KASAMA Vol. 16 No. 4 / October-November-December 2002 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
Downer Collaborates With Burmese Military Rapists
Women's Rights Action Network Of
PRESS RELEASE: OCTOBER 8, 2002
THE AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER'S RECENT VISIT TO BURMA TO MEET WITH LEADERS OF THE RULING MILITARY DICTATORSHIP, THE STATE PEACE AND DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL (SPDC) HAS GREATLY CONCERNED AUSTRALIAN AND INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANISATIONS. MR DOWNER'S VISIT TO BURMA SOUGHT TO ADVANCE AUSTRALIA'S ENGAGEMENT WITH THE SPDC BY DISCUSSING PLANS FOR ANOTHER HUMAN RIGHTS TRAINING PROGRAM FOR THE SPDC.
The Australian Government is internationally in the minority with its policy of "limited engagement" with the military junta in Burma. The USA, and many European countries have refrained from engaging with the SPDC due to their appalling record of human rights violations.
The Women's Rights Action Network of Australia (WRANA) is particularly concerned with the widespread systematic acts of rape and sexual violence against the ethnic women from the Shan State in Eastern Burma.
A documented 625 Shan women and girls have been raped in the last five years by Burmese military personnel: 83% of the rapes were committed by officers, in most cases in front of their troops. The rapes involve extreme brutality and often torture, such as beating, mutilation and suffocation: 25% of the rapes resulted in death; 61% were gang-rapes, and in some cases, women were detained and raped repeatedly for periods of up to four months.
It has become clear that rape is being officially used as a 'weapon of war' against the women in Shan State. These crimes against humanity have been documented in the recent report Licence to Rape, produced by Shan Women's Action Network (SWAN) and the Shan Human Rights Foundation.
The US State Department issued the following statement in response to the report: "We are appalled by reports that the Burmese military is using rape as a weapon of war against civilian populations in the Shan State. We have raised our concern with the Burmese regime and urged them to fully investigate any and all allegations of the systematic rape of ethnic minority girls and women in Burma and appropriately punish those guilty of such heinous crimes."
During his recent visit to Burma, the Australian Foreign Minister, Mr Alexander Downer, remained silent on the findings of the Licence to Rape report and the continuing human rights violations of ethnic women. He also failed to respond to the arrest of 30 activists in Burma that occurred just prior to his visit, despite his apparent human rights stance.
As an Australian women's organisation, committed to the promotion of women's human rights, WRANA is distressed at the Australian Government's lack of concern about the violations of ethnic women's human rights in Burma.
WRANA is also concerned at Aung Saan Suu Kyi's recent comments about the futility of continuing 'human rights' training courses for SPDC government officials, using Australian funds. "The human rights training courses provide a facade for the regime. Their troops are continuing to this day to commit rapes and massacres in ethnic areas," said Nang Mo Lao of SWAN. "Such support to the regime is simply prolonging their rule."
The SPDC has persistently denied all allegations of its actions in the Shan State and it does not appear that any amount of human rights training provided by the Australian Government will result in an acknowledgment of the atrocities they are committing.
To truly address the problems in Burma, there must be tri-partite dialogue between the SPDC, Aung San Suu Kyi, and representatives of the ethnic nationalities, who represent approximately 40% of Burma's population. Despite repeated calls by ethnic nationalities for tri-partite dialogue as a necessary measure towards democracy, Mr Downer failed to include this in his negotiations with the SPDC. Instead, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, without any meaningful progress towards political reform, has been all too willingly and impetuously accepted by the Australian Government as a step in the 'right' direction towards democracy.
WRANA and international NGOs have urged the international community to not allow such empty gestures by the regime in Burma to act as a 'smokescreen' on the continuing human rights violations occurring predominantly in the non-Burmese, ethnic nationality areas.
For more information contact:
Sabina Lauber, WRANA - Phone: 0416 185 615
Nang Mo Lao, Shan Women's Action Network, Thailand
Cell phone: +66 1 992 8683
The Hon. Janelle Saffin MLC
Phone: 0418 664 001
The full text of the Licence to Rape report is available online at: