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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Who will save Burma's women and children?


Nilar Thein, a brave human rights activist who is "on the run", hiding from Than Shwe's military dictatorship in Burma. She has been separated from her infant daughter now for over 10 months as she continues to help lead the movement for freedom in Burma. (source: U.S. Campaign for Burma )
Nilar thein is a former student leader in the 1988 democracy uprising in Burma and spent more than nine years in prison.(Source: The Nations)
Who will save Burma's women and children?
By Nilar Thein
Published on June 19, 2008

I woke up from a dream in the middle of the night. I was with my daughter, playing in a small garden.

We were playing hide and seek. I was looking at her from behind a tree. She was so beautiful, with the prettiest smile on her face, looking for me happily. I couldn't hide anymore. I wanted her to find me. I wanted to hold her in my arms and kiss her face gently. I started to show myself to her, but, suddenly I saw three men -with black coats and ugly faces - watching from the shadows near my daughter. I stepped back. I wanted to be found by my daughter, not by them. I still saw my daughter, still looking for me with her innocent smile. I didn't want to hide anymore. I wanted her to find me, but these men would take me away and put me in hell. Then I woke up, with tears on my cheeks.

I have been separated from my daughter for nearly ten months. A midnight knock at our door in August last year changed our lives dramatically. The military junta's security forces took my husband Kyaw Min Yu (also known as Jimmy) on the night of August 21, 2007. He is a leader of the prominent dissident group, the 88 Generation Students, comprising former student leaders and former political prisoners. He and other leaders were taken from their homes that night by the authorities. As a former student activist and a former political prisoner myself, I knew very well how my husband and friends would be treated in the junta's interrogation cells. Therefore, when they came back to arrest me, I went into hiding.

But I must continue to lead the 88 Generation Students with my other colleagues, so that Burma may realise its freedom, and find justice and democracy someday. I must avoid being arrested. However, there are so many difficulties and hardships in moving secretly from one hiding place to another, and I didn't want my daughter to share these hardships. Therefore, I decided to send my three-month-old baby to my parents. Now, I miss her so much.

My mind wanders to University Avenue, where "the Lady", Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been detained under house arrest for so many years. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient, will have to spend her 63rd birthday today alone in detention. She will be missing her two sons, too. Her strength and determination helps me and many women in Burma stand up for justice. I thank her for being with us and leading our movement. She is a great reminder to the world that the military junta that rules our country forcibly separates mothers and children.

Coincidentally, the UN Security Council will hold a debate in New York today on "Women, Peace and Security". This debate is a discussion of UNSC Resolution 1325, which was passed unanimously in October, 2000. Resolution 1325 "Calls on all parties to armed conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict." It also "Emphasises the responsibility of all States to put an end to impunity and to prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes including those relating to sexual violence against women and girls, and in this regard, stresses the need to exclude these crimes, where feasible from amnesty provisions."

US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is expected to chair the debate, with many world leaders discussing the development of women, peace and security. Will they discuss Burma? Will they remember Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the women of Burma who are suffering all forms of abuse by the military junta?

Burma is now in the midst of two conflicts. One is the 50-year-old civil war, raging between the Burmese military and the minority resistance forces, predominately in the eastern part of the country. Burmese troops are raping with impunity tribal women and girls, some as young as eight years old. Burmese soldiers use women in conflict areas as porters to carry their military equipment and supplies during the day, and use them as sex slaves at night. Many women have been brutally killed to erase the evidence of these crimes.

The other conflict is a 20-year old war, waged by the Burmese junta against its own unarmed citizens, who are calling for freedom, justice and democracy. Women activists are beaten, arrested, tortured and then put in prison for many years. Many female activists are mistreated and sexually assaulted by their interrogators and jailers. Children are used as bait by the authorities to get their mothers arrested. Of the 2.5 million people severely affected by Cyclone Nargis - many of whom the military junta simply left to die through starvation and disease - at least a million are women and girls. Recently, a UN expert said that up to 35,000 pregnant women, all cyclone survivors, are at extreme risk of death. However, they will never receive any care from the military.

I hope that Secretary of State Rice and other leaders at the UN Security Council will give consideration to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the women of Burma during their debate. Resolution 1325 is a great development, but implementation and enforcement is still in question. When the government itself is the abuser of human rights and the perpetrator of rape and other forms of gender-based violence, who will protect the victims? Who will end their tragedy? Who will secure the joyful reunion of mothers with their children?

The appeasement policy of some bureaucrats is shameful. Effective and urgent action from the UN Security Council is necessary to help the women in Burma. No more debate. Take action. Please let me be happily reunited with my daughter.

Burma Female Activists
Left to Right: HIV/AIDS activist Phyu Phyu Thin, Leading activist Nilar Thein, A woman activist during a protest, Naw Ohn Hla joins as protest, Mie Mie leads a Rangoon protest

Related Link: No Soft Touch (Click Here)

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