Leave No One Behind: Support and Justice for Rohingya Women Survivors of Sexual Violence

Every year, from 25 November until 10 December, 2017, women’s rights activists, along with the United Nations and various governments, commemorate “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.” For 2017, the United Nations Secretary-General’s campaign, UNiTE to End Violence against Women, has organized around the theme of “Leave No One Behind: End Violence against Women and Girls,” with a focus on “the most underserved and marginalized, including refugees, migrants, minorities, indigenous peoples, and populations affected by conflict and natural disasters.”

The Rohingya, denied citizenship and discriminated against in Myanmar[1], have been long referred to as “the world’s most persecuted people.” Rohingya women in particular are certainly among “the most underserved and marginalized” that this year’s 16 Days of Activism prioritizes. Even after making it to relative safety in Bangladesh, Rohingya women survivors of sexual violence face stigma and fear rejection by their families and communities. In some cases, these burdens are compounded by the immediate urgency of pregnancies resulting from rape. Humanitarian workers report high levels of trauma and an urgent need for female counselors to respond to these needs. Furthermore, refugees, particularly women and children, are at high risk of trafficking given the crowded and desperate situation in the camps.

In the days leading up to 25 November, 2017, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Human Rights Watch released a major report detailing gang rapes committed by Myanmar security forces against Rohingya women during attacks since 25 August, 2017. Likewise, Fortify Rights and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum also released a report covering a range of atrocity crimes committed over the past year against the Rohingya, documenting the widescale and systematic nature of these attacks, a crucial element to distinguishing crimes against humanity from isolated and unconnected crimes. Khin Ohmar, Progressive Voice’s Advisory Board Chair, commented on the similarity in patterns of sexual violence committed against ethnic women, saying “as a woman human rights defender who has spent more than 25 years advocating for human rights in Burma and an end to the terror committed by the Burma Army on its own people, the reports of sexual violence against the Rohingya are horrifying but not surprising. Even though I have not been able to speak directly with Rohingya survivors of sexual violence, I believe them, as I believed the other women rape survivors from ethnic minority communities, including Kachin and Lahu, who have told me similar stories over the past 20 years.”

“As a woman human rights defender who has spent more than 25 years advocating for human rights in Burma and an end to the terror committed by the Burma Army on its own people, the reports of sexual violence against the Rohingya are horrifying but not surprising. Even though I have not been able to speak directly with Rohingya survivors of sexual violence, I believe them, as I believed the other women rape survivors from ethnic minority communities, including Kachin and Lahu, who have told me similar stories over the past 20 years.”

Khin Ohmar, Progressive Voice’s Advisory Board Chair

The 31st ASEAN Summit, held in November 2017 in the Philippines, was seen by many activists as an opportunity to address the Rohingya crisis at a regional level. Despite ASEAN’s tradition of non-intervention, many hoped that the scale and severity of the Rohingya crisis and its timing during major ASEAN meetings would merit at least some discussion. However, there was very little mention of the crisis during the meetings. Most glaringly, the Joint Statement on Promoting Women, Peace and Security in ASEAN failed entirely to mention the unfolding crisis and the serious crimes that had been documented and reported just before and during the Summit.

Accountability for sexual violence committed by security forces in Myanmar is rare. In November 2017, the Women’s League of Burma published a briefing paper, entitled Girls Bear the Shame, on the impediments that women and girl survivors of sexual violence face in seeking justice in non-conflict contexts. These challenges are even more applicable to sexual violence committed by security forces, and against Rohingya women, who are already marginalized and stigmatized. Sexual violence continues to be used in conflict not only against Rohingya, but in conflicts in Kachin and northern Shan States as well, as recently highlighted by the Shan Women’s Action Network in a statement for the 16 Days of Activism.

UN Special Representative Patten also pledged to “brief and raise the issue” of sexual violence against the Rohingya with the prosecutor and president of the International Criminal Court. However, further steps are needed if this discussion is to have an impact on accountability since Myanmar is not a party to the court, including steps to convince China and Russia not to block any potential referral by the Security Council.

International actors have an important role to play in condemning sexual violence against Rohingya and other women in Myanmar, responding to the immediate needs of the survivors, and contributing to efforts to seek accountability in the future. The scale and severity of the Rohingya crisis means that it is imperative that ASEAN develop a coordinated response to the human rights, humanitarian and migration challenges created by this crisis, including its impact on Rohingya migrants and refugees already present in many ASEAN member-states. Other international actors, including donors and humanitarian actors, must prioritize assistance to survivors of sexual violence in Myanmar’s conflict-affected areas, who are highly marginalized and still vulnerable, including Rohingya women who fled and are sheltering in Bangladesh. Furthermore, all international actors must promote accountability in the long-term, including supporting the collection of evidence and considering options for accountability outside of Myanmar’s court system.

International actors have an important role to play in condemning sexual violence against Rohingya and other women in Myanmar, responding to the immediate needs of the survivors, and contributing to efforts to seek accountability in the future.

__________

[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week

actions

Statements and Press Releases

Myanmar: Rohingya Trapped in Dehumanising Apartheid Regime
By Amnesty International

Myanmar: Rohingya Returns Unthinkable until Apartheid System is Dismantled
By Amnesty International

Detailing EU Complicity In Rohingya Crisis – Parliament Publishes Burma Campaign UK Evidence
By Burma Campaign UK

Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the European Union on Myanmar/Burma
By European Council of the European Union

Royce Welcomes Admin’s Burma Determination
By Foreign Affairs Committee

Myanmar: Rule of Law Must Drive Responses to Rohingya Crisis
By International Commission of Jurists

Efforts To Address Burma’s Rakhine State Crisis
By Rex W. Tillerson, US Secretary of State

Senior State Department Officials On the Situation in Burma
By Senior State Department Officials

Statement from the Shan Women’s Action Network On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women 2017
By Shan Women’s Action Network

၂၀၁၇ ခုႏွစ္ အျပည္ျပည္ဆိုင္ရာ အမ်ဳိးသမီးမ်ားအေပၚ အၾကမ္းဖက္မႈ ပေပ်ာက္ေရးေန႔ ထုုတ္ျပန္ ေၾကညာခ်က္

By Shan Women’s Action Network

WLB’s Press Release On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
By Women’s League of Burma

အျပည္ျပည္ဆိုင္ရာ အမ်ဳိးသမီးမ်ားအေပၚ အၾကမ္းဖက္မႈပေပ်ာက္ေရးေန႔ အထိမ္းအမွတ္ သတင္းထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
By Women’s League of Burma

Joint Open Letter: Call for a Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on the Deteriorating Human Rights Situation in Myanmar
By 36 Human Rights Organisations

reports

Reports

Myanmar: ” Caged Without A Roof”
By Amnesty International

Briefing Note: Myanmar – Questions and Answers on Human Rights Law in Rakhine State
By International Commission of Jurists

ေက်ာက္ျဖဴအထူးစီးပြားေရးဇုန္​စီမံကိန္​း၏ အခြင့္အလမ္းႏွင့္ စိန္​ေခၚမွဳမ်ား
By Kyaukphyu Rural Development Association

Briefing Paper: Girls Bear the Shame – Impediments to Justice for Girl Children Who have Experienced Sexual Violence in Burma
By Women’s League of Burma

ရွက္ရြံ႕မႈမ်ား ခါးစည္းခံစား မိန္းမသားမ်ား။ ။ ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံတြင္း လိင္ပိုင္းဆိုင္ရာအၾကမ္းဖက္မႈမ်ား ေတြ႔ႀကံဳခံစားေနရေသာ မိန္းကေလးမ်ားအတြက္ အမွန္တရားရရွိေစေရး အဟန္႔အတားမ်ား
By Women’s League of Burma


Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.

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