#Standwithher to End Atrocity Crimes in Myanmar

March 15th, 2019  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  8 minute read
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“We need the world to act as a united community to implement target sanctions against the military and to have a body outside Burma to [deliver] justice and to hold generals accountable for these extreme human right violations.”

Naw K’nyaw Paw, General Secretary of the Karen Women’s Organization (KWO),

As the world marked the International Women’s Day (IWD) this year, Karen and Rohingya women human rights defenders were recognized for their courageous work in advocating for the rights of Rohingya and other ethnic women and for their tireless work in improving the lives of women throughout Myanmar[1]. Meanwhile, civil society organizations in Myanmar marked the day by highlighting the devastating impact of the ongoing civil war and the particular violations experienced by ethnic women and called for an end to the decades-long conflict.

To mark the 108th year of IWD, Women’s League of Burma (WLB), under their theme of “Access to Justice, End Impunity Now” produced a powerful documentary highlighting the effects that the decades-long civil war have had on women and girls. The documentary featured seven women from conflict-affected areas, whose accounts of displacement, death of family members, forced labor and other human rights violations urge Myanmar to end the ongoing conflict between the Myanmar military and ethnic armed organizations, which has only exacerbated in recent years. The tales of the seven women illustrate how the “civil war turns women and children into hostages,” according to Mie Mie from Karenni National Women’s Organization, which is a member of the WLB. While Myanmar signed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in 2014, a non-binding commitment to take a number of steps toward prevention and redress of sexual violence in conflict, it has yet to take concrete steps enumerated in the Declaration of Commitment, nor has it drafted a National Action Plan as called for by the UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

In addition, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Ms. Pramila Patten, has signed a Joint Communiqué between the Myanmar government and the UN to address conflict-related sexual violence in December 2018 under the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 2106 (2013). Under this framework, the Myanmar government is required to issue clear orders to prohibit sexual violence, hold accountable those who breach these orders and provide a timely investigation of alleged abuses. However, against the backdrop of the deeply entrenched history of impunity for grave crimes such as sexual violence in armed conflict committed by the Myanmar military, and the absolute failure of the Myanmar authorities to investigate and hold perpetrators to account, signing of any such kind of agreement risks being subverted as an instrument in aiding the government’s ongoing whitewashing of these grave crimes. For such an agreement to be meaningful and truly effective in addressing accountability and ending conflict-related sexual violence, communities – in particular survivors – affected by the violence, as well as respective community based organizations, must be fully consulted. Their participation in the entire process, including decision making and implementation, is key to the success of ending the ongoing conflict-related sexual violence. Furthermore, a holistic plan for psycho-social support to survivors and affected communities must urgently be put in place.

Efforts made by local civil society organizations to hold the Myanmar military accountable and to end sexual and gender-based violence was recognized internationally on 7 March, 2019 – the day before the IWD – as Naw K’nyaw Paw, General Secretary of the Karen Women’s Organization (KWO), and Razia Sultana, a Rohingya lawyer and activist, were awarded the International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award by the U.S. Department of State. KWO welcomed the award, recommitting themselves to ending the impunity of the Myanmar military and urged all to “speak out against impunity and injustice… to summon the courage to stand and speak for the voiceless.” Under the leadership of Naw K’nyaw Paw, KWO was one of the first organizations to publicly condemn the Myanmar military-led violence committed against the Rohingya. “It will not end until the world takes action,” stated Naw K’nyaw Paw in her acceptance speech, referring to the continuing attacks by the Myanmar military against ethnic nationalities, particularly against ethnic women.

It is fitting that a Rohingya lawyer and activist, Razia Sultana who was born in Maungdaw, Rakhine State and has documented countless horrific violence, including rape and sexual violence, against Rohingya women was also awarded alongside Naw K’nyaw Paw. Despite overwhelming evidence of mass rape documented by Razia and countless others – documents detailing accounts of women and girls who were gathered in villages, gang-raped, locked in shelters and set on fire or murdered – Myanmar government’s recent submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women shows its continuing denial, as they assert that there is “no evidence to support these wild claims.” Human Rights Watch called such denial an “affront to accountability for vicious crimes, and to ending the military’s use of fear – including by rape – to reach its objectives,” while Women Peace Network stated that the continuing denial “is an indicator of its unwillingness to uphold accountability for grave violations perpetrated against ethnic Rohingya women and girls.”

It is vital that the international community continues to build on the work of the courageous women from Myanmar who speak out despite the ongoing threats by the Myanmar government, particularly against those who work on human rights at the international level. As Naw K’nyaw Paw stated, “We need the world to act as a united community to implement target sanctions against the military and to have a body outside Burma to [deliver] justice and to hold generals accountable for these extreme human right violations.”

Her calls for justice and accountability were echoed in a joint statement by 84 Rohingya, Kachin and Karen organizations calling on France to refer the situation of Myanmar to the International Criminal Court for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. France currently holds presidency over the UN Security Council for the duration of March, 2019. As these women human rights defenders from Myanmar’s diverse ethnic and religious communities continue to stand on the frontlines of the struggle for equality, justice and an end to the military impunity, the world must do more to #standwithher and ensure that those responsible for grave crimes are held to account and justice is sought for survivors, their families and communities.


[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


Statements and Press Releases

ေျမလြတ္ေျမလပ္ ႏွင့္ေျမ႐ိုင္းမ်ားစီမံခန္႔ခြဲေရးဥပေဒ ႐ုတ္သိမ္းေပးရန္ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကျငာခ်က္

By 26 Civil Society Organizations from Northern Shan State

France: Ensure UN Security Council Refers the Situation in Burma/Myanmar to the International Criminal Court

By 84 Rohingya, Kachin and Karen Groups

Myanmar Authorities Must Drop the Case Against Ko Swe Win and Decriminalise Defamation

By 77 Civil Society Organizations

ျမန္မာအာဏာပိုင္မ်ားမွ ကိုေဆြဝင္းအေပၚ အမႈစြဲဆိုခ်က္ကို ပယ္ဖ်က္ၿပီး အသေရဖ်က္မႈကို ရာဇဝတ္္မႈအျဖစ္မွ ဖ်က္သိမ္းေပးရန္

By 77 Civil Society Organizations

Myanmar: Human Rights Council Must Hold the Line on Freedom of Expression, Rights Violations

By Article 19

International Women’s Day 2019 Statement

By Human Rights Foundation of Monland

Halt Land Law Implementation: Millions at Risk of Eviction, Arrest as Deadline Looms

By Human Rights Watch

KWO Statement on International Women’s Day 2019

By Karen Women Organization

Statement: International Women’s Day 2019

By Karen Human Rights Group

ျမန္မာႏုိင္ငံ – သတင္းေထာက္ကိုေဆြဝင္းအေပၚ စဲြဆုိထားသည့္ အသေရဖ်က္မႈစြဲခ်က္မ်ားအား ပယ္ဖ်က္ၿပီး ဆက္သြယ္ေရးဥပေဒ ပုဒ္မ ၆၆(ဃ) ကို ဖ်က္သိမ္းေပးရန္

By Progressive Voice and Athan

Myanmar: Drop Defamation Charges Against Journalist Ko Swe Win and Repeal Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law

By Progressive Voice and Athan

Myanmar Woman to Receive 2019 International Women of Courage Award

By U.S. Embassy in Burma

ႏိုင္ငံတကာ အမ်ိဳးသမီးမ်ားေန႔ အထမ္းအမွတ္ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္-“တရားမွ်တမႈရရွိေရး ျပစ္ဒဏ္ကင္းလြတ္ခြင့္မ်ား ရပ္တန္႔ေပး”

By Women’s League of Burma



UN HRC Must Keep Scrutiny on Free Expression Situation

By Article 19

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

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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.”