Myanmar: UN experts request exceptional report on situation of women and girls from northern Rakhine State; Pope Francis Visit

Human Rights – Protection – Accountability

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Myanmar: UN experts request exceptional report on situation of women and girls from northern Rakhine State
GENEVA (28 November 2017) – A group of UN experts tasked with monitoring a global treaty on discrimination against women has requested an exceptional report from the Government of Myanmar on the situation of Rohingya women and girls from northern Rakhine State.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) made the decision at a regular meeting in Geneva last week, setting a six-month deadline for the submission of the report to the UN Secretary General. The request was sent to the Government of Myanmar on Monday, meaning the report should be submitted by 28 May 2018. It is only the fourth time an exceptional report has been requested by the Committee since holding its first session in October 1982.

The Committee, comprised of 23 independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, called on the Government to provide information on a range of issues surrounding alleged instances of violence against women and girls in northern Rakhine State in recent months.
As a party to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Myanmar is obliged to report to the Committee on its implementation of the treaty.

The Committee requested information concerning cases of sexual violence, including rape, against Rohingya women and girls by State security forces; and to provide details on the number of women and girls who have been killed or have died due to other non-natural causes during the latest outbreak of violence.

It also requested information on investigations, arrests, prosecutions, convictions and sentences or disciplinary measures imposed on perpetrators, including members of the armed forces, found guilty of such crimes.

The Committee also requested information on:
:: the designation of the battalions that have undertaken the clearance operations in Northern Rakhine State since 25 August 2017 and under whose command;
:: the findings of the final report of the Tatmadaw investigation team led by Lieutenant-General Aye Whin concerning the conduct of the armed forces during the security clearance operations;
:: whether instructions have been or are being issued to all branches of the State security forces that torture, gender-based violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, expulsions and other human rights violations are prohibited and that those responsible will be prosecuted and punished;
:: the gender-specific measures taken by the State party to rehabilitate and compensate Rohingya women and girls who are victims/survivors of such violence;
:: the remedies available to Rohingya women and girls to claim violations of their rights;
:: the number of Rohingya women and girls currently detained by State security forces;
:: the number of Rohingya women and girls who have died during childbirth;
:: the number of clinics providing obstetric services and the ratio of doctors and midwives to the Rohingya population; and
:: the number of Rohingya families displaced by the violence, disaggregated by sex, and measures taken by the Government to ensure their voluntary and safe return, economic reintegration and compensation for loss of land or property.

The report of the Government shall be made public, and will be reviewed by CEDAW.

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Editor’s Note:
We monitored remarks made by Pope Francis during visits last week to Myanmar and then Bangladesh. We provide selected Vatican reports and excerpts from speeches as identified below.

Pope Francis addresses interreligious meeting for peace
01/12/2017 12:30
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday greeted and blessed a group of Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled to Bangladesh from neighboring Myanmar.
The moving meeting took place during an Interreligious and Ecumenical Meeting for Peace in the garden of the Archbishop of Dhaka’s residence.
The meeting, which saw the participation of representatives of different faiths, took place on the second day of the Pope’s Apostolic Journey to Bangladesh.
The 16 Rohingya – 12 men, two women and two young girls – traveled to Dhaka from Cox’s Bazar, the district bordering Myanmar where refugee camps are overflowing with more than 620,000 Rohingya who have fled violence in Myanmar.
One by one, each one of the refugees approached the Pope at the end of the event and through the aid of an interpreter told him their stories and their experiences.
During his address to the religious leaders at the meeting, the Pope said a spirit of openness is fundamental for building a culture of harmony and peace…

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Pope speech to authorities and diplomatic corps in Dhaka
30/11/2017 13:19
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday expressed his gratitude to the nation of Bangladesh for providing assistance and shelter to the hundreds of thousands of refugees pouring into the country, he appealed to the international community to address the crisis both on a political and on a material level, and he warned against using God’s name to justify hatred and violence against our fellow human beings.
The Pope’s words came during his address to political leaders, civil society and the diplomatic corps at the President House in Dhaka.
[Excerpts/Editor’s text bolding]:
In recent months, the spirit of generosity and solidarity which is a distinguishing mark of Bangladeshi society has been seen most vividly in its humanitarian outreach to a massive influx of refugees from Rakhine State, providing them with temporary shelter and the basic necessities of life. This has been done at no little sacrifice. It has also been done before the eyes of the whole world. None of us can fail to be aware of the gravity of the situation, the immense toll of human suffering involved, and the precarious living conditions of so many of our brothers and sisters, a majority of whom are women and children, crowded in the refugee camps. It is imperative that the international community take decisive measures to address this grave crisis, not only by working to resolve the political issues that have led to the mass displacement of people, but also by offering immediate material assistance to Bangladesh in its effort to respond effectively to urgent human needs.

…In a world where religion is often – scandalously – misused to foment division, such a witness to its reconciling and unifying power is all the more necessary. This was seen in a particularly eloquent way in the common reaction of indignation that followed last year’s brutal terrorist attack here in Dhaka, and in the clear message sent by the nation’s religious authorities that the most holy name of God can never be invoked to justify hatred and violence against our fellow human beings…

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Pope Francis addresses Myanmar’s leaders
28/11/2017 12:15
Official English-language translation of Pope Francis’ address Myanmar’s government authorities, civil societies, and the diplomatic corps in the capital Nay Pyi Taw.
[Excerpts; Editor’s text bolding]
I would also like my visit to embrace the entire population of Myanmar and to offer a word of encouragement to all those who are working to build a just, reconciled and inclusive social order. Myanmar has been blessed with great natural beauty and resources, yet its greatest treasure is its people, who have suffered greatly, and continue to suffer, from civil conflict and hostilities that have lasted all too long and created deep divisions. As the nation now works to restore peace, the healing of those wounds must be a paramount political and spiritual priority. I can only express appreciation for the efforts of the Government to take up this challenge, especially through the Panglong Peace Conference, which brings together representatives of the various groups in an attempt to end violence, to build trust and to ensure respect for the rights of all who call this land their home.

Indeed, the arduous process of peacebuilding and national reconciliation can only advance through a commitment to justice and respect for human rights. The wisdom of the ancients defined justice precisely as a steadfast will to give each person his due, while the prophets of old saw justice as the basis of all true and lasting peace. These insights, confirmed by the tragic experience of two world wars, led to the establishment of the United Nations and the universal declaration of human rights as the basis for the international community’s efforts to promote justice, peace and human development worldwide, and to resolve conflicts through dialogue, not the use of force. In this sense, the presence of the diplomatic corps in our midst testifies not only to Myanmar’s place in the concert of nations, but also to the country’s commitment to uphold and pursue those foundational principles. The future of Myanmar must be peace, a peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule of law, and respect for a democratic order that enables each individual and every group – none excluded – to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good.

In the great work of national reconciliation and integration, Myanmar’s religious communities have a privileged role to play. Religious differences need not be a source of division and distrust, but rather a force for unity, forgiveness, tolerance and wise nation-building…