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Activists urge UN to protect women in Burma

Oct 25, 2007 (DVB), Four prominent women activists have signed a letter urging the United Nations to help protect women in Burma from rights abuses and ensure the Burmese regime complies with its obligations under international law.

The letter was signed by 88 generation student group members Nilar Thein and Tin Moe Lwin, and Phyu Phyu Thin and Ni Mo Hlaing from the National League for Democracy.

All four women are currently on the run from authorities to avoid being arrested for their part in the anti-government protests in August and September.

Nilar Thein, one of the signatories, told DVB that they hoped the letter could draw support from international institutions and women's groups.

"[We] are living in danger now, as is our leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. We are submitting this letter to prevent the same thing happening again in the future," she said.

The release of the letter was timed to coincide with a roundtable discussion hosted by the Burma UN Service Office on 23 October which focused on the implementation of UN Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

The signatories call for the international community "to take immediate measures to help protect women in Burma from continuing human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention, 'hostage-taking', torture, other ill-treatment, and a lack of access to medical care".

The letter expresses concern for the many female activists and nuns who have been arrested, and highlights the problems for women in detention, particularly those who are pregnant or have young children.

It claims that female political activists have been targeted by the regime and are often treated more aggressively than men by security forces because of the government's antipathy towards female pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

"There have been several cases of women being harassed in relation to the protests in August and September…. We can see that women activists in our country have no safety or protection. We expect effective help from women's groups across the world," Nilar Thein told DVB.

The activists also condemn the common practice of wives and other family members being taken hostage by security forces in the hope of persuading wanted political activists to give themselves up for arrest.

Even local women's organisations cannot support female activists as they are controlled by the government and its supporters.

"It is impossible to seek assistance from [government-backed] women's groups in the country, , since they are on the same side as the authorities," said Nilar Thein.

"They are also helping government officials to arrest women who joined the protests," she said.

The letter urges UN and ASEAN member states to persuade the Burmese government to immediately and unconditionally release all women political activists, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and to hold the regime to its commitments under international agreements.

"[W]e are hoping for effective help and support from the world community in order to bring an end to the human rights abuses and discrimination suffered by women at the hands of the regime," the letter states.

Reporting by Moe Aye and DVB


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