Challenging impunity in Myanmar vital for ending violence against women

Published on 27 October 2020

Less than two weeks before Myanmar’s national elections, May Sabe Phyu, Director of the Gender Equality Network (GEN), describes how violence against women in Myanmar continues unabated in this latest CREID Podcast. Sexual violence including rape against women from ethnic and religious minorities goes unpunished and a culture of impunity reigns in the country’s many conflict-affected areas.

The CREID Podcast has focused on the important yet hidden issue of violence against socio-economically excluded women from religious and ethnic minorities, and this latest episode discusses the situation of women in Myanmar with May Sabe Phyu, Director of Gender Equality Network (GEN) in Myanmar.

Phyu begins by outlining the deep inequalities experienced by women in Myanmar, underpinned by both a lack of legal protection, for example against intimate partner violence including marital rape, and traditional practices and customs around divorce, custody rights and inheritance (which over-ride the national penal code) which reinforce gender inequalities.

Why are religious and ethnic minority women particularly vulnerable to violence?

Use of sexual violence as a tactic in conflict-affected areas

Although in the middle of a peace process, Myanmar is still a country torn by conflict. In Rakhine, it was the rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman in 2012 which escalated inter-communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims, and has led to the devastating ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims, according to the UN. They have provided many reports on how rape has been used as a tool to drive them out [off their lands, and ultimately out of the country].

A UN fact-finding mission conducted in 2018 noted how “During their operations the Tatmadaw [armed forces] has systematically targeted civilians, including women and children, committed sexual violence, voiced and promoted exclusionary and discriminatory rhetoric against minorities, and established a climate of impunity for its soldiers”

Phyu added that conflict-related sexual violence has also afflicted other minorities. In 2015, two Christian Kachin volunteers were brutally raped and murdered in the church compound in which they were staying. Locals believe that a military battalion, which came that night and left before dawn, was responsible. Till now, the case has not been investigated, and no one has been arrested .

Culture of impunity

Phyu describes how the culture of impunity exists in many conflict-affected areas with regards to the actions of the military and police is exacerbated by a parallel legal system: if they commit rape or sexual violence, they cannot be published by penal code or existing laws as they have own military courts and these are not transparent.

The widespread lack of accountability and redress for victims, especially where members of Myanmar Defence Services, was recently highlighted by the International Commission Jurists in their submission to UN Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) ahead of the review of Myanmar’s human rights record in January-February 2021.

Key contacts

Emilie Wilson

Head of Communications and Impact, ICTD

+44 (0)1273 915779



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