BURMA: Reject Burma's Sham Elections, Uphold Women's Rights

Thursday, November 4, 2010
The Bellingham Herald
South Eastern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

The coming elections in Burma on Nov. 7 are not a step toward real democracy.

Under the leadership of our sister Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the main opposition party - the National League for Democracy - chose to dissolve rather than take part in a flawed electoral process. It believes the elections will be a sham and further entrench the ruling junta's fierce grip on power. Under this government, violence and abuse of basic human rights have been a daily reality in Burma (illegitimately renamed Myanmar by the regime) for decades.

Meanwhile, Suu Kyi marked her 65th birthday on June 19, as well as her 14th year under house arrest. It's been 20 years since she was democratically elected by the people of Burma to be their leader.

Her story is extraordinary, but also emblematic of the suffering of hundreds of thousands of women in Burma. Like Suu Kyi, they are trapped in a life of misery under a brutal military, in the world's longest-running, but often forgotten, civil war.

We met some of those women recently when we sat as judges at the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women of Burma in New York. We heard harrowing testimony from 12 courageous women, who told of their experiences of human rights violations at the hands of the regime in their country.

Naw Ruth Tha described long days of being forced by soldiers to carry heavy loads on her back, and long nights being raped by the same soldiers. She was five months pregnant at the time.

Ma Pu Sein wept as she recalled the soldiers who burnt down her entire village.

The testimonies we heard at the tribunal reconfirm that the government's misdeeds amount to war crime and crimes against humanity. They must not be allowed to continue.

One path of action would be for the U.N. Security Council to establish a commission of inquiry into possible crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma. This could be the first step in the long journey to the International Criminal Court for the junta. The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomas Quintana, has called for the creation of such a commission, which has been publicly supported by the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and several other countries. Along with our fellow tribunal judges, we also called upon the Security Council to begin the process of referring Burma to the International Criminal Court through the establishment of a commission of inquiry.

The impending elections are another arena for international action. The voting will be based on a constitution that the military created and ratified without consultation with civil society, such as the women of Burma. The constitution also effectively hinders the participation of women in political office, including the generation of women inspired by the example of Suu Kyi.

Under such circumstances and in the face of decades of crimes and abuses against the peoples of Burma by the military regime, the international community should unite in its refusal to accept either the elections - or any government that results from them - as legitimate.

It is time for the international community to show at least as much courage as the women of Burma. In honor of Aung San Suu Kyi and the resilient women of Burma, the international community must stand with the people of Burma in their struggle for justice and democracy.