Suu Kyi pushes female empowerment as UN flags rape, torture of Rohingya women

BURMA’S (Myanmar) de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for the empowerment of her country’s women in a speech on Sunday, just hours before the UN special envoy accused Burma’s military of “systematically” targeting Rohingya women for gang-rape and torture.

Suu Kyi made her remarks in a speech at the Asean Business and Investment Summit where she argued for “positive change in women’s rights.” According to Interaksyon, she said the tradition to look upon men as superior to women in her country is still very much the norm. And throughout the region, she said, “women are still missing out on opportunities in countless areas.”

“The social norm that equates women with unskilled labour and perceives them as mere homemakers incapable of making decisions is one of our biggest challenges,” she said.

Pushing for an improvement in maternal health and better social protection for women, her comments appeared incongruous to the brutal realities faced by Rohingya women, detailed in a report from Pramila Patten, the UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict.

Patten also released her findings on Sunday, accusing the Burmese army of “widespread atrocities” that she said could be considered “crimes against humanity.”

SEE ALSO: Security Council demands Burma end ‘excessive military force’ in Rakhine

As reported by AFP, the UN envoy detailed the abuses against Rohingya woman by the military, as well as border police and militias composed of Buddhists and other ethnic groups in Rakhine State.

“I heard horrific stories of rape and gang-rape, with many of the women and girls who died as a result of the rape,” Patten told reporters in Dhaka.

“My observations point to a pattern of widespread atrocities, including sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls who have been systematically targeted on account of their ethnicity and religion.”

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Rohingya refugees walk on the water after crossing the Naf River with an improvised raft to reach Bangladesh in Teknaf, Bangladesh November 12, 2017. Picture taken November 12, 2017. Source: Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Over 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh after raids by Rohingya militants on police outposts on Aug 25 prompted a fierce military crackdown. The ethnic group has faced ferocious reprisals with evidence of village burning and widespread murder being perpetrated by the armed forces in the Buddhist-majority nation.

The UN has described the clearance operation as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Suu Kyi made no reference to her government’s plans for the Rohingya refugees in her speech, stoking calls of hypocrisy from some online.

The Nobel Peace Prize recipient has faced scathing criticism for her failure to address the crisis and her apparent defence of her government’s handling of the situation. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his “deep concern” when he met with Suu Kyi on the side-lines of the APEC trade summit on Friday, according to CBC.

SEE ALSO: UN Refugee chief urges Security Council to act on Rohingya crisis

Last month, Oxford City Council stripped Suu Kyi of the freedom of the city, which she was awarded in 1997. Activist and musician Bob Geldof today said he will return his Freedom of the City of Dublin in protest against Suu Kyi, who also holds the award.

The UN now estimates that the majority of Rohingya once living in Rakhine State have now left. Patten believes the prevalent sexual violence is a key reason behind this mass exodus.

“The widespread threat and use of sexual violence was clearly a driver and push factor for forced displacement on a massive scale and a calculated tool of terror aimed at the extermination and the removal of the Rohingya as a group,” she said.

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