Global Justice Center Blog

The Gender Gap and Women's Political Power in Myanmar/Burma

The rights of women under international law, including the right to occupy positions of political power, have advanced more in the last 20 years than ever before. True political participation requires a significant number of women in all areas of governance: ceasefire and peace treaty negotiations, constitution drafting committees, political parties, executive branch appointments, and elected positions.

In Burma, the long history of militarization has reinforced and perpetuated the gender gap in power. Women are not admitted into active military service, effectively excluding them (as well as ethnic minorities) from political participation since top offices are reserved for the military. Therefore, they have also been ineligible for the employment, education, business, joint venture and travel opportunities created by military status.

Pursuant to the 2008 Constitution, the Defense Services (Tatmadaw) remain an integral and permanent part of the machinery that governs Burma and is constitutionally guaranteed complete power and autonomy. The continued military dominance guaranteed by the Constitution is the main obstacle for women in Burma hindering them from ever gaining real political power.

This timeline illustrates the absence of women’s voices from formal governing structures throughout Burmese history. It should provide an impetus for this formerly silent majority, the feminist majority, to make their voices heard and to take their turn at governing the country.

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Letter to Louise Arbour: RE: The International Crisis Group’s Policy Urging Unconditional Engagement with Burma’s Military Rulers Contradicts States’ Absolute Obligations to Respond to Burma’s Serious Breaches of Peremptory Norms of International Law, Sep

Letter to Louise Arbour: RE: The International Crisis Group’s Policy Urging Unconditional Engagement with Burma’s Military Rulers Contradicts States’ Absolute Obligations to Respond to Burma’s Serious Breaches of Peremptory Norms of International Law, September 2011

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Why is a War Criminal Getting a Peace Prize?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 17:00-18:00

At New York, New York

On Tuesday April 23, Burmese President Thein Sein was awarded a peace prize from the International Crisis Group, an NGO dedicated to resolving deadly conflict. Oddly, presenting Thein Sein with this award is a step away from the ICG’s goal, seeing as their main focus involves conflict resolution, something the Burmese president has evaded. In ICG’s recognition of Thein Sein, they highlight that he has transformed Myanmar by “liberalizing past repressive laws” and “making significant strides in ending internal conflicts, securing ceasefires with all but one of the ethnic armed groups”. However, they gloss over the fact that despite the changes that he’s made, ethnic groups are still being oppressed by the military. There have been ongoing reports against the Myanmar Army from a multitude of sources, including the UN, with claims accusing them of systemic use of rape against Ethnic women. These allegations clearly indicate that rape is being used as a weapon of war against ethnic minorities, while the government turns a blind eye to these atrocities. Instead of acknowledging these methodical violations of human rights or making some sort of effort to alleviate the situation, President Thein Sein has merely denied the allegations. Reports have made it clear that the Myanmar army uses rape to terrorize and intimidate Ethnic people. As a signatory of the Geneva Convention, the nation of Myanmar is obligated to take initiatives to enforce humanitarian law against its army, but has failed to do so. As an advocate of human rights, GJC does not support a leader who oppresses its citizens and violates principles of humanity, especially against women. Our Rape as a Weapon of War Campaign demands justice for women raped in conflict in order to shatter this culture of impunity. Raping women for military objections is a complete violation of the Geneva Conventions, and states must face repercussions for these actions. Thein Sein should not be awarded a peace prize when he is not recognizing the abuses that his own citizens are facing under his rule as he allows this to continue, and by awarding him, the ICG is only approving of the suffering of innocent civilians. It is time to punish states that use rape as an unlawful weapon in armed conflict, not reward them.

Prof. Louise Doswald-Beck, Leading Expert on International Humanitarian Law, Calls on President Obama to End US Abortion Restrictions on Aid to War Rape Victims


April 16, 2013 [NEW YORK, NY]

The Global Justice Center (GJC) applauds the letter sent by Professor Louise Doswald-Beck to President Obama, urging him to lift US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid for girls and women raped in armed conflict. Prof. Doswald-Beck is a former head of the Legal Division of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and co-author of the 2005 authoritative codification of the customary rules of international humanitarian law.

GJC is leading the August 12th Campaign, which aims to ensure that girls and women raped in armed conflict have access to safe abortions in humanitarian settings as a part of their rights under international humanitarian law. Lifting the US abortion restrictions is a critical component of our efforts, and Professor Doswald-Beck joins influential legal and human rights groups, Parliamentarians and global legal experts who support the Campaign.

GJC President Janet Benshoof states that “Professor Doswald-Beck's impeccable credentials as one of the world‟s leading authorities on international humanitarian law make her letter to the President on the illegality of the US abortion ban put on humanitarian aid a 'must read' for all of us who care about the role of the US overseas.”

Professor Doswald-Beck's letter details the ways in which omitting an abortion option from medical treatment for female war rape victims violates the protection and care guarantees of the Geneva Conventions and customary international humanitarian law:

The denial of abortion violates the medical care guarantees of international humanitarian law. The failure to provide abortions as part of medical care for girls and women raped in war violates the categorical care and protection guarantees of IHL, which are “unchanged since 1864.” These include the rights of the “wounded and sick” to all necessary medical care, as required by their condition, under common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

The denial of abortion violates the absolute prohibition on gender discrimination under international humanitarian law. The denial of abortions for girls and women impregnated as a result of war rape violates the IHL prohibition on “adverse distinction,” including discrimination based on gender, since boys and men raped in war receive all necessary medical care. Professor Doswald-Beck states that IHL, as well as human rights law, precludes using biological differences to justify less favorable treatment for women and that although the medical treatment for female victims of rape may be different from that of male victims of rape, under IHL, “the outcome for each gender” must be the same.

The denial of abortion constitutes torture and cruel treatment in violation of international humanitarian law. Given that pregnancy aggravates the serious, sometimes life-threatening, risks of the injuries from brutal rape perpetrated in armed conflict, the failure to provide abortion violates the prohibition against torture or cruel treatment under common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

Professor Doswald-Beck states that although the parties to a conflict have primary obligations to provide care, all states, including the US, have a duty to “respect and ensure respect” for IHL under common Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions, including in the provision of humanitarian aid to war victims. Accordingly, Professor Doswald-Beck urges President Obama to lift US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid, which she describes as leading to a “thoroughly inhuman” situation.

Benshoof adds “The President should heed her call and that of thousands of others. This terrible and shocking US policy is killing some women impregnated by war rape and causing lifelong suffering for others. No girl surviving brutal rape in armed conflict should be forced to bear the child of her rapists-torturers. President Obama should be seeking ways to advance, not subvert, the rights of girls and women raped in war under the Geneva Conventions and customary international humanitarian law.”

Visit to learn more about the Global Justice Center's August 12th Campaign.


For further information or press inquiries, please contact Sarah Vaughan, Communications and Development Associate via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at 212-725-6530 Ext. 204.

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