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Issue #1752      October 12, 2016

Myanmar

Hidden strengths, hidden struggles

Women continue to suffer due to land grabs and militarisation, writes Nyein Nyein.

Despite the peace process and ceasefire agreements, women in the ethnic minority south-eastern regions of Myanmar still continue to suffer human rights abuses stemming from militarisation and land confiscation.

Land confiscation and rights abuses linked to the continued militarisation of ethnic minority regions in southeastern Burma have had particularly adverse impacts on women, ethnic Karen human rights advocates said at a recent press conference in Rangoon.

While the launching of the peace process in 2011 and a series of bilateral ceasefires with ethnic armed groups have lessened certain abuses, including forced labour and extrajudicial killings, new business opportunities have led to an increase in land seizures, they said.

The Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) has documented the experiences of women in rural areas of Karen and Mon states and Tenasserim and eastern Pegu divisions, and has compiled four years’ worth of findings on the effects of landmines, land confiscation, forced labour, torture and violence against women in a report released on August 3.

The report, “Hidden Strengths, Hidden Struggles: Women’s Testimonies from Southeast Myanmar”, was based on the analysis of 1,048 documents, including 98 interviews with separate women, said KHRG advocacy officer Jasmin, who pointed out a change in the type of abuses suffered by local women since 2012.

2012 was the year the previous government reached a bilateral ceasefire with the Karen National Union, the largest ethnic Karen armed group whose operations span the area of study, and which also signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in October last year.

Jasmin said, “In our report 10 years ago [Dignity in the Shadow of Oppression, published in November 2006], cases of rape and forced porterage [for the Burma Army] were extensively documented. In our report this year, accounts of such abuses have lessened, with a change in the form of rights abuses.

“Because of the peace process, we now have more business operations, and land confiscation has become the main problem,’ Jasmin added. “They are losing their livelihoods and still being displaced due to that.”

Despite the signing of both bilateral and “nationwide” ceasefire agreements, the presence of Burma Army troops across rural areas continues to threaten the safety of local people, especially women, said the rights advocates.

They added that a lessening in hostilities has had the side-effect of diminishing the authority of women at the village level. Over 60 years of civil conflict, with the enrolment of men in rebel armies, women have had to step forward and become village leaders. With the return of men over the last few years to their traditional positions of authority in the community, women have lost these roles.

Jasmin said the report aimed to heighten the public’s awareness of “the experiences of women and their changing roles in the southern part of the country”.

However, the KHRG advocates noted that locals in the area of study still fear talking openly about instances of abuse, making it hard to verify and adequately document them.

Justice mechanisms

The KHRG also urged the government, legislators and the Karen National Union to “improve justice mechanisms” and create secure avenues for women facing gender-based violence and abuses linked to land confiscation to file cases with local authorities, and “bring perpetrators before independent and impartial civilian courts”.

The KHRG framed these demands with reference to Burma’s obligations under the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which Burma signed in 1997.

Win Mra, chairman of Burma’s National Human Rights Commission, attended the press conference and commended the KHRG’s report, which he said “fairly documents human rights violations, the situation since the ceasefires and the [2015] election, and abuses against women”.

He stressed the importance of implementing the recommendations contained in the report, rather than merely continuing to document cases and hold seminars and workshops.

“Our [national human rights commission] is doing the same activities as the KHRG and as the Gender Equality Network. We will not stop with workshops. We will continue working to achieve results,” Win Mra said, with reference to the commission’s partnership with UN Women on empowering rural women. – The Irrawaddy (www.irrawaddy.com).

Third World Resurgence

Next article – Protesters’ pipeline victory

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