Sunday, 16 August 2015

To End Sexual Violence, British Government Can’t Avoid Elephant in the Room

By ZOYA PHAN | August 3, 2015
Last week the British government arranged for Angelina Jolie to visit Burma, in part in her capacity as co-founder of the Preventing
Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI)...
When it launched the PSVI in 2012, the British government faced a real problem with Burma. Reports of sexual violence were
increasing as a result of the military breaking ceasefires in Kachin and Shan States.

This is exactly the kind of situation that the PSVI was set up to take action on, but while these reports were emerging, the British
government was embracing the Burmese government and country’s reform process. They were praising President Thein Sein, supporting
the end of international sanctions and shifting their priorities from human rights to trade.

The British attempted to reconcile these contradictory positions by excluding Burma from the PSVI. After pressure from activists and
the British Parliament, the government reluctantly included Burma in the initiative, and had to be further pressed to fund survivor
and women’s organizations documenting sexual violence by the military.

Whether these funding commitments actually benefit survivors of military sexual violence is highly debatable. For instance, the
government pointed to a legal project in Thai refugee camps to help survivors of sexual violence, but admitted after further
questioning that the program was targeted to victims of domestic and other forms of violence, rather than tailored to the unique
needs of victims of sexual violence in conflict.
If the British government is serious about meeting this aim, it must stop avoiding the fact that most sexual violence in conflict is
being committed by the Burma Armed Forces. Instead, it refuses to support proposals to establish a UN Inquiry into sexual violence
in conflict within Burma. In an attempt to rebuff criticism, they say that UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee has a mandate to report
on sexual violence cases, but the truth is that she has no resources to conduct detailed investigations into these cases, and the
British government does not provide her funds to do so.

When the British government offered to provide free training to the military—to the tune of $400,000 in funding—they set no
preconditions before providing the training, such as ending the culture of impunity around sexual violence. The British government
claimed that the training was about human rights, and then attempted to withhold details of the training from Burma Campaign UK.
These details revealed that in the course of a sixty-hour training program, just one hour was dedicated to human rights.

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