Daily News- September 22- 2002- Sunday

  • Pinheiro Visit Confirmed, U.S. Senators Call For U.N. Rape Probe
  • Pressure on Burma

  • Pinheiro Visit Confirmed, U.S. Senators Call For U.N. Rape Probe

    By Steve Hirsch, UN Wire

    U.N. officials are waiting for a confirmation of dates from Myanmar before scheduling a visit planned for mid-October by human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro to look into allegations of rape by Myanmar's army, a U.N. official told UN Wire last night.The visit was first reported by the BBC earlier this week.

    The official could not provide information on where Pinheiro would go in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, or who he plans to talk to.

    The news comes two days after a bipartisan group of U.S. senators asked U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to investigate reports of systematic use of rape by Myanmar's military in Shan state between 1996 and 2001.

    The 33 senators signing the letter included Dianne Feinstein, Mitch McConnell, Richard Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Hillary Clinton, Arlen Specter, Jesse Helms, William Frist, Joseph Lieberman, Olympia Snowe and Kay Bailey Hutchison.

    "Unfortunately," the senators wrote, "there is no reason to believe that this systematic use of rape by the Burmese military ended in 2001." They add that similar allegations have been made regarding other parts of Myanmar and that "Amnesty International and other credible human rights monitoring organizations have repeatedly reported on the use of rape by the military" and that the issue has been addressed in U.N. resolutions.

    The letter notes that the U.S. State Department has raised concerns about the allegations with Myanmar's ruling State Peace and Development Council, and that the SPDC has, in turn, denied the report.

    "Given the seriousness of these most recent allegations," the senators urged a U.N. investigation."The use of rape as a weapon of war is a war crime and a grave human rights violation that warrants an appropriate, and timely, response by the international community. The SPDC's vitriolic response to these allegations could also undermine your efforts to promote national reconciliation, tripartite dialogue and the restoration of democracy in Burma -- all of which depend on building confidence among the ethnic peoples victimized by these abuses," they wrote.

    Pressure on Burma

    This story ran on page D10 of the Boston Globe on 9/22/2002.

    THE RECENT strong denunciations of Burma's military junta by members of Congress - and a milder one from the State Department - deserve to be taken seriously by the Burmese regime and the world community. The statements came on Sept. 18, the 14th anniversary of the junta's violent seizure of power.

    In May, when Burma's ruling generals, yielding to US and European sanctions, released Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, hinting they would open a meaningful political dialogue with her and her National League for Democracy, devotees of democracy in Burma and around the world hoped it presaged a restoration of the democratic government that was elected in 1990 with 82 percent of the seats in Parliament.Since then, however, there has been no genuine dialogue, no transition to self- government, no cessation of narcotics trafficking, and no end to the military's human rights abuses.

    On the contrary, as Representative Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California, said in a statement to his colleagues Wednesday, the people of Burma have suffered ''an intensified campaign of systematic rapes, massacres, and arrests.''

    A letter sent last week to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and signed by 32 US senators cited a report by the Shan Women's Action Network and the Shan Human Rights Foundation entitled ''License to Rape.'' The letter called Annan's attention to the report's documentation of ''rapes involving at least 625 girls and women by Burmese army soldiers in Shan state, the largest of the seven ethnic nationality states in Burma.'' Many of those rapes were committed on military bases, ''83 percent were perpetrated by officers, 61 percent were gang rapes, and 25 percent ended in the murder of the victims.''

    The letter was addressed to Annan because the UN special envoy for Burma, Razali Ismail, has been trying without success to persuade the junta bosses to alter their brutal behavior and honor their commitments to begin a political dialogue with Suu Kyi leading to a democratic transition.

    Criticism from a different quarter came last week in the Asian Development Bank's 2002 Report. The bank excoriated the Burmese junta for the lack of reform of its failed economic policies and noted: ''The economy has been propped up to a large degree from the illegal trade in opium and methamphetamines, which some observers say constitutes 20 percent of all business in the country.''

    The Bush administration, as well as Annan and the rest of the international community, should exert unremitting pressure on the junta to release all political prisoners, engage in a true dialogue with Suu Kyi and ethnic nationalities, and negotiate a restoration of democratic government in Burma.

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