Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton

Balancing Celebration and Caution in Burma

11 Apr

Photographer: Christopher Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

Newspapers have been heralding the election last week of Aung San Suu Kyi to the Burmese Parliament. Pictures of the victorious Suu Kyi speaking to thousands to cheering supporters and headlines pronouncing the “…dawn of a new era” in Burma covered the front pages. The announcement of the election of the Nobel Laureate, opposition leader and former political prisoner, who spent nearly two decades under house arrest, was no doubt an important and symbolic step towards a hopeful democratic transition in the small South East Asian nation. But while the world is congratulating one of it’s most celebrated women on her electoral victory, thousands of other Burmese women are continuing to suffer at the hands of the brutal military that still holds the majority of power in the country.

Mass atrocities have been common place in the minority states of Eastern Burma since the military regime took control of the government decades ago and decided to use scorched earth tactics to put down rebellions in outlying states like Kachin.  In addition to pillaging and razing homes and villages and forcing their populations to relocate, the military has faced accusations of unlawful killings, torture, forced labor, the use of child soldiers  and the use of indiscriminate weapons in civilian areas.

There have also been widespread reports of rape and other forms of sexual violence and slavery being used as weapons of war against ethnically Chin, Karen and Rohingya women. From March to November 2011, more than 81 rapes were reported to human rights activists along the Thai-Burma border and as refugees poured into China from the minority state of Kachin, so did the horrific tales of rape. Human Rights Watch released a report last month on various human rights abuses taking place in Kachin, which included detailed descriptions by witness of the atrocities being committed against women in this state. These reports include the gang-rape of a young woman by 4 soldiers, and the abduction of two women who were taken to a military encampment where they were  forced from tent to tent and repeatedly raped by officers. These events occurred just months before the countries landmark elections.

These continued abuses exemplify the need to balance the celebration and hope surrounding the election of Aung San Suu Kyi with caution. While these glimpses of democracy are welcome, under the countries constitution it is the military that still holds the power, with little to no accountability to the civilian government that Suu Kyi and her colleagues in the National League for Democracy were elected into. Due to this, it is yet to be seen how much real change everyday Burmese citizens and particularly those from ethnic minority groups, will see as a result of these elections.

In the excitement that has followed the elections, nations throughout the world have begun to “mull over” their options for lifting diplomatic and financial sanctions against Burma. South-East Asian heads of state who met at last weeks ASEAN Summit ( Association of Southeast Asian Nations) called for western states to immediately lift all sanctions, which would be music to the ears of many investors.

Several major European corporations have been pushing the EU to lift their sanctions quickly, as they are eager to move in ahead of American rival companies. While it is likely that the EU will ease restrictions it has not yet stated what that will entail. David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, is expected to visit Burma this week, making him the highest ranking western leader to visit the country (the US began to thaw diplomatic relations last December when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited).

The United States has also begun to ease travel bans on Burmese leaders and restrictions on financial services and investments. Clinton also announced the Obama Administrations plans to appoint an ambassador and organize a USAID program for the country. The rewards that Clinton announced were tempered with her accompanying firm calls for improvements in human rights and continued political reform.

Human rights advocates have argued that the much of the progress that has been made can be attributed to international pressure put on Burma, and warn that the lifting of sanctions too quickly takes away a major leverage point that could be used to urge further reform.

Western states need to acknowledge and reward what progress has been made in Burma, but the level of those rewards must be on par with the level of real progress and change that has been seen. All sanctions can not just be lifted when civilians are still being targeted and killed, children are being recruited as soldiers and porters and women face a continuous threat of sexual assault.

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I also wanted to share 2 great opinion pieces by Burmese refugees (and activist leaders) in North America:

Still Waiting for Reform in Burma – By Yee Htun, Coordinator for the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict.

Burma – What Elections Mean to the Ethnic People – By Myra Dahgaypaw, Board Member of Karen American Communities Foundation and is a 2010 Carl Wilkens Fellow with Genocide Intervention Network (now United to End Genocide).

International Security: “…something is missing. And that is women”

7 Feb

Photo Credit: US State Department

This past weekend, senior leaders in international security policy from around the world, including US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and US Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, gathered in Munich, Germany for the 48th annual Munich Security Conference.  The independent conference focuses on discussion and analysis of current and foreseen future security challenges, such as decreasing global military budgets, ongoing violence and repression related to the Arab Spring and increasing concerns over Iran’s defiant attitude. And like many of these international conferences, it attracted a variety of side events as well, including a breakfast event focused on women in international security.

In her remarks at the breakfast, Sec. Clinton focused on what appears to be missing piece in international security and peacemaking….There just aren’t enough women. To prove her point Clinton pointed out that even there, at a global conference on security, she could count very few women in the audience (another participant in the breakfast put the exact number at 37).  She also cited the fact that many of the failed peace negotiations in recent decades lacked the voice of women at table, as only 8% of participants in these discussions were women.  Clinton also pushed back on the often used criticism that focusing on women’s rights and inclusion in peace processes  is “soft” and can be brushed off to the “margins of the real conversation”. She stated that “We just completely reject that. And the evidence is so clear that rejecting it is the right decision.”

The important role that women play in peacemaking was recognized in UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which was passed more than a decade ago.  It’s an issue that the Obama administration raised to national prominence again when it announced the  U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security and an accompanying executive order last December.  The plan lays out the US’ course of action to “…accelerate, institutionalize, and better  coordinate our efforts to advance women’s inclusion in peace negotiations, peacebuilding activities, and conflict prevention…” among other things, like humanitarian assistance and civilian protection.

At the event, Clinton specifically highlighted the role the US has played in supporting the training of 2000 female peacekeepers in regions, predominately in Africa, where women and children are among the most severely effected by conflict. She also touched on the role that the US and our NATO allies have played in increasing the role women play in Afghanistan and the work being done there to train female police and military personnel. She made it clear that the  international community must continue to work for women in the region, stating that “…part of what we have to do as we try to test whether peace is possible in Afghanistan, is to make it very clear that peace will not come at the expense of women’s rights and roles”.

Afghanistan is the perfect example of the challenges that women face in having their needs recognized and their voices heard in the peace process. While comments like Clinton’s at the women’s breakfast are great to hear, they do little to quell the concerns of women on the ground in Afghanistan and other war torn areas of the world. These women have heard this rhetoric for sometime now, but what they have failed to see is action.  Women in Afghanistan for years have been calling to be brought in to peace negotiations with the Taliban, negotiations that they fear will result in the stripping away the rights they’ve gained in recent years. Despite requests from women leaders and civil society members and the emphasis that western states put on women’s rights, when it comes down to it,  NATO has done little to involve women in the process.

The United States has made a concerted effort to elevate the issues of women’s rights and participation in the global discourse on peace and security, humanitarian aid, development, politics and economics, particularly under the Obama administration.The National Action Plan is in place, and the opportunities to try it out are there, in Afghanistan, in Darfur, and numerous other conflict ridden states around the world. But the time to start turning words into actions is now. After all,  Secretary Clinton is right when she says that ” When you look around the world,… You see  how hard it is to make peace under any circumstance. But the exclusion of women, I argue, makes it even harder.”

Click hear to read the entirety of Clinton’s remarks at the women’s breakfast.