On Tuesday 24th September 115 countries signed a new declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict. Despite high level lobbying by the British government, the government of Burma failed to support the declaration.
The declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict was launched by British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, at the United Nations in New York.
The declaration contains practical and political commitments to end impunity, promote accountability, and provide justice and safety for victims of sexual violence in conflicts.
The failure of Burma’s President Thein Sein to support the declaration to stop sexual violence in conflict demonstrates a lack of willingness to address the issue of sexual violence in conflict in Burma. Since Thein Sein became President, there has been renewed conflict in Kachin State and Shan State, and Burma Campaign UK has received an increased number of reports of rape and sexual violence by the Burmese Army. No action has been taken to end impunity for rape by the Burmese Army, and Thein Sein and his government do not even acknowledge that such abuses even take place.
The failure of Burma to sign the declaration also calls into question the effectiveness of British government policy on Burma. Since reforms began in Burma, the British government has performed a dramatic and premature u-turn on Burma policy, no longer supporting strong pressure as a means to promote human rights, and instead arguing that building a closer relationship with the government of Burma would give it more influence to promote human rights. This policy has demonstrably failed.
Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire asked for Burmese government participation in the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative when he visited Burma in December 2012. Foreign Secretary William Hague also requested President Thein Sein to participate when Thein Sein visited the UK in July 2013. The request has been ignored.
“When it comes to Burma and the issue of sexual violence, William Hague should understand by now who he is dealing with, and demand Thein Sein to fully commit to an end to rape and sexual violence”, said Zoya Phan, Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK. “The use of rape and sexual violence in conflict in Burma must be stopped. If Thein Sein refuses to co-operate, then international legal action should be taken to prevent these crimes. For many ethnic women, rape by Burmese Army soldiers is a daily fear, and justice seems to be just a distant dream”.
There can never be a genuine peace in the country if women and girls continue to suffer rape and sexual violence by government forces, and are denied their rights and security.
Note to Editor: The Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict was launched at the UN, New York, at an event attended by The Rt Hon William Hague MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs & Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
The text and more information is available here:https://www.gov.uk/government/news/113-countries-pledge-action-to-end-sexual-violence-in-conflict-timetoact
(Note: since the FCO released this statement two more countries signed the declaration, bringing the total to 115)