WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of more than a dozen powerful women senators has urged US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to call on the new Burmese regime to end the practice of using rape as a weapon of war.
In a letter to Clinton released to the press on Wednesday, the senators also urged her to pursue the establishment of an international Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma.
Led by Senators Diane Feinstein and Key Bailey Hutchison, these powerful women lawmakers expressed their concern about recent reports of the use of rape as a weapon of war in the renewed armed conflict between the Burmese military and ethnic armed groups.
“Given the Burmese regime’s unabated use of rape as a weapon of war, we urge you to call on the regime to end this practice and pursue our shared goal of establishing an international Commission of Inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the senators wrote.
“We must not allow this regime to continue to commit such dire crimes while the people of Burma continue to suffer. As members of the Senate Women’s Caucus on Burma, we express our solidarity with our friend and sister, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and express our deep commitment to the struggle for freedom and justice in Burma,” the letter said.
Other signatories to the letter include Patty Murray, Barbara Boxer, Kay Hagan, Mary Landrieu, Jeanne Shaheen, Kelly Ayotte, Amy Klobuchar, Lisa Murkowski, Barbara Mikulski, Olympia J. Snowe, Susan Collins and Patty Murray. There was no immediate reaction from the State Department.
The senators said that according to the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand, 18 Kachin women and girls were gang-raped by Burmese soldiers during the first eight days of renewed fighting between the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence Army after the end of a 17-year ceasefire. Four of these victims were also killed.
Similar reports have also emerged from northern Shan State, where the Burmese army has attacked the Shan State Army-North, ending a 22-year ceasefire. The Shan Women’s Action Network continues to document the ongoing sexual violence against civilians, including a recent horrific account of four women being raped in one village in a single day, the senators noted.
The senators also referred to the recent speeches of Suu Kyi, in which she says that rape is used in her country as a weapon against those who only want to live in peace and assert their basic human rights, especially in the areas of the ethnic nationalities.
Last month in her testimony before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Suu Kyi called upon the US government to do everything it can to aid in the establishment of a CoI, the senators said.
Meanwhile, Senator Jim Webb, chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, announced he will visit Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam from Aug 12 to 25.
Besides regional and bilateral issues and the increasing influence of China in the region, Burma would be a major topic of discussion when Webb holds meetings with the heads of state of each country on his itinerary, as well as top officials responsible for foreign affairs, commerce and defense and US diplomats, leading academics and businesspeople.
In Thailand, Webb will become one of the first American officials to meet with the leadership of the newly elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra. He is also slated to meet former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for discussions about the outcome of last month’s national elections and the status of US-Thai relations.
In Singapore, Webb will discuss US-Singapore relations, maritime sovereignty issues and regional efforts to combat human trafficking. Last month, he introduced legislation to address major inconsistencies in the annual US State Department Trafficking-in-Persons Report which threaten to undermine the anti-trafficking efforts of countries such as Singapore. He will also meet with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.
In Indonesia and Vietnam, Webb will discuss the advancement of economic relations between the US and these two nations, as well as territorial disputes in the South China Sea and other regional security issues.
He was the original sponsor of a resolution, unanimously approved by the Senate in June, deploring the use of force by China in the South China Sea and calling for a peaceful, multilateral resolution to maritime territorial disputes in Southeast Asia.