Another obstacle to Burma engagement: gang rape

Another obstacle to Burma engagement: gang rape

Thirteen U.S. senators, all women, are calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take concrete action to address the Burmese junta’s use of rape as a weapon of war.

"Given the Burmese regime’s unabated use of rape as a weapon of war, we urge you to call on the regime to end this practice and pursue our shared goal of establishing an international Commission of Inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity," the senators wrote in an Aug. 10 letter, obtained by The Cable.

The signers on the letter were Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Susan Collins (R-ME), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).

The senators cited several reports that the Burmese army has been using gang rape in its conflicts with ethnic minorities along its borders recently. For example, the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand  reported that dozens of women have been gang raped since the truce between Burma and the Kachin Independence Army broke down in June, and that Burmese soldiers claim they have "orders to rape women."

The Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) has also been documenting all known cases of rape during the Burmese government’s new offensive against the Shan State Army following the collapse of a 22-year ceasefire.

"Burma Army troops are being given free rein to rape children, the pregnant and the elderly," said SWAN coordinator Hseng Moon in a press release. "We strongly condemn these war crimes."

Since 2003, groups such as Refugees International, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have all detailed atrocities committed by the Burmese army.

In late May, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomas Quintana, highlighted the Burmese army’s actions, saying, "Systematic militarisation contributes to human rights abuses. These abuses include land confiscation, forced labour, internal displacement, extrajudicial killings and sexual violence."

 The senators also referred in their letter to the June testimony of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who called for the U.N. human rights rapporteur to visit Burma and for the establishment of a commission of inquiry into the human rights situation in Burma.

"We must not allow this regime to continue to commit such dire crimes while the people of Burma continue to suffer," the senators wrote.

Add this issue to the list of challenges that new U.S. Special Envoy to Burma Derek Mitchell now faces. Mitchell was confirmed by the Senate last week and is now in charge of coordinating the State Department’s new Burma policy, which is meant to mix pressures with engagement of the Burmese regime.

"Overall, the average Burmese citizen lacks fundamental freedoms and civil rights," Mitchell said at his June 29 confirmation hearing. "I am encouraged that the new President of Burma speaks of reform and change, but the pathway to real national reconciliation, unity among its diverse peoples, and sustainable development requires concrete action to protect human rights and to promote representative and responsive governance."