Burma Joins Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

By Samantha Michaels 10 June 2014

RANGOON — Burma has sent an official delegation to London this week to join the first global summit to end sexual violence in conflict, co-hosted by Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Thant Kyaw is joining government ministers, military officials, aid workers and civil society leaders from more than 100 countries at the four-day summit that began on Tuesday. He leads an official delegation that has traveled to the British capital along with Burmese civil society organizations.

The decision to attend the summit came after Burma became the 150th country to endorse the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, launched last September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

“Myanmar [Burma] signed up to the declaration last week,” British Ambassador to Burma Andrew Patrick said at an event in Rangoon on Tuesday to mark the start of the summit. “The deputy foreign minister is currently in London attending the conference, and we’re very pleased that that’s the case.”

The declaration contains a set of practical and political commitments to end the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war. Burma’s government faced sharp criticism last year for failing to endorse it, as the country’s military continued to face allegations of sexually assaulting ethnic women in conflict zones.

At the summit in London, Hague and Jolie, the special envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, will launch an international protocol to strengthen prosecutions for rape in conflict on Wednesday. According to Patrick, the protocol will help investigators preserve evidence in the aftermath of an attack, improve the chances of someone being successfully prosecuted later, and protect victims and survivors from further trauma.

On Thursday, a ministerial meeting in London chaired by the British foreign minister will focus on the security situation in northern Nigeria, following the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls by a militant group. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry will be among speakers during a closing plenary session on Friday.

In Rangoon, the British Embassy is hosting events locally to support the global summit. At the ceremony at the British ambassador’s residence on Tuesday, Patrick joined civil society leaders in releasing red balloons into the air to symbolically recognize victims of sexual violence.

In a video statement, Jolie said she hoped governments would be encouraged after this week to assist the adults and children of both sexes who have suffered from sexual violence in conflict. “My hope is that this summit will be the moment the world takes practical steps to end impunity and enable survivors to receive better support,” she said.

Bertrand Bainvel, the Unicef representative in Burma, said poor documentation of sexual violence currently hindered efforts to help victims.

“It’s an issue which is widespread and at the same time an issue for which it’s very difficult to get any data or systematic reporting, so it makes it more difficult to act upon,” he said.

Burmese women’s rights groups accuse the military of systematically using rape and sexual assault as strategies of war against ethnic armed groups around the country. In March, Ban Ki-moon called on the Burmese government to conduct full investigations into these allegations.

“We welcome the Burmese government signing the UN sexual violence declaration, but signing alone is meaningless without an immediate action plan for implementation,” Zoya Phan, campaigns manager at Burma Campaign UK, said in a statement on Friday.

“Just because Burma signed the international declaration on sexual violence, it doesn’t mean they will do anything about it. There should be a six-month deadline for seeing implementation of the declaration in Burma.”