Wed 28 Feb 2007
Filed under: International,News
New York: Two ethnic women-one a US citizen and another fighting for the cause from Mizoram- Tuesday urged the international community to save Burmese women from â€œstate-sanctionedâ€ sexual crimes.
â€œThe impunity with which rape is used as a weapon is made worse by the racism and state-sanctioned ideology that allows the military in Burma to justify any action that is interpreted-by the military-as defending and unifying the country,â€ Maureen Aung-Thwin told a UN panel on â€œGender Violence in Burma and Sudan.â€ The discussion was held on the sidelines of the 51st Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women conference.
Maureen Aung-Thwin, the director of the Burma Project/Southeast Asia Initiative at the New York-based Open Society Initiative, told conference participants: â€œRape has been perpetrated by the Burmese army for years, but only within this past decade have the increasingly empowered ethnic groups living in relative freedom at the borders of Burma, started documenting these abuses.â€
The session was moderated by Ambassador Patricia Brister, the US representative to the UN Committee on the Status of Women. US Ambassador Grover Joseph Rees, who has just returned from a five-nation tour of Association of Southeast Asian countries and Japan, during which he discussed the issue of Burma, was also on the panel.
Cheery Zahau of the Women’s League of Chinland had traveled from the northeast Indian State of Mizoram to the UN to attend the conference. She said incidents of rape were much higher in ethnic areas and is “a part of the regime’s strategy to punish the armed resistance groups or suppress various ethnic peoples.â€
Ethnic women and girls are raped with impunity, she said: â€œEthnic women and girls from Shan, Kachin, Chin, Karen, Mon, Karenni and Arakan states have long suffered from state-sanctioned sexual crimes perpetrated by the Burmese military.â€
She said her organization has documented 38 rape cases in Chin State, but the number “was merely the tip of an iceberg.”
â€œBurmese ethnic groups demand equality, autonomy and self-determination.” she said. “But these demands are denied by the regime and met with systematic human rights violations, which include forced relocation, religious persecution, arbitrary arrest and detention, destruction of thousands of ethnic villages and driving out hundreds of thousands of ethnic civilians to neighboring countries.
“We are convinced that only a genuine political change to democracy, the restoration of the rule of law, establishment of a civilian government and a withdrawal of Burmese Army troops from ethnic areas will bring an end to the systematic sexual violence in Burma.â€
In their testimony, Cherry Zahau and Maureen Aung-Thwin urged the United Nations Security Council to pass a binding resolution that would focus world opinion on the Burmese government’s abuses.
â€œSince Burma has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and is obligated under UNSC Resolution 1325 to take affirmative steps towards justice for crimes on women in a time of conflict, the de facto military government of Burma should be held accountable to the international community,â€ Maureen Aung-Thwin said.
Cheery Zahau urged two of Burma’s allies, Russia and China, to use their influence to protect women’s rights, and she called for the Indian government to reconsider its growing economic and military ties with Burma.
A Karen Women’s Organization representative, Naw Zipporah Sein, said Burmese women “constantly live under fear, and they need the support of the international community.â€
Rees criticized the Meeting Services department of the UN for forcing a name change of the panel discussion from â€œState-Sanctioned Mass Rape in Burma and Sudanâ€ to â€œGender Violence in Burma and Sudan.â€
A letter from the Meeting Services department explained that it objected to the title “because it would be perceived as offensive to named member states,” according to The Associated Press. It also objected to the name Burma.
“Myanmar is the officially designated country name,” the letter said. Rees said the US insists on calling the country Burma, “because that’s what pro-democracy winners of the country’s 1990 elections called it.”
Rees said it was the understanding of the US that “member states decide what to call their own panels.”
â€œRape has to be called by its right name,” Rees said. “We would stop talking about it, if you get these governments to stop raping women in their countries.”
The Sudanese government sent a representative to the conference to challenge the panel’s presentation. Burma did not send a representative. The conference was sponsored by the US mission to the UN.