BURMA: US Women's Issues Envoy Seeks Junta Accountability

Saturday, December 5, 2009
South Eastern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

The US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer said on Saturday that Burma's military junta must be held accountable for human rights abuses against the country's women.

“We have said over and over that there must be accountability for these human rights violations,” she said, adding that those guilty of crimes against women should be prosecuted.

However, she did not say what action Washington would take to stop violence against women in Burma.

Verveer made her remarks after a meeting with Burmese women's rights activists in Thailand, held to discuss human rights violations against women in Burma.

“We have just had a meeting with five representatives of ethnic minority women from Burma,” Verveer told reporters at the US consulate in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai on Saturday.

“I feel it is important to hear from them, to get their perception of what is happening [in Burma],” she said, adding that the US is committed to helping Burmese women activists working both inside the country and in border areas.

At the meeting, the activists talked about issues facing women in Burma, including sexual violence committed by Burmese soldiers during military offensives, and discussed ways of empowering women through civil society organizations operating across the country's borders.

Another issue affecting women in Burma is the regime's practice of imprisoning its critics and political opponents. According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), the junta is currently holding 179 women, including nuns, in prison.

Tate Naing, the secretary of the AAPP, said many female prisoners in Burma are sexually humiliated and physically tortured by prison authorities during interrogation. Some have also died in prison after suffering physical or mental abuse.

Verveer also spoke about Burma's military-backed 2008 Constitution, calling it “flawed” because of its lack of guarantees for women's rights.

Her Thailand visit and meeting with Burmese women activists was part of her Asian tour to learn more about the state of women's rights in the region. She came to Thailand from Malaysia and is scheduled to head to South Korea and Japan.

In Malaysia, Verveer met with victims of human trafficking, including two Burmese women who were victims of sexual violence. “One had been gang-raped, and the other was suffering terribly from trauma,” she said, adding that human trafficking has become a “global scourge.”

Asked about efforts to address the issue of human trafficking through cooperation with regional governments, she said: “We should be doing more together. We have to find solutions together.” However, she provided no details about specific actions taken in conjunction with regional authorities.

Verveer's trip is also part of the UN's 16-day Global Campaign to End Violence Against Women. Many organizations across the world have set up programs as part of the campaign.

As ambassador for women's issues, Verveer has called on governments to follow the “three P's”—protection, prevention and prosecution—to end violence against women.