The International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in Myanmar

Human Rights Now

27 July 2010

Report: The International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in Myanmar  

The full report from the ‘International Tribunal on Crimes against Women in Burma‘ is now available online. 

On 27th July, 2010, the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in Myanmar was held at Aoyama Gakuin University. Human Rights Now and the Women’s League of Burma co-hosted the event.

The first Tribunal of this kind was held in New York in March, and the Tribunal held on 27th July, was the first such event in Asia. In continuing the work of the New York Tribunal, the Tokyo Tribunal considered whether or not the human rights violations (rapes, enforced labour and torture) perpetrated throughout the whole of Myanmar by the Myanmar military regime against the women of Myanmar, could constitute crimes against humanity. The Tribunal heard the testimony of women who are victims of such human rights violations, and also considered other related evidence.

Four women who are the victims of crimes perpetrated by the Myanmar military regime came to Japan to testify at the Tribunal. These women, some weeping, spoke of their experiences of attempted rapes committed by Myanmar soldiers, forced labour and the cruel treatment and torture that accompanied such labour, of imprisonment as a result of involvement with democracy movements, and cruel methods of interrogation.

Almost 200 people attended the Tribunal, and independent Myanmar media organisations simultaneously broadcasted the events of the Tribunal to the world. In addition to the Japanese media, international news organisations such as the BBC covered the event. HRN believes that the democratic movement activists, all Myanmar refugees around the world, and in particular the women among them, will be given hope and encouragement from the Tribunal’s strong attendance and broad coverage will only add to this.


Opening address by the co-hosts and visitors


Opening Statements

Cross-examination of witnesses, examination of evidence

Closing statements of Prosecution and Defence

Closing address

Hosts: Women’s League of Burma, Human Rights Now

Sponsors: Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Centre, Amnesty International Japan, Myanmar Democratic Groups in Japan, Alliance of Feminist Representatives, People’s Forum on Burma, Human Rights Watch




Ms. Kanae Doi

Ms. Doi gave evidence about the current situation in Myanmar in her position as the Director of the Tokyo branch of Human Rights Watch. She testified that human rights violations against citizens (extra-judicial killings, sexual violence, forced labour, torture, beatings, the confiscation of land and assets) in conflict areas are widespread and systematic. She further testified that Myanmar minority women who live in these areas suffer sexual violence regularly at the hands of soldiers, and minority women forced to engage in labour by soldiers suffer extremely cruel treatment. Ms. Doi emphasised that the Myanmar military, without regard for international criticism, continues to act with impunity, and highlighted the fact that the Myanmar national army uses the legal system as a tool of oppression – a neutral and independent investigation has never been carried out to investigate the human rights violations committed by the Myanmar army soldiers against women.


Ms. Kyi Kyi Khin

Ms. Khin, who was a member and activist of the All Myanmar Student’s League, gave evidence that she was suddenly arrested without a warrant. After she was arrested, she was imprisoned for 28 days, and was subjected to cruel methods of interrogation and torture for this entire period. Everyday, she was interrogated while her head was covered with a cloth and she was forced to stand for long periods. At times she was kicked by the interrogators. Ms. Khin was found guilty of violating article 17 subsection 6 of the Printers and Publishers Registration Act. The Court’s judgment was based on a declaration that Ms. Khin was forced to sign during her imprisonment. Ms. Khin did not have access to a legal representative at the trial, and she received a sentence of 2 years imprisonment. The prison where she was incarcerated for two years had poor sanitary conditions and medical treatment, further, women incarcerated there suffered cruel treatment. After she was released from prison she and her family remained under surveillance, and half her house was destroyed by the military regime. She testified that in 2006, she could not stand her living conditions any more and left Myanmar.


Ns. Naw Sun Set

Ms. Naw Sun Set, who is from Toungoo Township in Bago Division, was forced to work as a porter for the army from 2003 to 2004. In Ms. Naw Sun Set’s village, the villagers, regardless of whether they were male or female, were made to engage in forced labour. Among the villagers who were forced to work for the military were pregnant women and children. On 21st November, 2005, Ms. Naw Sun Set was in her house alone when a soldier from the Myanmar military entered her house. He covered her mouth with his hand, and attempted to rape her. Her second son, who had returned from school as this was happening, heard screaming from the house. He entered the house and upon seeing the situation, stabbed the soldier. Ms. Naw Sun Set then fled. She could not return to the village and escaped Myanmar in order to seek asylum. (Below: Ms. Tin Tin Nyo, who read Ms. Naw Sun Set’s statement in her absence)


Ms. Ma Pu Sein

Ms. Ma Pu Sein from Rhakine State gave evidence about the forced labour she experienced under the Myanmar military regime authority. Ms. Ma Pu Sein, who was forced to work on a road connecting Kyaukphu and Ann, saw many people fall ill as a result of terrible working conditions and the army’s onerous orders regarding work. She also saw people suffering violent treatment at the hands of the army, and in some cases losing their lives. She spoke of a woman forced to perform arduous labour just after giving birth, who died as a result; and a girl who was raped by army officers. Ms. Ma Pu Sein herself was forced to perform exhausting labour, and she found it necessary to flee the country. However, she was unable to take all of her children with her. The fact that some of her children remain in a terrible situation in Myanmar causes her to suffer deep emotional distress.


Advisory Opinion of the International Tribunal on Crimes against Women in Myanmar



First, before offering the opinion of the Tribunal, we would like to express our respect for everyone who helped make this trial a reality.  We would also like to express our gratitude to everyone in the audience who participated with us in order to become a witnesses of history.

We would particularly like to give our deepest thanks to the Myanmar women who participated as witnesses.  Thank you for speaking before the Tribunal about your painful experiences in spite of the emotional scars that still remain.  Your testimony moved all of us deeply.  We are truly grateful that you traveled all the way to Japan to participate in this Tribunal.

Although the Union of Burma officially became the Union of Myanmar in June 1989, we shall refer to it here as “Burma”, in accordance with the name of this Tribunal.

According to the statute of the Tribunal, the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women of Burma is “an ad hoc tribunal for the purpose of discovering the truth regarding serious human rights violations against women occurring in” the Union of Burma since 1988.  The “crimes against humanity” for which this Tribunal has jurisdiction are as defined in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (the “Rome Statute”) (Article 2).

Thus, the task for this Tribunal is to determine whether or not there are facts that constitute “crimes against humanity” committed against women in Burma, and whether the defendant Than Shwe should be held liable for these crimes.

In order to make a finding of crimes against humanity, it is necessary to find not only that “murder,” “enslavement,” “imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law,” “torture,” “rape and sexual violence” as set forth in the indictment were actually perpetrated, but also that the acts were “directed against a civilian population” and “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack.”

The many reports and documents submitted to the Tribunal as evidence, such as those authored by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Burmaconvincingly demonstrate that the terrible experiences of the women who testified in this Tribunal today were not simply isolated individual experiences, but were rather shared by numerous Myanmar women.

This indicates that the human rights violations experienced by women in Burma were likely committed “as part of [] widespread or systematic” acts against ordinary citizens like yourselves, who were not combatants.

The prosecution asserts that liability for such human rights violations should be borne by Than Shwe, the Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, Minister of Defense, and Commander in Chief of Defense Services. 

However, the Tribunal was not able to find based on the evidence presented, that Than Shwe as a superior officer committed crimes against humanity.  Even though gross human rights violations are likely being committed in Burma, even though the defendant indisputably holds the highest position in the current military junta, and even though there is ample reason to suspect that the military junta has taken no measures to address or punish the perpetrators of these human rights violations, the evidence must clearly prove the defendant’s involvement in these in order to say that the defendant is guilty of crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute.

Even so, it can be easily deduced from the evidence presented to the Tribunal that human rights violations of a “widespread or systematic” nature continue to occur against women under the Myanmar junta led by Than Shwe.  Consequently, we can conclude that it is highly probable that the human rights violations suffered by the women of Burma rise to the level of crimes against humanity. 

In light of the powerful evidence of human rights violations that most likely constitute crimes against humanity, we the Tribunal request that the international community including Japan and members of the international community including ourselves act as follows in response to violations of the human rights of the women of Burma:

1.That the international community reaffirm that violence against women is a crime no matter where it takes place nor whom it is committed by, and that countries have the responsibility of prosecuting crimes occurring therein and are responsible for taking appropriate measures including the implementation of just punishment. In particular, that it makes clear to those countries that have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) that to have ratified is to have stated one’s intent to eradicate violence against women in accordance with the rules of the international community.

2.Thus far, through the work of the U.N. Special Rapporteurthe international community has shared information showing that human rights violations are being committed against women in Burma, that such violations remain unpunished, and that it is very likely that crimes against humanity are being committed. That the international community continue to gather and share all forms of information relevant to these crimes in the future.

3.Given that it is highly probable that the human rights violations suffered by Myanmar women qualify as crimes against humanity, that the international community affirm the necessity of taking measures beyond the mere sharing of information.

4.Despite the numerous reports, resolutions, and recommendations issued by the international community over the years, we have seen no indication that Burma, as a member of the international community, has responded to the international community’s pleas and taken measures to stop violence against women or properly punish the perpetrators.  Thus, given the likelihood that human rights violations still continue in Burma, that the international community recognize that the situation has gone far beyond the stage where simply depending on the Myanmar government to take its own independent measures to address these violations can be justified.

5.Because it is strongly suspected that the human rights violations against the women of Burma described to this Tribunal constitute crimes against humanity, that the international community affirm that the situation demands the formation and deployment of an independent international investigative body under the authority of the U.N. Secretary-General or the U.N. Human Rights Council.

6.If the activities of this independent international investigative body fail to improve the situation, that the international community demand, as a next step, that the U.N. Security Council consider passing a resolution referring the situation to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

7.Given that it is highly likely that human rights violations strongly indicating the perpetration of crimes against humanity will continue even if the U.N. takes further proactive actions such as those described in paragraphs 5 and 6 above, that the international community as well as members of the international community such as ourselves further make efforts to find effective methods for assisting those women who are victimized by, and fighting against, the oppression.

8.Finally, in light of the fact that Japan is a part of Asia, that the government of Japan and the Japanese people affirm that we have a greater obligation than that of Western countries to support Myanmar people.  That we more effectively gather and share information about the situation of women in Burma and provide information on human rights violations to the government and people of Burma in order to further their understanding.  That we offer as much true humanitarian support as possible to people suffering oppression in Burma as well as those who have fled and are living abroad. 


June 27, 2010

International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women of Bruma

Chief Judge: Hiroko Goto

Judge: Hideaki Kubori

Judge: Miho Shikida

Judge: Osamu Niikura

Judge: Kunio Hamada


Human Rights Now released the following statement on the Advisory Opinion of the Judges of the International Tribunal on Crimes against Bruma in Myanmar, held on June 27th, 2010.


International Tribunal on Crimes against Women in Bruma calls for the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry


On June 27th, Human Rights Now (HRN), a Tokyo-based international human rights NGO, together with the Women’s League of Burma, an association that has worked for the democratisation and realisation of human rights for women in Myanmar, co-hosted the International Tribunal on Crimes against Women in Burma. The Tribunal considered whether the military regime should be held responsible for human rights violations against women in Myanmar. The first Tribunal of this kind was held in New York this March by the Noble Women’s Initiative, a group of six female Noble Peace Laureates. The Tribunal held in Tokyo on June 27th is the second such event in the world, and the first in Asia. The Tribunal investigated whether or not the human rights violations such as murder, rape, forced labour and torture committed against women throughout Myanmar by the military regime amount to ‘crimes against humanity’. The Tribunal based its judgment on testimonies from the victims of such violations who had travelled to Japan for the Tribunal, and on documents submitted to the Tribunal.

The judges of the Tribunal concluded that ‘it is highly probable that the human rights violations suffered by the women of Myanmar rise to the level of crimes against humanity’ and issued an advisory opinion, calling for the active cooperation of the international community.

It is noteworthy that the Judges recognised the human rights violations and the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of the crimes in Myanmar as a situation which ‘has gone far beyond the stage where simply depending on the Myanmar government to take its own independent measures to address these violations can be justified’ and called for the international community to ‘affirm that the situation demands the formation and deployment of a Commission of Inquiry under the authority of the U.N. Secretary-General or the U.N. Human Rights Council, and the dispatch of the Commission to Myanmar’ ‘ because it is strongly suspected that the human rights violations against the women of Myanmar described to this Tribunal constitute crimes against humanity’. Furthermore, the Judges called for the international community to ‘demand, as a next step, that the U.N. Security Council consider discussing crimes against humanity in Myanmar and passing a resolution referring the situation to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court’, if the activities of the Commission of Inquiry fail to improve the situation.

In Myanmar, the military regime, which has been in power for more than 20 years, has carried out grave human rights violations such as forced labour, rape, murder and torture in a systematic and widespread manner. Many people, especially women, became the victims of such violations, and those responsible for the violations continue to enjoy a state of impunity. Over the past two decades, the military regime has failed to follow U.N. General Assembly resolutions and recommendations to improve the human rights situations issued almost every year by the U.N. Special Rapporteur and other U.N. bodies. Given such a situation in Myanmar, it is of extreme importance to dispatch the Commission of Inquiry and, if necessary, refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

HRN affirms that the decision of the Judges is crucially important to put an end to the impunity that the military regime enjoys regarding the systematic and widespread human rights violations which have continued over the past two decades, and to restore justice and human rights, and welcomes the decision.

Furthermore, HRN strongly requests that the international community make an effort to consider and realize the dispatch of the Commission of Inquiry, as was recommended in the Advisory Opinion.

Mr. Quintana, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, in his report submitted in March,[1] indicated that there was a possibility that human rights violations which constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity may have been committed, and recommended that the U.N. consider establishing a Commission of Inquiry to investigate international crimes, given the the Myanmar government’s lack of accountability. Australia, the U.K. the Czech Republic, and Slovakia officially supported the formation of the Commission.[2] In the U.K., 176 MPs have signed a Parliamentary motion to support the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry.[3]

Commissions of Inquiry were dispatched to East Timor and Nepal in the Asian region during the peak of grave human rights violations. Both countries accepted the findings and recommendations of the Commissions after they had been dispatched, and both countries made contributions to improving the human rights situations in their countries.

The international community should urgently address the situation in Myanmar with a view to improving the extremely grave human rights situation there. If the situation remains of an extremely grave nature even after the Commission’s involvement, a referral to the ICC, a permanent court to judge the most serious international crimes, is the last resort to end impunity and realise justice. The U.N. Security Council should adopt a resolution to refer the situation to the ICC so that the ICC may exercise its jurisdiction over Myanmar, which is not a State Party to the ICC. The U.N. dispatched a Commission of Inquiry to the Darfur region in Sudan which is also a non-State Party to the ICC, after reports detailing grave human rights violations in the region were submitted to the U.N. In response to the recommendations of the commission, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution to refer the situation to the ICC and the ICC has begun to investigate it. If Myanmar fails on its own to end the current era of impunity, a similar referral to the ICC should be made. HRN requests the U.N. and the international community to establish a Commission of Inquiry and to give serious consideration to the Advisory Opinion of the International Tribunal on Crimes against Women of Bruma as a the first step ending the impunity,.

The U.N. General Assembly, which will be held this autumn, and the U.N. Human Rights Council should give this matter serious consideration and act accordingly.  

HRN also requests that the Japanese government, as the governing authority of the place the Tribunal was held, support any initiative to establish a Commission of Inquiry.