The introduction of the Prevention of Violence against Women Law (PoVAW) in Myanmar is an important opportunity for Myanmar to at long last ensure a comprehensive framework for addressing sexual and gender- based violence, bring its domestic laws in line with international obligations, and ensure adequate redress for violence to all women. This requires, however, that Myanmar passes and implements the law in accordance with the highest standards possible; some standards are not discretionary but rather firm commitments Myanmar is required to uphold, including under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Geneva Conventions, and customary international law. Myanmar’s obligation to protect all women from violence is governed by the legal principle of “due diligence,” meaning that the Myanmar government is responsible for taking measures to prevent, investigate, prosecute, punish, and provide reparations for all acts of gender-based violence committed by both private and public officials.
The Myanmar government has long shown a lack of commitment to breaking the cycle of impunity for widespread sexual and gender-based violence, a problem that is exacerbated by broader structural barriers with respect to Myanmar’s military justice system, and a lack of robust domestic options for accountability. Recently, Myanmar has rejected any responsibility for sexual and gender-based violence in its Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) report, engagement with the case filed by The Gambia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), nor CEDAW review. The introduction of this law also comes at a critical time of renewed conversations regarding justice and accountability, with specific respect to the crimes committed against the Rohingya, via processes at the ICJ, the International Criminal Court (ICC), and domestic courts in third party states under the theory of universal jurisdiction.
It is imperative that any efforts to draft and pass a new law take meaningful steps towards addressing sexual and gender-based violence. Myanmar has also received consistent recommendations from the CEDAW Committee, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, and Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar to ensure the new law complies with international standards; however, this version of the law patently does not meet those standards.