Published on November 25, 2007
Women of two countries, Thailand and Burma, who live and work in conflict areas, have said that they need more help to stop violence against women.
Speaking from places in hiding, five women activists in Burma urged UN human rights bodies to help them and female political prisoners to survive the brutal hand of the military regime.
"We women who are on the run and in hiding to avoid the regime's persecution need your help and assistance very urgently," they wrote in a letter addressed to the UN special rapporteur on violence against women.
They have been in hiding since the military junta's crackdown on monks and protesters in September. The five women on the run are 35-year-old Nilar Thein, 36-year-old Phyu Phyu Thin, 38-year-old Ni Mo Hlaing, 35-year-old Tin Moe Lwin and May Thitsa.
"Having seen with our own eyes the military men's humiliating and extremely brutal treatment of even Buddhist nuns during the crackdown, we have good reason to be concerned about the conditions of those women in detention and interrogation centres," they wrote.
Nilar Thein, mother of a six-month-old girl, has become wanted and listed as a "terrorist" by the military regime. She has been detained more than once since the people's uprising in 1988. Thein is a leading member of the '88 Generation Students Group.
Phyu Phyu Thin, a member of the Burma's National League for Democracy, is also on the junta's wanted list. Thin was imprisoned for four months after organising Aung San Suu Kyi's Mandalay trip in 1999. She was detained for a month in May for her involvement in a prayer campaign calling for the release of Suu Kyi.
Ni Mo Hlaing, who joined a women-led peaceful march on August 22, was severely and repeatedly beaten by the regime's thugs. All her clothes were torn off. Hlaing went into hiding and her house was raided by the authorities two days later.
The military government causes fear through its brutality and lack of mercy when quelling dissent and opposition, said a group called the Asia-Pacific People's Partnership for Burma.
The group is profiling women political activists arrested and in hiding during and after the August and September uprising in Burma. Of those arrested during the military's crackdown on peaceful protests led by monks in September, 106 women remain in detention, including six nuns, and a few dozen women activists are on the run, they said.
Maung Wai, the Burmese representative to the United Nations, said in October before the UN Security Council, "Traditional law guarantees the equal rights of women."
The Asia-Pacific People's Partnership for Burma stated in its report that "equal rights" for women means to the military regime that they treat women just the same as the men - for use as porters for the advancing army as it crushes ethnic armed groups, to beat up, attack, abuse, rape, torture and throw into jail or kill those women who are politically active and demand democracy and human rights.
"We are facing war crimes against humanity in different forms," said Hseng Noung, a leading member of the Women's League of Burma at the launch of her group's report "Courage to Resist", detailing how women activists have been hunted down, assaulted, tortured and framed with false charges.
In remote areas such as homes of ethnic groups, sexual violence against women by the military regime is still going on, she said.
Women bear the brunt of conflict elsewhere, including in the south of Thailand, where hundreds of women have become widows in the ongoing violence that ignited several years ago. About 2,000 men have been killed in the conflict since 2004.
Many women, mostly Muslims, were arrested when the authorities raided their houses and could not find their husbands, said Naree Charoenpolpiriya, a peace advocate who has been working for women victims of violence in the restive south since 2004.
The Emergency Decree allowed the military to detain them without any charge for 30 days. Some had to take their young children with them into detention.
Naree found out only recently that a 15-year-old Muslim girl is among the women detained at Inkayuth military camp in Pattani. Five women were released just a few days earlier, she said. In villages, most women try to hide from strangers even when her group made visits, said Naree, a member of the Women's Network for Peace.
"They dare not speak out as a climate of fear prevails everywhere," Naree said.