On February 1, 2021, the Burmese military toppled an elected government, sparking a people-led uprising for human rights and democracy across the country. Nearly three years since then, in an attempt to physically and virtually destroy the pro-democracy movement, the military is continuing to commit atrocities against civilians and civilian infrastructure of an intensifying frequency and degree. A growing number of these atrocities are being described as amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (“UNHCR”), the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (“IIMM”), and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.
The Burmese military’s unabashed brutality spans decades beyond its attempted coup. Over thirty years following the country’s independence, the military – united by a predominantly ethnic Bamar and Buddhist coalition – targeted ethnic and religious minority groups in an attempt to subjugate them in all their dimensions. The military’s systematic attacks against these groups entailed widespread atrocities that have been reported by the IIMM as amounting to crimes against humanity, war crimes, and, against the Rohingya ethnic minority, genocide. These atrocities were observed throughout Myanmar’s successive military dictatorships, and even during the so-called democratic transition right before the military’s attempted coup.
It is in this context of a decades-long cycle of vicious and virtual impunity where the country’s women exist, risking their survival by the day. These women include ethnic and religious minority women, against whom the Burmese military has, for decades, perpetrated sexual violence as a “hallmark” of its operations, and as a part of its “clearance operations’ in 2017. Since the attempted coup, the military has continued to target women with rape, gang rape, sexual mutilation, torture, and other related acts in prisons, detention and interrogation centers. Women of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, and intersex communities (“LGBTQI+”) also remain under particular threat from the military – whose authoritarianism and hypermasculinity unite its officials – and its commission of sexual and gender-based violence. Though incomparable in scale and strategy, sexual violence by certain armed groups in the pro-democracy movement has also been reported. Women caught in the crossfire of the country’s growing areas of armed conflict become doubly vulnerable to its devastating, ripple effects. Fleeing their homes, whether in Myanmar or beyond its borders, does not guarantee their access to safety and protection, as well as basic services and livelihoods.
The predominantly Muslim, Rohingya ethnic minority uniquely bears the brunt of the military’s attempted coup and its gendered effects. Their historically marginalized and minoritized status relative to the wider Burmese populace makes them particularly vulnerable to such effects, as well as their detriments; despite their indigenity to Myanmar and Rakhine State, or Arakan, Rohingya have for generations systematically been stripped of their human rights to their full capacity. The Burmese military still recognizes the 600,000 Rohingya remaining in the country under apartheid-like conditions as foreign interlopers, putting them at risk of further attacks of genocide. At the same time, these Rohingya are now facing additional layers of vulnerability – risks to their life, safety, security, and access to humanitarian aid – amid the recent escalation of armed conflict between the military and the Arakan Army (“AA”). The over one million Rohingya refugees too face deteriorating conditions, with their women and children at growing risk of human trafficking and other life-threatening abuses. Now, more than ever, the safe, voluntary, dignified, and sustainable return of all Rohingya to their places of origin in Myanmar is unlikely to take place.
In this submission to the U.N. Special Procedures, and in line with its calls, Women’s Peace Network (“WPN”) analyzes the ways in which the Burmese military’s attempted coup in 2021 have affected the country’s women in particular.8 WPN’s report interprets Rohingya women as a part of Myanmar women, and takes the ongoing human rights and humanitarian catastrophe as a degradation of the country’s already precarious conditions prior to February 2021. In so doing, WPN provides recommendations to comprehensively address the over three decades of crises that have engulfed the country and prevented its people from achieving lasting peace, genuine democracy, and justice for generations.
Progressive Voice is a participatory rights-based policy research and advocacy organization rooted in civil society, that maintains strong networks and relationships with grassroots organizations and community-based organizations throughout Myanmar. It acts as a bridge to the international community and international policymakers by amplifying voices from the ground, and advocating for a rights-based policy narrative.