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CEDAW Shadow Report: Long Way To Go

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Continuing Violations of Human Rights and Discrimination Against Ethnic Women in Burma

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တုိင္းရင္းသူအမ်ဳိးသမီးမ်ားအေပၚ လူ႕အခြင့္အေရးခ်ဳိးေဖာက္မႈမ်ားႏွင့္ ခြဲျခားဆက္ဆံမႈမ်ား ဆက္လက္ျဖစ္ပြားေနျခင္း

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1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

From 1962 to 2011 in Burma, the combination of repressive rule by a male-dominated military and a traditional cultural patriarchy had insidious and pervasive long-term negative effects on women’s equality. Decades of repression adversely impacted women’s health, well-being and welfare, ability to participate in politics and political decision-making, and educational, economic and employment opportunities. Moreover, during those six decades the military also waged war in several regions of Burma against various Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs), and conflict continues to this day. These long-running conflicts have been characterized by human rights abuses against ethnic communities, including sexual violence against ethnic women, and have had a devastating negative impact on the rights and opportunities available to ethnic women.

In 2011, the military instituted a process of reform as part of a carefully-orchestrated plan to continue military rule under the guise of democracy. Since this nominally-civilian government (the Government) took power in 2011, women in Burma have experienced limited improvements with respect to fundamental human rights and freedoms but are far from enjoying the rights required by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), to which Burma is a party. After years of “reform,” significant economic, political and social problems for women remain: widespread poverty and underdevelopment; a lack of legal, administrative and institutional capacity; a governing system that continues to lack true accountability and transparency; ongoing ethnic conflict, including continued human rights abuses and sexual violence by military forces; and pervasive gender inequality. The failure, after five years in office, of the Government to improve women’s rights to substantive equality and non-discrimination demonstrates a disregard for CEDAW’s mandates and compares unfavorably with troubling actions such as continuing sexual violence by the military, the swift passage of the discriminatory Laws on Race & Religion, and the failure to enact a comprehensive violence against women law.

This Report focuses the women’s human rights situation in Burma’s ethnic areas, in particular in remote and conflict affected areas where most of WLB’s member organisations are operating. We highlight the ways in which rural and ethnic women in Burma are denied the equality and non-discrimination guarantees provided by CEDAW. While all women in Burma face the same struggle to enjoy their rights under CEDAW, rural and ethnic women face additional hurdles and specific harms such as trafficking, unequal access to education and healthcare, land insecurity and the devastating impact of drug production and trade. Moreover, rural and ethnic women are directly implicated by armed conflict and the quest for peace. This gap between the experiences of women in cities and urban settings versus those of ethic women in rural areas must be understood and taken account when analyzing the status of women’s rights in Burma.

This Report seeks to highlight certain significant factors impeding women’s rights throughout the country. First, the military continues to play a powerful role in society and politics. This deeply-entrenched power is provided, in part, by the 2008 Constitution which grants the military complete legal autonomy over its own affairs, placing it outside of any civilian oversight by the executive or legislative branches. Further, the Constitution provides immunity to the military and Government officials for any misdeeds, including conflict-related sexual violence, in office and ensures that all military matters are to be decided solely by the military. Other provisions, such as Parliamentary quotas, ensure that the Military will retain a significant role in the legislative and executive branches. Therefore, the power and domination of the military at all levels of government is guaranteed in the Constitution, and, because the Military enjoys a veto over all Constitutional amendments, this power is unlikely to be reduced in the near future.

Second, continued conflict has caused additional suffering for ethnic and rural women. The military has committed human rights abuses, including sexual violence against ethnic women, as part of its offensives in ethnic areas. Part of the conflict stems from a desire to control the vast natural resources in ethnic areas, and the military and its cronies have long-standing and extensive business interests in ethnic regions. Continuing conflict, and the web of military presence and business interests in ethnic areas, has had a devastating effect on women and women’s rights, especially in rural and ethnic areas.

Third, part of the lack of progress on women’s equality is due to the woefully inadequate legal system in Burma. First and foremost, the Constitution itself establishes structural barriers to equality, and discriminates outright against women through failing to provide a CEDAW-compliant definition of discrimination and limiting job opportunities for women. It also discriminates against women indirectly by establishing the Parliamentary quotas for the military. Most of the laws that relate specifically to women are outdated, such as the Penal Code of 1861, and many laws, regulations, and policies (including customary law) are disadvantageous and discriminatory towards women. Laws passed since 2011 often did not take women’s concerns into account and some, such as the Laws on Race & Religion, are discriminatory outright. Women also do not enjoy protection from anti-discrimination legislation or a comprehensive violence against women law, which is of particular concern for women victims of conflict-related sexual violence.

Moreover, even legal and other rights that are available on paper are often not enforced due to corruption in the legal system, the police force and other governmental authorities. These failures are compounded by a judiciary that is unreliable, susceptible to military influence and corruption, and often unwilling to enforce the rule of law. Outside of the formal legal system, the application of customary laws which are prevalent in rural and ethnic areas can also impede women’s access to justice. These factors present serious obstacles to women’s ability to know or enforce their rights.

It is hoped that ensuring women’s equality will be a greater focus of the new NLD-led Government that came to power in April 2016. Given the structural barriers established by the military, including those in the Constitution, reducing the power and influence of the military will be a challenge. To encourage the new Government on the path to ensuring human rights, and women’s rights, it is crucial to provide it with guidelines and signposts for action. Forums such as this CEDAW review are essential to establishing benchmarks for women’s rights and equality, as promised by CEDAW. Rights under CEDAW should be made available, without restriction or further delay, to every woman and girl in Burma, regardless of her region, religion, or ethnicity.