Top leaders of American Baptist Women’s Ministries wrote U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton May 24 voicing concern about human-rights violations in Burma, specifically the use of rape as a weapon of war.

By Bob Allen

Leaders of a ministry for women and girls in American Baptist churches called on the United States to insist on human-rights reforms – including ending the use of rape as a weapon of war – before moving forward in economic agreements with the government of Burma.

Top leaders of American Baptist Women’s Ministries wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton May 24 expressing “deep concern over human rights violations in the Kachin State of Burma; specifically the use of rape as a weapon of war.”

The letter applauded steps toward democracy in the country also known as Myanmar but urged Clinton to make sure that countries that continue to abuse human rights do not benefit from increased economic engagement with the United States.

The U.S. recently relaxed sanctions on Myanmar to reward reforms including last month’s election of opposition leader Aung San Su Kyi’s to parliament and in hopes of encouraging more strides toward democracy. The U.S. is keeping those sanctions on the books, however, as an insurance policy that Myanmar doesn’t backslide in its commitment to improving human rights and ending ethnic conflict.

virginia holmstrombarbara anderson abwmhasenauerAmerican Baptist Women’s Ministries Executive Director Virginia Holmstrom, President Barbara Anderson and Associate Executive Director Sandra DeMott Hasenauer warned that moves toward increased economic engagement might cause the Burmese government to lose sight of crimes against ethnic minorities.

The State Department’s latest report on human rights, released May 24, praised Burma for progress toward political reform and reconciliation with populations that have struggled for freedom for decades. It also noted lingering concerns including “the legacy of decades of violence against ethnic minorities” and reports “that the military continued to use rape as a tactic of war.”

The Kachin Women’s Association Thailand reported that Burmese Army troops gang-raped at least 18 women and girls during advances on Kachin Independence Army strongholds along the border with China June 10-18, allegedly killing four of the women and mortally injuring a fifth.

The American Baptist women mentioned the kidnapping by soldiers of a 28-year-old mother of a 14-month-old daughter last October, who has not been seen by her family since, and a 48-year-old woman reportedly beaten and gang-raped for three days in April as specific examples.

“American Baptist Women’s Ministries, with a deep and historical engagement in issues regarding the oppression and exploitation of women worldwide, calls for the U.S. government to uphold its commitment to human rights, including holding the Burmese government accountable for crimes against humanity, as evidenced by the continuing use of rape as a weapon of war,” the leaders wrote.

“We urge the U.S. government to place an emphasis upon true human rights reforms, and the cessation of the use of rape as a weapon of war, before moving forward in economic agreements with the government of Burma.”