At a virtual press conference held today, women of Burma/Myanmar demanded greater accountability from ASEAN and the international community in their response to the recent military coup in the country. Since the coup, the armed and security forces have waged systemic gender-based violence and sexual violence against women, especially within the ethnic community.
Naw Hser Hser, General Secretary of Women’s League of Burma (WLB) said, “Women Human Rights Defenders are being actively targeted by the military regime. There are chilling reports of female detainees being subjected to harrowing sexual assault, torture, physical and verbal abuse, and intimidation. The military’s use of rape as a weapon of war and sexual violence is a tool to demoralize and destroy ethnic communities. Their widespread and systematic nature indicates a structural pattern. “
Several documented cases recently have shown large-scale violence against women including forcing them to exchange sex for removing their names from the warrant list, sexual assault in custody, and other forms of sexual and verbal abuse. There are also growing attacks on women human rights defenders for leading the resistance against Myanmar's military. At least 895 women have been detained so far and 56 confirmed cases of women and girls being killed, though the numbers could be higher.
“One-third of the Karenni population in Karenni State has been forced to flee their villages due to fighting between Burmese army and people resistance groups. Displaced women and children are at increased risk of being victims of human rights violations. We demand the international community to take immediate actions against the military, and provide access to humanitarian aid for the IDPs, in partnership with local ethnic service providers”, said a representative from Karenni National Women’s Organisation.
Moon Nay Li, Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT) shared, “The military coup is having the deepest impact on those who are already marginalized due to the decades of civil war and ongoing human rights violations committed Burmese military. Humanitarian aid must be closely monitored to ensure that it benefits the conflict-affected ethnic communities and not the military. At the same time, they need to make sure that all women and girls get access to health, legal, and social services.”
On 18 June 2021, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution on Burma/Myanmar with no participation from women leaders or activists on the ground or women’s rights organizations from the country. The resolution also saw a split vote from ASEAN nations with at least four countries abstaining from voting.
“The failure of regional processes like ASEAN in holding the military regime accountable in Burma has been extremely disappointing. Women have historically led the resistance on the ground and hold the key to restoring peace and justice in the country. Absence of their voices and leadership in UN processes will only lead to the repetition of injustice and failure of the international community in fulfilling the purposes of the UN Charter ”, said Misun Woo, Regional Coordinator of Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law, and Development (APWLD).
“It is long overdue for the international community to move statements of concern and take real action. Burma’s military is notorious for grave human rights violations, most notably using sexual and gender-based violence as a tool of oppression, and its operations since the coup are no exception. The current crisis was born out of the military’s complete impunity for international crimes, and accountability for ongoing and past abuses must be part of the solution”, said Grant Shubin, Global Justice Center.
For more than seven decades, the military has waged war in several ethnic states of Burma/Myanmar. It is time to hold the military regime accountable by the international community and refer it to the International Criminal Court for these mass atrocities. Ensuring women’s voices, leadership and meaningful participation in all UN processes is the only way the international community can fulfil its obligation to the people of Burma/Myanmar.