Can Burma’s Human Rights Commission Fight Sexual Violence in Conflict Areas?

By Nyein Nyein 8 March 2016

RANGOON — The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) has said they are ready to address cases of sexual violence perpetrated by the Burma Army, but rights groups remain skeptical of the commission’s ability to achieve justice.

“If there are women being abused in the conflict areas, we want them to make complaints to the MNHRC, but they haven’t done it so far,” Dr. Than Nwe of MNHRC’S Policy and Law section, told The Irrawaddy. “If some cases are related to the military, we would ask the military for an explanation.”

Lway Cherry, secretary of the ethnic Ta’ang Women’s Union and policy board member of the Women’s League of Burma (WLB), explained that trust in the commission depended on the results that the government-founded investigative body was able to achieve.

“So far we have not heard about the sexual abuses cases shared with the MNHRC being fairly solved,” she said, adding that rights groups have long been sending evidence of military-perpetrated sexual violence both to government and non-government bodies, in search of justice for the victims.

While MNHRC members insist that they help as much as they can regarding crimes against women in conflict areas, in more than three years of operation, few cases related to the military’s reported campaigns of systematic sexual violence against ethnic women have been pursued by the commission.

On Wednesday, which is also International Women’s Day, the WLB highlighted in a public statement the need for “better justice” regarding cases of sexual violence against women in Burma’s conflict zones.

“The rapists or perpetrators are still being given impunity,” the statement said.

In November 2015, the WLB, the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT) and the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) reported that sexual violence perpetrated by the Burma Army remains ongoing in ethnic areas. SHRF cited eight cases of rape in as many months in Shan State, all allegedly by government troops. SHRF added that such crimes are rarely prosecuted.

Many of the gender-based cases that the MNHRC handles are related to the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, on which Dr. Than Nwe feels the commission has dealt with effectively.

“We try to solve [these cases] by meeting the relevant ministries. We are now working with UN Women on the issue,” said Dr. Than Nwe.  “We were able to intervene by informing the respective ministries. They are required to respond to us within a month. They can not ignore and hide as they must respond us.”

Burma Partnership, who has monitored and investigated the commission’s work, laments that the MNHRC has “been unable to uphold its mandate of human rights protection and promotion.” They attribute this to a lack of “independence, effectiveness and transparency,” due to government ties.