion of women in all the nation-building steps, such as peace negotiations, transitional governments, constitution drafting, and war-crimes tribunals. Those groups arguing for democracy and the rule of law must live up to their own rhetoric and set the stage for a true democracy by ensuring the inclusion of women.

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