For decades, the bodies of women have been use a battleground for the army in Burma, and little to nothing has been done to put an end to it or prosecute those responsible. The International Tribunal on crimes against women in Burma, led by the Novel Women’s Initiative and the Women’s League of Burma in New York City on March 2, 2010 was a giant leap forward in holding the Burmese military regime accountable for its use of systematic and widespread gender-based violence against its ethnic minorities.
Twelve Burmese women survivors testified at the tribunal, sharing harrowing accounts of rape, torture, arrest, killings and forced labor at the hands of the Burmese military regime. The atrocities inflicted by the Burmese Army upon these women are of unimaginable brutality that goes far beyond rape. Some testimonies came from colleagues of the detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who told of violent persecution in the wake of the 8888 uprising,
“My husband and I spoke up in the face of violence and were persecuted because of this…While in prison I was sexually abused when I was subjected to invasive, humiliating and unnecessary “medical examinations” in front of male soldiers. My husband and I were both released after serving our prison terms, but we were not free to resume our lives…They [the Burmese police] threatened to arrest us again and frequently subjected us to lengthy interrogation sessions “
The pain of a rape victim is far from being over even when the abuses stop. Because of the shame and stigma surrounding rape, families sometimes reject and ostracize survivors of such abuse, leaving them unaided and unprotected.
“They raped us all without a second thought, until we finally escaped their drunken grasps. News spread quickly throughout my village. We received international attention when the BBC picked up the story. I had become a headline. The shame I brought to my family, my school, my village was so difficult to bear. I wanted to forget but no one would let me. I was caned by my teacher in front of the entire school before being expelled. Later, I was also expelled from my community for bringing shame upon it. Left without a home, a school, friends or a family, I was arrested by the police for “defaming” the same soldiers that raped me.“
Rape is not just a by-product of war; it is a combat strategy systematically used to terrorize, humiliate and destroy the morale of a person and the community. For decades, the Burmese military regime has committed widespread human rights violations against the ethnic minorities with a clear intention of breaking the bones and the spirit of these people. Over 3,500 villages have been burned down. In 2009 alone, 75,000 people were internally displaced in Karen State as a result of a series of attacks by the Burmese Army, adding to the millions of internally displaced people inside Burma.
In the closing of the tribunal, the court called on the international community to confront the worsening humanitarian crisis in Burma and to take immediate and concrete actions as the following:
- Urge the UN Security Council to refer Burma to the International Criminal Court
- End violence against women and persecution of ethnic minorities
- Unconditional release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi
- A sincere and progressive dialogue among themselves, the democracy groups, and ethnic leaders, while ensuring equal gender representation in politics of the nation
- Revision of the constitution to ensure equal ethnic representation and to uphold human rights standards