CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Burmese women’s rights activists have raised concerns over human rights abuses and the slowdown of Burma’s peace program to The Elders, a group of internationally renowned former world leaders and rights advocates.
Representatives from the Women’s League of Burma (WLB) met with members of The Elders on Saturday in Chiang Mai, where they argued that Burma’s much-touted reforms were only being felt in urban areas, and not war-torn ethnic regions in the countryside.
“We told them that the situation on the ground in ethnic regions is not much changed,” said Naw Wah Ku Shee of the WLB “You will hear good news in big cities like Yangon [Rangoon], but not in ethnic states. And as we represent ethnic minorities, we will keep exposing human rights abuses, murder and rape of women in ethnic areas.”
Members of The Elders present at the summit included ex-Norwegian Premier Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, and former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi.
The Elders flew to Burma on Sunday and will meet with President Thein Sein, Burma Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing as well as a raft of civil society organizations, according to the WLB.
“They came to meet us as they are aware of the role of women in the peace process,” said Naw Wah Ku Shee. “From the security point of view, we told them that women and girls will be safe from abuse only when Burmese Army withdraws its troops from conflict-torn areas.”
She also emphasized that there has been intermittent conflict in ethnic regions, especially in northern and eastern Burma, despite ceasefire agreements covering some of these areas and official moves towards a national ceasefire agreement.
The members of The Elders told the WLB representatives that they accept concerns and suggestions of the women activists, but emphasized that reforms made by the current government led by President Thein Sein should also be recognized.
The Elders organization includes Nobel Laureate and former US President Jimmy Carter and figures such as Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general.
In September last year, the Elders visited Burma, where Carter called on Burma to allow foreign organizations to observe the country’s 2015 national elections.
At that time, the organization also met with Thein Sein and Min Aung Hlaing, and were generous in their praise of Burma’s lawmakers, saying the country’s reforms were going well for the most part.