December 13, 2011

Burma Campaign UK today called on Foreign Secretary William Hague to make ending the use of rape and sexual violence by the Burmese Army a top priority when he visits Burma in January.  The increasing use of rape and sexual violence in Burma has largely been ignored by the international community.

A series of small political changes during the summer and autumn of 2011, and the release of almost 300 political prisoners, generated much hope and expectation that there would be fundamental reforms in Burma. However, the pace of change has slowed, and expected releases of political prisoners have not taken place.

At the same time in ethnic states the military-backed government has broken ceasefire agreements with armed ethnic political parties, and the Burmese Army has been committing horrific human rights abuses against civilians, including gang-rape, torture, executions, mortar bombing civilian villages, and mass use of forced labour. Women’s organisations have documented more than 80 cases of rape by the Burmese Army, including the rape of a child and a disabled woman. This is likely to be an underestimate because of the stigma in admitting to being raped, and difficulties in accessing areas where conflict is taking place.

“The changes that have taken place are welcome, and people in Burma are hopeful, but so far the changes have largely only affected the Burmese equivalent of the ‘Westminster bubble’,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “At the same time human rights abuses, including rape and sexual violence by the Burmese Army, have increased, and this must not be ignored.”

The European Union maintains economic and diplomatic sanctions on Burma. Some EU members argue that the EU should lift some economic sanctions now, while others want to see concrete changes first, such as the release of all political prisoners, a nationwide ceasefire, and an inclusive dialogue process.

“There is a risk that Burma’s military backed government is only introducing changes in order to gain international legitimacy and get sanctions lifted,” said Mark Farmaner. “President Thein Sein talks about change while his soldiers rape children and burn villages. It is vital that William Hague delivers a clear message that no economic sanctions will be lifted while these abuses are still taking place.”

Burma Campaign UK is calling for a carefully calibrated response from the UK and EU, ensuring that encouragement is given in response to changes taking place, but at the same time not making too many concessions too fast, as this is likely to remove incentives for the military-backed government to continue reforms.

 


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