On Wednesday, the Asia Justice And Rights (AJAR) launched its report containing the stories of 29 women survivors from Myanmar – former political prisoners from Yangon, and internally displaced ethnic women from Karen and Kachin State. Violence against women continues to impact the lives of women in Myanmar in many different forms.
One of the main findings of this research is that violence against women is empowered and maintained by a culture of impunity. Galuh Wandita, the Director of AJAR, said: “Women victims struggle with the socio-economic impact of violence and are not able to access basic services. This affects their ability to access justice.”
The report presents the key research findings and provides a list of recommendations for addressing truth, justice, and reparations for the women survivors of Myanmar. Each of the 29 women from Myanmar who took part in this participatory research has a compelling story, but woven together they provide a stark picture about how the government, the army, non-state armed groups, the UN and NGOs fail to pave the way for their survival. ‘’From their stories, we see how they largely had to help themselves, using their strength and tenacity and fighting for survival in grim situations,’’ AJAR says.
In the rush to create peace, authorities want victims of war to become invisible, and magically transform themselves into ordinary citizens without any specialized support. At the same time, governments and international actors fail to see the link between violence during war and violence in times of peace, providing resources to eliminate domestic violence while ignoring those victimized during conflict, the group says.
Based on AJAR’s research with a total of 140 women victims in Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and Myanmar using participatory tools to deepen understanding of women’s experiences of impunity, Opening the Box: Women’s Experiences of War, Peace, and Impunity in Myanmar is a collaboration with AJAR, a non-profit organization based in Jakarta, Indonesia, working to strengthen accountability and respect for human rights in the Asia Pacific region together with Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT), Karen Women Empowerment Group (KWEG), and Women’s Organizations Network of Myanmar (WON).
Tin Tin Cho, detained as a political prisoner, told AJAR: ‘’Before sending me to prison, they interrogated me day and night without giving me a chance to sleep. I was not allowed to sleep, to take a bath, or to eat regularly. Even when they did not commit physical torture, they tortured us a lot spiritually. They used a lot of words which hurt a woman’s dignity.’’
Roi Bu of Kachin state was displaced from her home in 2011 and has been forced to move many times since. The Burmese army still occupies her village. ‘’At that time, one of my children came back to me and told me that the Burmese army invaded our village. As she came back running, there was already the sound of the gun. I told my children to flee quickly. As we heard the sound of the gun, the entire village ran across the village. Some could not carry anything with them and they just ran with bare hands,’’ she said.
According to the report, women in Myanmar have little space to think about the concept of justice. Human rights organizations are documenting cases and collecting information, but it is next to impossible to take legal action. However, the desire for justice is strong. Many women political prisoners continue to be involved in political movements as part of the fight for democracy and peace after they are released. Although they have suffered greatly in the past, their desire for political change is undiminished, and in most cases, imprisonment has served to radicalize them further whilst strengthening their determination.
Thandar, detained as a political prisoner, said that ‘’Because of my experiences being oppressed, I must say that there is no justice. To have justice, we need to have a law that will fulfill the needs of the citizens, protect them, and apply equally to everyone. The system must be free of bribery and corruption.’’
Nyar Bwe of Karen state reflected ‘’We have been displaced for about 40 years. The Burmese government does not let us go back to our village. We are living on someone’s land. It is very difficult for us, as we cannot earn our living. I want to go back to my village and my land and be free to earn a livelihood.’’
Yaw Myaw’s daughter was abducted by the Burmese army and kept in their camp for a few months before she was disappeared. The family believes that she may have been raped and killed, but they do not know the truth about what happened to her. They brought the case before the Supreme Court, which rejected it without hearing the evidence. While they still hope to obtain justice one day, they struggle every day for their livelihood in the IDP camp.
The conflict forced Tar Thue’s family to relocate before she was born. Hence, she has lived in an IDP village her whole life, and had to drop out of school because her parents could not afford it. Her father endured severe torture by the military. Tar Thue said: ‘’I want durable peace. I do not want war.’’
Based on AJAR’s in-depth discussions with these 29 women survivors of violence related to the Kachin and Karen conflicts and women former political prisoners, AJAR urges the Myanmar government, policy makers, ethnic leaders, and civil society to fulfill the following recommendations:
- Immediately put an end to violence against women during conflict and political repression, in particular sexual violence against women;
- Change the 2008 Constitution in order to place the military under civilian control;
- Ensure that Myanmar ratifies relevant international treaties and incorporates them into its domestic legislation, meets its obligations to protect women under CEDAW, UNSCR 1325 and 1820, and the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict and adopts the Anti-Violence Against Women Law;
- Ensure women’s meaningful participation in the peace process and political dialogue and include accountability for past human rights violations in discussions;
- Establish effective judicial and non-judicial transitional justice mechanisms to investigate human rights abuses, particularly those related to sexual violence against women and establish programs to enable women victims’ safe access to justice;
- Create the conditions for the safe and dignified voluntary return of all conflict-affected displaced women and refugees to their communities, in consultation with them;
- Establish rehabilitation programs for women survivors, in particular multi-sectoral services that include healthcare, trauma support, reproductive health care and assistance for aging populations, as well as access to capital through appropriate schemes for job creation, skills training and microfinance;
- Support women survivors’ networks and linkages between them. Include them in consultations and meetings on peace, development, human rights, access to justice and other relevant forums.