A Critical Moment for Burma

On the sidelines of the 2022 United Nations Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security hosted an urgent conversation on advancing international action in response to the crisis in Myanmar. Leading Burmese women and policymakers discussed the situation on the ground and recommended concrete actions to protect and advance human rights, justice, and accountability. Watch the event recording and read the key recommendations below.

Burma faces a dire human rights and humanitarian crisis with atrocities escalating by the day under the military junta. Since the February 2021 takeover, security forces have intensified their brutality, committing arbitrary detentions, torture, and killings that amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. The military has arrested over 15,000 civilians and killed thousands of others through crackdowns on pro-democracy movements. Nearly 15 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and half of the population has dropped below the poverty line. International assistance, justice, and accountability measures are urgently needed.

Abuses are particularly severe for Burmese women, girls, and minorities who face widespread sexual and gender-based violence, as well as rampant human trafficking. The military has targeted women human rights defenders (WHRDs), protesters, and politicians, with the number of attacks likely extremely underreported. An estimated 3,100 women activists have been detained, and nine WHRDs are on death row. The escalation of violence has exacerbated the worsening humanitarian crisis, particularly for women, girls, and ethnic and religious minority communities, including the Rohingya people. 

Despite these challenges, women have emerged as leaders and symbols of the resistance, spearheading mass demonstrations and civil disobedience efforts across the country. They are documenting atrocities, delivering humanitarian assistance, and rising up to defend human rights, often at great risk to themselves. Attention to the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 in Burma is critical to sustain their efforts, and to secure a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic future. 

On the sidelines of the 2022 United Nations Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security (WPS), Burmese women leaders and global policymakers shared their analysis of the situation and recommended concrete actions to advance human rights, justice, and accountability. The experts’ top recommendations to the international community include:

Utilize International Sources of Leverage 

  • The United States should work with allies to expand targeted sanctions, including on Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), which accounts for much of the junta’s financial assets. Sanctions should not just be limited to one industry but target military businesses and assets connected to human rights violators.
  • The United States and the United Kingdom should lead the call for a global arms embargo at the UN Security Council, with robust monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, to cut off the supply of weapons to the military.
  • Global stakeholders should utilize all international fora to publicly condemn the military for violating international law, including by officially recognizing the genocide against the Rohingya people.

Engage Regional and International Stakeholders

  • Policymakers should ensure the situation in Myanmar is a priority at upcoming international fora, including the ASEAN Leaders’ Summit and the Bali G20 Summit in November. As incoming ASEAN chair, Indonesia will have an important role to play in redesigning the humanitarian assistance framework and the Five Point Consensus
  • Foreign government officials should increase public and private engagement with the National Unity Government (NUG), women democracy activists, and other key actors resisting the junta. Women and minority groups should be meaningfully included in all political consultations at national and international levels.

Advance Justice & Accountability 

  • The international community should pursue a UN Security Council resolution to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC). In parallel, states should support other international justice efforts for accountability in Myanmar currently underway, including The Gambia’s case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and Argentina’s prosecution via universal jurisdiction.
  • The CEDAW Committee should request an exceptional report on the situation of women and girls in Myanmar and ensure independent investigations hold perpetrators accountable for systematic sexual violence against the Rohingya people and other marginalized groups. 
  • The United Nations should take concrete measures to secure the immediate release of Burmese political activists on death row. The international community should also seek accountability for the four political activists recently executed, and condemn the military in the strongest terms for killing civilians and human rights defenders.

Provide Inclusive Humanitarian Aid Delivery and Distribution

  • The United States and ASEAN members should work with Thailand and India to facilitate cross-border humanitarian assistance and provide key operational bases for humanitarian aid delivery to local actors. 
  • Governments and international aid agencies should collaborate with Burmese civil society to distribute humanitarian aid by leveraging their reliable and existing social networks. Humanitarian aid currently goes through the military junta, which weaponizes its distribution, discriminates against marginalized communities, and prevents assistance from reaching those most in need. 
  • Humanitarian funds should include emergency support for women and girls in crisis, with specific allocation to sexual violence survivors, pregnant women, and young girls. Aid packages should also include longer-term resources for strengthening the rule of law and promoting women’s economic livelihoods. 
  • Donors should provide urgent humanitarian support for Rohingya in Bangladeshi refugee camps, such as Cox’s Bazar, and ensure access to gender-responsive healthcare, formal education, and safe spaces for women and girls. 

Support Women-led Civil Society Organizations, Activists, and Human Rights Defenders 

  • Donors should provide flexible, core support to women-led civil society organizations and local volunteer-based groups, especially in hard-to-reach areas that lack centralized resources. 
  • International partners should create platforms to build networks among Burmese women activists and human rights defenders around the world. Any events and meetings on Burma should ensure the voices of women and civil society are central.
  • Social media and big tech companies should support WHRDs by censoring and removing hate speech across their platforms. Telegram, Facebook, Viber, Youtube, and Tiktok, among others, can bolster protection and security of women protesters by removing content that may incite violence or spread disinformation.

Counter Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

  • The United Nations should create independent mechanisms to ensure timely reporting of conflict-related sexual violence, including allegations of sexual violence, and consider alternative pathways for ensuring safe documentation and verification of gender-based violence cases to support future prosecution of perpetrators. 
  • The United Nations should develop a comprehensive protection plan, in accordance with WPS mandates, to ensure protection and security of WHRDs and peacebuilders. The plan should include a survivor-centered approach and create dedicated safe havens for women and girls, democracy activists, WHRDs, and survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. 

Opening remarks by Alice Wairimu Nderitu, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide

The panel included:

Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe, Minister of Women, Youths and Children Affairs, National Unity Government (NUG)

Thinzar Shunlei, Youth Advocate and Democracy Activist, Sister to Sister

Nang Moet Moet, Joint Secretary-General, Women’s League of Burma

Wai Wai Nu, Founder and Director, Women’s Peace Network

Moderated by  Amb. Melanne Verveer, Executive Director, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security

With voices of grassroots women leaders across Myanmar and interventions by co-sponsors and UN Member States

Hosted by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security and the Permanent Missions of Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Czech Republic to the United Nations

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