Friday, 20 June 2008

Rice Discusses Burma with Ban

The Irrawaddy News

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday to discuss the current humanitarian crisis in Burma and the UN-led international efforts for restoration of democracy in the country.

In New York for a day to chair a special meeting of the UN Security Council on “women, peace and security,” Secretary Rice discussed Burma with the UN secretary-general along with several other pressing issues, a senior diplomat told The Irrawaddy. No other details of the meeting pertaining to Burma were immediately available.

“Instead of being allowed to take office as the elected leader of Burma's government, Aung San Suu Kyi is marking her birthday this very day under house arrest,” Rice said.

Rice was referring to the general election in 1990 when Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won an overwhelming majority of seats. Instead of handing over power to her, the military junta detained her and she has since spent most of her life under house arrest.

During her speech, Rice identified Burma as one of the countries where “unimaginable brutality” is inflicted upon women.

In Burma, soldiers have regularly raped women and girls even as young as eight years old, she said.

The continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi was raised by other speakers during the UNSC meeting. British Attorney-General Patricia Scotland called for her immediate release and that she be allowed to play a full part in Burma's political process.

“It is fitting to remember her when discussing women, peace and security, and to remember that many ordinary Burmese women had often borne the brunt of violence, persecution and economic deprivation imposed on them by the military government,” Scotland said.

Responding to the charges of member countries during the Security Council meeting, the Burmese ambassador to the UN, Than Swe, said he “categorically rejected” what he said were “unfounded allegations” of sexual violence leveled against Burma’s armed forces by groups associated with insurgents.

Urging Security Council members to “avoid politicization of the issue,” Than Swe said his country's traditions, culture and values strongly favored efforts to promote gender equality, and they contributed strongly to the government's endeavors to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation and abuses.

“Peace and stability now prevail in almost all corners of Myanmar [Burma], significantly improving the daily life of civilians, particularly women and children,” he claimed.

At the end of the day-long deliberations, the 15-member Security Council passed a resolution, which noted that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or constitute acts with respect to genocide.”

Expressing deep concern over violence and sexual abuse of women and children trapped in war zones, the Security Council demanded “immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians.”

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