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Press Conference: Women Leaders of Burma/Myanmar Disappointed with International Community

At a virtual press conference held today, women of Burma/Myanmar demanded greater accountability from ASEAN and the international community in their response to the recent military coup in the country. Since the coup, the armed and security forces have waged systemic gender-based violence and sexual violence against women, especially within the ethnic community. 

Naw Hser Hser, General Secretary of Women’s League of Burma (WLB) said, “Women Human Rights Defenders are being actively targeted by the military regime. There are chilling reports of female detainees being subjected to harrowing sexual assault, torture, physical and verbal abuse, and intimidation. The military’s use of rape as a weapon of war and sexual violence is a tool to demoralize and destroy ethnic communities. Their widespread and systematic nature indicates a structural pattern. “

Several documented cases recently have shown large-scale violence against women including forcing them to exchange sex for removing their names from the warrant list, sexual assault in custody, and other forms of sexual and verbal abuse. There are also growing attacks on women human rights defenders for leading the resistance against Myanmar's military. At least 895 women have been detained so far and 56 confirmed cases of women and girls being killed, though the numbers could be higher.

“One-third of the Karenni population in Karenni State has been forced to flee their villages due to fighting between Burmese army and people resistance groups. Displaced women and children are at increased risk of being victims of human rights violations. We demand the international community to take immediate actions against the military, and provide access to humanitarian aid for the IDPs, in partnership with local ethnic service providers”, said a representative from Karenni National Women’s Organisation.

Moon Nay Li,  Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT) shared, “The military coup is having the deepest impact on those who are already marginalized due to the decades of civil war and ongoing human rights violations committed  Burmese military. Humanitarian aid must be closely monitored to ensure that it benefits the conflict-affected ethnic communities and not the military. At the same time, they need to make sure that all women and girls get access to health, legal, and social services.”

On 18 June 2021, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution on Burma/Myanmar with no participation from women leaders or activists on the ground or women’s rights organizations from the country. The resolution also saw a split vote from ASEAN nations with at least four countries abstaining from voting.

“The failure of regional processes like ASEAN in holding the military regime accountable in Burma has been extremely disappointing. Women have historically led the resistance on the ground and hold the key to restoring peace and justice in the country. Absence of their voices and leadership in UN processes will only lead to the repetition of injustice and failure of the international community in fulfilling the purposes of the UN Charter ”, said Misun Woo, Regional Coordinator of Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law, and Development (APWLD).

“It is long overdue for the international community to move statements of concern and take real action. Burma’s military is notorious for grave human rights violations, most notably using sexual and gender-based violence as a tool of oppression, and its operations since the coup are no exception. The current crisis was born out of the military’s complete impunity for international crimes, and accountability for ongoing and past abuses must be part of the solution”, said Grant Shubin, Global Justice Center.

For more than seven decades, the military has waged war in several ethnic states of Burma/Myanmar. It is time to hold the military regime accountable by the international community and refer it to the International Criminal Court for these mass atrocities. Ensuring women’s voices, leadership and meaningful participation in all UN processes is the only way the international community can fulfil its obligation to the people of Burma/Myanmar.

UN General Assembly Passes Resolution on Myanmar Coup

NEW YORK — The United Nations General Assembly today passed a resolution addressing the military coup in Myanmar. It is the first resolution from the general assembly since the coup on February 1.

This resolution comes on the same day of a closed-door briefing on Myanmar at the UN Security Council. The Council has issued several statements on the coup, but has yet to pass any resolution.

Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“A resolution from the General Assembly is a necessary and positive step for the international community. But just like with Security Council actions that precede it, today’s resolution does not go far enough to meet the demands of Myanmar’s people.

“The bright sides of the General Assembly’s resolution, including the call on all nations to prevent arms flows into Myanmar, are in stark contrast to the Security Council’s failure to take decisive action.

“As the body responsible for maintaining international peace and security, the Security Council can no longer stand idly by while Myanmar’s military uses its decades-old playbook to commit widespread and systematic human rights violations. The time for closed meetings and toothless statements of concern is over.”

“The Security Council must finally do what women’s rights activists in Myanmar have been calling for for years — take concrete and decisive action to condemn the military and hold them accountable for international crimes committed against all of Myanmar’s people.”

President Biden Releases Budget That Removes Hyde Amendment, Leaves Other Abortion Restrictions in Place

NEW YORK — In his first presidential budget released today, President Biden removed the Hyde Amendment, but left in place several other restrictions on abortion funding, including the Helms Amendment.

The Helms Amendment has prohibited any U.S. foreign aid from going to abortion services since 1973. Among other anti-abortion policies included in the budget, the president also left in place the Siljander Amendment, which prevents the use of US funds to lobby for or against abortion.

Elena Sarver, legal advisor with the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“The president is right to remove the Hyde Amendment from his budget, but the Helms Amendment and Hyde are two sides of the same coin. Both restrict access to abortion care in violation of international law. Both have been recognized by the international community as violations of human rights. There is simply no reason to protect the rights of pregnant people here in the US, but deny them to pregnant people around the world.

“At the United Nations and other international venues, the Biden administration continues to say it is a champion of sexual and reproductive rights. But the inclusion of illegal and destructive abortion funding restrictions like Helms shows this is mere rhetoric rather than a true commitment. Combine this failure with their refusal to utter the word ‘abortion,’ this administration has a lot of work to do before it can truly claim to be a champion of reproductive rights.”

​​​​​​​200+ NGOs Call on UN Security Council to Impose Global Arms Embargo on Myanmar

NEW YORK — Over 200 nongovernmental organizations from around the world today called on the United Nations Security Council to immediately impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar in response to the military coup and ensuing human rights abuses.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“The urgency of a global arms embargo in Myanmar cannot be overstated. Myanmar’s military has long been one of the world’s most notorious perpetrators of conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence. Such violence has ramped up since the coup, with harrowing reports of torture and sexual violence against women and girl detainees. International arms sales fuel these ongoing military crimes and its past time UN Security Council members back up their rhetoric on women’s rights with concrete action.”

140+ Organizations Demand Biden Administration Implement International Recommendations on Sexual and Reproductive Rights

More than 140 organizations signed onto a letter sent to President Biden today urging him to implement recommendations on sexual and reproductive rights issued by United Nations member states. The recommendations came as part of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a process that reviews the human rights records of all UN Member States.

Signing organizations represent a diverse cross-section of issues and expertise, including in human rights, reproductive rights, racial justice, and global health. The full letter and list of signees can be found here: http://bit.ly/BidenUPRletter

The US received numerous UPR recommendations, and several countries called for the US to take action on its abortion restrictions on foreign assistance, in particular the Helms AmendmentThe Biden administration responded to these recommendations, but did not mention Helms and instead referred to their recent repeal of the Global Gag Rule.

To implement these recommendations, the letter outlines several executive and administrative actions the administration can take now:

  • Take executive action and issue guidance to immediately clarify US foreign assistance can be used to provide abortion care in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment of the pregnant person
  • Issue guidance from relevant agencies to proactively clarify that US foreign assistance may be used for abortion information and counseling under the Leahy Amendment
  • Prioritize the removal of abortion funding restrictions like the Helms Amendment through the White House Gender Policy Council, in addition to addressing many other important sexual and reproductive health and rights priorities and considering the role of racial and other forms of discrimination on recipients of sexual and reproductive healthcare in the US and globally
  • Consult with stakeholders and agencies to issue policies to combat systemic racism and ensure implementation of these policies at the state, federal and local levels, recognizing domestic US policy influences the values exported through US foreign assistance 
  • Eliminate Helms Amendment and similar abortion funding restrictions from FY 2022 budget

Four of the signing organizations issued the following statements:

“The Biden administration says it is committed to advancing sexual and reproductive rights around the world. Now, they have an opportunity to prove it,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center. “A failure to implement these recommendations would make the US commitment to the human rights system be mere rhetoric, and worse yet, rhetoric that is directly undermined by the failure to act.”

“It is time for the U.S. to join the global community to support and defend reproductive justice,” said Dr. Anu Kumar, president and CEO of Ipas. “Ending abortion funding restrictions like the Helms Amendment will protect people seeking abortion, will help countries expand access to health services, and will bring us closer to achieving reproductive and economic freedom and equity for millions worldwide. This policy has harmed Black and brown communities in low-to-middle income countries for far too long.”

“It is not enough to remove the Global Gag Rule and maintain the pre-Trump status quo,” said Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, Founder & President of the National Birth Equity Collaborative. “The Biden administration must go further to advance reproductive justice by supporting repeal of the Helms Amendment and advancing racial justice in the United States. The last year demonstrated how much further the US has to go to achieve racial justice and eliminate white supremacy from our domestic and foreign policy. This cannot wait.”

“This is an opportunity for Biden’s administration to fulfill its commitment to reproductive health care by completely removing abortion funding restrictions from US foreign assistance, ensuring that no woman, girl, or young person dies from an unsafe abortion as a result of stigma, lack of information, and lack of life-saving services,” said Nelly Munyasia, Executive Director of Reproductive Health Network Kenya. “One death as a result of unsafe abortion is far too many deaths.”