In a fraught coincidence, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be chairing a United Nations Security Council session on violence against women in conflict situations today, on the 63d birthday of Burma's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi. That devotee of nonviolence has been kept under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years by a military junta that has committed the vilest crimes against women.
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Since early May, the regime of General Than Shwe kept supplies and aid workers from reaching more than 2 million victims of Cyclone Nargis. Among the uprooted, UN officials say, are 35,000 pregnant women in need of medical care. The junta's disregard for those women is emblematic of what Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called the regime's "criminal neglect."
The Women's League of Burma, an umbrella organization of women's rights groups in the country, has called for a binding UN Security Council resolution exposing the junta to criminal prosecution for its abuses "against people in Burma, particularly women and girls." These abuses have been worst in minority ethnic areas where, the league said, soldiers have been "conscripting women as sex slaves and committing gang rape, mutilation, and murder."
So it is fitting that Senator John Kerry sent a letter this week to Rice, decrying the junta's "widespread and systematic effort to restrict the flow of international aid" and asking the State Department to determine if "the junta's inexcusable response to Tropical Cyclone Nargis constitutes a crime against humanity under international law."
Kerry's letter goes to the heart of the matter. Than Shwe ought to be arraigned at the International Criminal Court in the Hague for crimes that rival those of numerous other mass murderers who have wielded political power in the past half century. Until then, and until Suu Kyi and all her fellow political prisoners are freed, the nations of the world should treat Than Shwe's regime as the outlaw it is.