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British Foreign Secretary William Hague joined up with film star Angelina Jolie in London on Tuesday to host an international summit on rape in war zones, aiming to “shatter the culture of impunity for sexual violence in conflict”. The summit was attended by a delegation of seven women representing Burmese civil society groups.
Hosted by the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), the three-day Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict welcomed nearly 1,000 experts, civil society representatives, rape survivors and religious leaders from around the world. The FCO’s stated goals are to promote a new protocol for documenting abuses and prosecuting sexual crimes committed in conflict.
“We think that this is a very good opportunity for a balanced group of survivors from all over the world to come together and try to solve this problem,” said Jessica Nkhum, a spokeswoman for the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT). She added that though the Burmese government had commendably endorsed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, the particular situation in Burma will require diligent monitoring to ensure its sincerity.
British advocacy group Burma Campaign UK (BCUK) shared this view, warning that signing the agreement could be little more than a “PR exercise”, and demanding that the government establish a clear action plan with a six-month deadline for implementation. BCUK said that the country’s history of “broken promises” are cause for concern, as the problem of rape in Burma’s conflict zones has not improved despite strides towards ending the country’s six decades of civil war.
“Rape and sexual violence by the Burmese Army has continued unabated in conflict zones in Burma,” BCUK director Mark Farmaner told DVB on Tuesday. “In fact, since Thein Sein became president, Burma Campaign UK has received an increased number of reports of rape by the Burmese Army.”
These reports are particularly common in northern Burma’s Kachin State, where a government offensive has displaced upwards of 120,000 civilians since June 2011. Internally displaced persons living in remote camps are particularly vulnerable to torture and sex crimes. KWAT has documented more than 70 cases of sexual violence committed by the Burmese military since 2011, with about half of those cases resulting in the victim’s death.