Sunday November 19th 2017

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Briefing Paper: Access to Justice for Women Survivors of Gender-based violence committed by state actors in Burma

English ျမန္မာဘာသာ

Women survivors of violence face challenges in their attempts to obtain justice. This has been a key finding in the work of the Women’s League of Burma (WLB) and Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR), as we work on cases of violence against women in Burma’s ethnic communities and engage in strengthening and empowering survivors of violence committed by state actors. Military control, entrenched gender discrimination, as well as gaps in the legal and judicial systems, allow state actors to perpetrate gender-based violence with near-complete impunity.

Gender-based violence has been widely and systematically used by military regimes in power since 1962 in Burma. After the shift to a pseudo-civilian government in 2010, Burma’s political landscape remained tightly controlled by the military. In ethnic areas, and particularly in conflict zones with high levels of militarization, civil society organizations continued to document widespread abuses by the military, including the use of sexual violence as a means of shaming and destroying ethnic communities.1 WLB has repeatedly denounced the use of rape as an “instrument of war and repression”2 and its members documented 92 cases of conflict-related sexual violence between 2010 and 2015.3

After the election of a pro-democracy government at the end of 2015, many held high hopes for progress in this regard. Although it is too early to assess what the overall situation will be for 2016, in 2015 WLB documented 15 cases of violence against women committed by state actors and 3 cases were reported in early 2016.4 These numbers remain indicative, as cultural taboos and security concerns prevent most women from speaking out. The current intensification of military offensives in certain ethnic areas increases the risk of such abuses and early reports of incidents are highly concerning as it appears that similar patterns are continuing.

WLB’s documentation shows that only a handful of these cases received a judicial response. Thanks to the hard work and pressure of local civil society groups, a few cases have been brought to court in the past couple of years, which in itself is a noteworthy change considering the total impunity enjoyed under past military regimes. However, state actors, in particular security forces, largely continue to escape accountability. Institutionalized impunity for crimes committed by military and police personnel encourages abuse and impunity elsewhere: WLB’s members are concerned by more reports of violence against women committed by state agents working in administrative institutions.

The new government has made a commitment to fully ensure respect for the rule of law and many new lawmakers are genuinely working hard towards this, raising high hopes among citizens. WLB and AJAR call on the government of Burma to take immediate action to end institutionalized impunity for state actors and ensure access to justice for women survivors of conflict-related violations and other forms of state violence.