Media Release: International Tribunal of Burma calls for end to impunity for military regime

“The history of violence and oppression of women in Burma is long and sordid–and must come to an end.”

Nobel Peace Laureates Shirin Ebadi and Jody Williams – along with human rights experts Dr. Heisoo Shin (Korea) and Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn (Thailand) – today released the findings and recommendations developed during the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women of Burma held this week in New York City.  The quasi-legal event featured compelling testimony – the first ever – of 12 women from Burma who have suffered rape, torture, and other crimes at the hands of the military junta.  The event highlighted the egregious human rights crimes, including rape as a weapon of war, and called for policymakers to demand a last resort: the International Criminal Court.

“Women should no longer be invisible when crimes are committed against them with impunity,” said Jody Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.  “The history of violence and oppression of women in Burma is long and sordid–and must come to an end.”

A few of the women who testified are colleagues of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition, still under house arrest and a prisoner of General Than Shwe.  Than Shwe is the war criminal who has reigned terror over the people of Burma for decades.  World leaders have rallied in support of her freedom countless times since her Nobel Peace Prize award in 1991, passing UN resolutions almost annually and demanding the release of her and other political prisoners.  But these cries have fallen on deaf ears, with the international community failing to hold General Shwe and his cronies criminally responsible.  The resulting impunity has given the ruling generals of Burma even more license to escalate their power and continue to inflict violence on the people of Burma.

“We live in a globalized world, which means that Burma cannot do whatever it wants to its people within its own walls,” said Shirin Ebadi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.  “Globalization is effective when it helps bring an end to injustice.  The international community cannot stand by and let other countries to use their sovereignty to commit atrocities against their own people.”

The purpose of the Tribunal was to spotlight the oppression of women of Burma in order to encourage policymakers and political leaders to take specific action now.  The women Nobel Laureates have joined with the Women’s League of Burma to highlight the systemic use of rape and other forms of violence against ethnic women in Burma.  The Women’s League of Burma is an umbrella organization comprising thirteen women’s organizations of different ethnic backgrounds in Burma.

The women who testified now live in Thailand, Bangladesh, the US and Canada and traveled to New York to tell their personal stories and those of their families.  Their stories include a range of horrific human rights violations and crimes.  Testimony was organized into three categories:  violence against women (rape, sexual violence, trafficking), civil and political violations (torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, harassment), and social, economic and cultural violations (forced labor, portering, relocation).  Violence against women in Burma is often ethnically motivated, particularly minority groups such as the Karen who have been brutally persecuted by the military regime.

The following are the recommendations of the Tribunal:

Recommendations to the international community, particularly the United Nations:

  • Urge States to take collective action to ensure the implementation of Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888, and 1889 guaranteeing women’s full participation in post-conflict reconstruction, and freedom from all forms of sexual violence.
  • Strongly urge the UN Security Council to refer Burma to the International Criminal Court.
  • Call upon United Nations member States to fulfill their obligations to exercise universal jurisdiction and to prosecute through their national tribunals perpetrators of the crimes against the civilian population of Burma, including women.
  • Ask United Nations agencies with a presence in Burma to increase their work in promoting and protecting human rights.
  • Call upon the United Nations Security Council to take effective measures against state authorities on the basis of the responsibility of the state to protect its people from egregious human rights violations (Responsibility to Protect Doctrine).
  • Urge the United Nations system to take measures to ensure that the Burmese authorities comply with international human rights standards and international humanitarian law.

Recommendations to Burma’s military regime:

  • Stop all forms of violence against women. “End the intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, torture, and degrading treatment against women [and all] political prisoners; [and] respect and adhere to the principles and norms of the international [criminal and] human rights standards, particularly Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women…”
  • Stop attacks and persecution against ethnic nationalities and groups.
  • Release immediately and unconditionally all political prisoners.
  • Grant access to United Nations agencies and non-governmental humanitarian groups to ensure that women, in particular, are assisted effectively.
  • Provide access to and cooperate with United Nations agencies and human rights organizations to monitor human rights within Burma.
  • Ratify all human rights treaties, including ICCPR and ICESCR, and implement them effectively.
  • Abide by rules of customary international law, such as the prohibitions against torture, slavery, and violence against women and children.
  • Ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, reform and implement domestic legislation accordingly.
  • Establish an effective process for dialogue between different stakeholders including democracy groups, ethnic minorities/nationalities, and concerned authorities with emphasis on women’s participation in the pursuit of democracy.
  • Revise the constitution, particularly the amnesty provisions, and other national laws in an inclusive and participatory manner, engaging all stakeholders including women, to ensure consistency with international legal obligations and human rights standards.
  • Establish effective judicial mechanisms and other processes to establish accountability and provide adequate remedies for international crimes and human rights violations to end impunity.
  • Build human-centered national development plans and processes that respond to women’s human rights bearing in mind the special needs of rural women, and allocate national resources fairly and equitably for this purpose.

Recommendations to the Asia-Pacific region (including ASEAN, bilateral and other channels):

  • Call upon ASEAN through its Summit of Heads of Government to impel Burma to apply effective and time-limited measures to comply with the ASEAN Charter and international legal obligations and human rights standards.
  • Invite the ASEAN Intergovernmental Human Rights Commission to submit thematic reports covering particular issues related to Burma.
  • Bearing in mind the ASEAN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and various declarations on children’s rights in the region, to which Burma has subscribed, support the establishment of the ASEAN Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children, including consideration of the situation in Burma.
  • Call upon the various partners of ASEAN and other regional bodies and states engaging with Burma to influence constructive changes in the country.
  • Prohibit trade with Burma involving goods produced through forced labor, as well as oil, gas, and electricity generated as a result of forced relocations.
  • Take effective cross-border measures to prevent and punish human trafficking, in particular that of women and children, and to offer gender and child sensitive measures to protect and assist those victimized by trafficking.
  • Respect the rights of refugees and internally displaced persons, protect them from violence, abuse, and exploitation, and forced repatriation, which violates the international principle of non-refoulement, and ensure the application of basic standards of international law.