The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has considered the combined second and third periodic report of Myanmar on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Wunna Maung Lwin, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Myanmar to the United Nations Office at Geneva, introducing the report, said that, as was expressed in the combined report, the Government of Myanmar was giving top priority to the elimination of discrimination against women by implementing the Convention since it had acceded to it on 22 July 1997. In the course of the country's history, Myanmar women had been enjoying equal rights with men and their rights were protected by custom as well as by existing laws. The provisions relating to fundamental human rights including the equal rights of women and duties of citizens were clearly enshrined in the new State Constitution adopted in May 2008. In order to promote and protect the rights of women and girls, the Government had established the Myanmar National Committee for Women's Affairs in 1996, as a national machinery to carry out the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action. In Addition, the Myanmar's Women's Affairs Federation had been established in 2003 to take effective measures of women's affairs in implementing the principles and guidelines laid down by the Myanmar National Committee for Women's Affairs.
Myanmar viewed trafficking in persons as a grave issue, said Mr. Maung Lwin. To this purpose, the Government had been seriously addressing the issue through a comprehensive framework which included national legislation, a national plan of action, high-level commitment and bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation. Myanmar had also become a state party to the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime in 2004. On health matters, maternal mortality ratio, infant mortality rate and under five mortality rates were declining, yet it was still necessary to strengthen maternal and child health care services in order to achieve Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5.
Experts asked a number of questions on various issues and topics, including whether the provisions of the Constitution prevailed over national legislation. Other issues included the criteria for registration of non governmental organizations; the relationship between the Myanmar National Committee for Women's Affairs and the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation; the representation of women in Government, ministerial and managerial positions; the measures taken against trafficking of persons and the collaboration with other countries in this area and measures for the prevention of HIV/AIDS and maternal mortality. Experts also addressed issues such as the stateless people, and the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Mr. Maung Lwin, in concluding remarks, expressed the most sincere thanks for the fruitful discussion. At today's session, they had covered various and extensive issues on the human rights of women in Myanmar. He underscored that the Government was doing its outmost to improve human rights of women. They would continue their cooperation with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and they would take into account their constructive recommendations.
Dubravka Simonovic, Chairperson of the Committee, also in concluding comments, said that it was very important for Myanmar to take into account the concluding recommendations. Especially in this period, after the adoption of the new constitution and the upcoming adoption of the elections law; it was very crucial to put them in line with the Convention. It was very important to include all provisions of the Convention in the national legislations and laws. Myanmar still had to do a lot to increase the participation of women in the political field. It was important to ensure that they would have a significant percentage of women representation in the parliament, after the elections.
The delegation from Myanmar included members of the Permanent Mission of Myanmar to the United Nations Office at Geneva, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, the Myanmar Human Rights Group, the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be held at 4 p.m. on Friday, 7 November, when it will adopt its report and release its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports it has reviewed this session before closing its forty-second session.
Report of Myanmar
The second and third combined periodic report of Myanmar (CEDAW/C/MMR/3) says that traditionally, Myanmar women have already enjoyed equal rights with men. Being a party to the Beijing Declaration, the Government nevertheless has taken concerted action for further development of women of all ages. Also, the "Myanmar National Committee for Women's Affairs" was established in 1996 as a national machinery to carry out measures for the development of Myanmar women. In Myanmar, legal provisions against the discrimination of women in political, economic, administrative, judicial and social sectors have long existed.
Myanmar women enjoy equal rights with men in Myanmar and violations against women are thoroughly investigated and prosecuted in accordance with the existing laws. With regard to the allegations that army soldiers have committed 175 rape cases in the southern, eastern and northern parts of Shan State made in the report entitled "License to Rape" published by The Shan Human Rights Foundation and the Shan Woman's Action Network, thorough investigations were made. Conducted field investigations found out that 38 cases were old cases, 135 cases were unreal and only two cases were true. The two perpetrators, an army officer and one with another rank, in the two cases were prosecuted and given ten-year sentences each and dismissed from the Army. Moreover, systematic investigations were also conducted on accusations that torture, sex slavery, forced labour, illegal detention and murder were committed against women in eastern and northern Shan State, whereby only four cases were found to be true. The four perpetrators in these cases were prosecuted in accordance with the Penal Code and were given prison terms of 5 to 20 years with hard labour.
Introduction of Report
WUNNA MAUNG LWIN, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Myanmar to the United Nations Office at Geneva, introducing the report, said that, as was expressed in the combined report, the Government of Myanmar was giving top priority to the elimination of discrimination against women by implementing the Convention since it had acceded to it on 22 July 1997. As a State Party, Myanmar had placed its utmost efforts and had steadfastly implemented a series of national level plans for the well being of the women. In the course of the country's history, Myanmar women had been enjoying equal rights with men and their rights were protected by custom as well as by existing laws. The objective of their mission in the advancement of women was in line with the Convention that was to place dignity to the forefront through promoting and protecting human rights.
Elaborating some of the positive developments currently unfolding in Myanmar, Mr. Maung Lwin said that the Myanmar people had taken the most important step toward transition of the democratic society by overwhelmingly voting in favour to adopt the new State Constitution. The National Referendum had been successfully held on 10 and 24 May 2008, where 94.8 per cent of the eligible voters had voted in favour to adopt the new State Constitution. The provisions relating to fundamental human rights including the equal rights of women and duties of citizens were clearly enshrined in the new State Constitution. It ensured that women would continue to have full privileges to enjoy these rights equally. After the adoption of the new State Constitution by the National Referendum, they had successfully completed the fourth step of the Seven-step Road Map and the multi-party democracy general election the fifth step would be held in 2010. Necessary measures were currently undertaken for the preparation of the elections.
Turning to the drafting process of the second and third combined report, Mr. Maung Lwin noted that the report was prepared by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement as being a focal ministry for the advancement of women, in consultation with the representatives of the related ministries to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women as well as relevant non governmental organizations. The focal ministry had formed a Report Drafting Committee comprised of 25 members representing the relevant ministries and non governmental organizations.
Myanmar women had been enjoying equal rights with men traditionally, said Mr. Maung Lwin. In order to promote and protect the rights of women and girls, the Government had established the Myanmar National Committee for Women's Affairs in 1996, as a national machinery to carry out the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action. In Addition, the Myanmar's Women's Affairs Federation had been established in 2003 to take effective measures of women's affairs in implementing the principles and guidelines laid down by the Myanmar National Committee for Women's Affairs. Furthermore, for the promotion of health and well-being of mothers and children, the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association of the Myanmar National Committee for Women's Affairs had been established in 1991. Regarding the economic empowerment of women, the Myanmar Women Entrepreneurs' Association had been formed in 1995. In addition to that, the Myanmar Women Sports Federation had been founded in 1991 with the aims of promoting the participation of women in sports and the physical, mental and moral development of women.
In Myanmar, women constituted 50.3 per cent of the total population and they were protected by culture, religion and existing laws. According to the National Action Plan adopted in March 2002, the sub committee on violence against women of the Myanmar National Committee for Women's Affairs had implemented various activities, such as organizing educative talks on violence against women and disseminating laws that protected women through the media. Since 2003, the Myanmar's Women's Affairs Federation had undertaken to review the complaints and render assistance to victims of domestic violence to bring perpetrators to justice. Whoever committed sexual violence in Myanmar including rape against women and girls should be punished according to existing laws, said Mr. Maung Lwin.
Concerning women and trafficking, the Myanmar's Women's Affairs Federation had been conducting awareness raising programmes all over the country and had planned, this November, to give a training of trainers for the protection against trafficking in persons in cooperation with the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking and the International Organization for Migration. With regards to the women victims who had suffered from the Cyclone Nargis, the members of the Myanmar's Women's Affairs Federation had been providing food, clothing and shelters as well as micro-finance, noted Mr. Maung Lwin.
Myanmar viewed trafficking in persons as a grave issue, said Mr. Maung Lwin. To this purpose, the Government had been seriously addressing the issue through a comprehensive framework which included national legislation, a national plan of action, high-level commitment and bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation. Myanmar had also become a state party to the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime in 2004. This reflected that Myanmar had the political will and commitment to combat human trafficking in cooperation with the international community. They had also developed a national mechanism for return, rehabilitation and reintegration of trafficking victims under the leadership of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement in collaboration with relevant departments and organizations such as the Myanmar Women Affairs Federation, The United Nations Children's Fund and the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking and International Organization for Migration. In order to strengthen bilateral partnership with destination countries such as China and Thailand in order to address the issue in a more comprehensive way, Myanmar was in the process of developing bilateral Memorandums of Understanding.
Turning to the health sector, Mr. Maung Lwin said that mothers and children constituted over 60 per cent of the total population. Maternal and child health care services were provided both in urban and rural settings all over the country and were included as one of the crucial components of the National Health Plan. The conventional maternal and child health care programme had been reformulated as the reproductive health care programme in 1996 in which safe motherhood was incorporated as one of the major elements. The Ministry of Health had been implementing all these programmes with assistance and support from the World Health Organization, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Children's Fund and in collaboration with many international and national non governmental organizations.
The maternal mortality ratio, infant mortality rate and under five mortality rates were declining, yet it was still necessary to strengthen maternal and child health care services in order to achieve Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5. Accessibility due to geographical and weather conditions of the remote areas was one of the challenges to overcome in implementing these goals. The Government was receiving a very modest amount of international assistance for medicines, equipment and human resource training. Myanmar could overcome these challenges in a short period of time if it received full privileges as other developing countries were enjoying, said Mr. Maung Lwin.
In order to combat HIV/AIDS problems all over the country, in achieving Millennium Development Goal 6, the national AIDS programme had been working in collaboration with several United Nations agencies and international and national non governmental organizations for prevention and care services, noted Mr. Maung Lwin.
Concerning education, Mr. Maung Lwin said that measures had been undertaken to enhance enrolment and retention rates of all children and equitable education opportunities had been created for all the national races residing both in rural and border areas. As a result, in secondary level, the girl enrolment rate was 49.3 percent in both rural and urban areas. For continuing education, community learning centers as well as reading circles had been established through the country. Further, there was no discrimination between boys and girls in the education system; both were treated equally. Also, 81 per cent of the teachers in the basic education system were women and the number of boys and girls in basic education was almost equal.
The Government of Myanmar ensured workers' rights and all workers enjoyed their rights concerning the working hours, rest hours, overtime and holidays. The protective and preventive measures concerning the rights of women at work were also mentioned in the existing labour laws of the Ministry of Labour, said Mr. Maung Lwin.
The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement was the focal ministry for children, women and elderly persons with disabilities. It was carrying out preventive, protective and rehabilitative measures for vulnerable groups in collaboration with United Nations agencies and non governmental organizations. Concerning the trafficked women and children, the ministry was carrying out the programmes on repatriation, rehabilitation and reintegration, said Mr. Maung Lwin.
With regard to Cyclone Nargis which had hit Myanmar in May 2008, Mr. Maung Lwin noted that a tripartite core group which consisted of the Government, United Nations and the ASEAN countries had been formed to smoothly carry out the tasks of relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Various clusters including a cluster for the protection of children and women had been formed. Currently, assessment surveys on women, elderly and persons with disabilities were being conducted by the Department of Social Welfare in collaboration with United Nations agencies and NGOs. Its responsibility was to draw up plans of action on women, older people and disabled persons to be implemented, especially in the storm hit areas.
Questions by Experts
Experts asked questions and raised issues on a variety of subjects, including whether the former Constitution had provided for the direct applicability of international conventions? If so, was international law prevailing over domestic legislation? Why had the provisions of the Convention, in the eight years since Myanmar had acceded to the Treaty, never been used in courts? Was it because the population was not informed enough about the provisions of the Convention?
Concerning the Myanmar Women Affairs Federation, an Expert wondered what it could do when informed about a specific case of discrimination against women. Did it support victims to bring their cases before courts? Also, how many women non governmental organizations (NGOs) were currently registered in Myanmar, what were the criteria for registration and the time span until a registration was accepted by the relevant authorities? Further, why were NGOs not allowed to get funding from outside of the country?
Another Expert asked whether the definition of discrimination against women in the new Constitution was in line with the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women? Also, how were the different customary laws that prevailed in the country brought in line with the Convention?
Response by Delegation
Answering the first series of question, the delegation said that men and women were equal in Myanmar; there was no discrimination. In their society, the woman who was taking the role of the mother was the administrator of the society. She did not necessarily need to take the name of her husband. The Myanmar culture traditionally ensured the rights of women. The newly adopted Constitution ensured that any citizens would not be subject to discrimination, regardless of gender, race and financial status.
As a State party to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, their existing laws protected women and they had the right to complain to the concerned authorities if these laws had been broken. The delegation said that concerning the actions taken by the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation, it received a lot of complaints and these were transferred to the relevant departments. These then took the necessary administrative and legal actions, as required by each case.
Concerning public information with regard to the Convention, the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation had widely distributed the information to women in rural areas and women belonging to different ethnic groups. They had also published newsletters and information papers on the Convention, said the delegation.
With regard to the issue of complaint letters, the delegation said that in the Myanmar's Women's Affairs Federation, there was a committee which reviewed all letters received. After screening them, the letters dealing with cases of discrimination against women were forwarded to the concerned department. Free legal assistance and advice to complainants had also been given. In 2007 alone, 1,000 out of more than 2,000 letters had been forwarded to the relevant departments for legal action.
The delegation also noted that current efforts in the country were currently aimed at the objective to establish a human rights body, in accordance with the Paris Principles.
Concerning the national registration and issuance of citizen cards, the delegation said that, according to their citizenship law, citizen cards were provided to their nationals and those who were not entitled to get one were given an identity card.
Concerning the registration of non governmental organizations (NGOs), each and every NGO was well informed about the registration process and it was the Ministry of Home Affairs which was tasked with the granting of registrations. Concerning the funding of non governmental organizations, there was no restriction over it but there were laws in order to fight non-profit organizations that were conducting money laundering and terrorist activities.
Questions by Experts
Among further questions and issues raised by Experts was whether or not the provisions of the Convention prevailed over the national legislation? If it was so, and in the case where there was a conflict between the Convention and the national legislation, who was in charge of resolving this conflict? Also, in the case of a direct applicability of the Convention, within the domestic legal order, did this mean that, every time the word "discrimination" was used in the domestic law this was directly linked to the provisions of the Convention?
One Expert noted, on the issue of complaints, that the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation, national agencies and human rights institutions had a role to play, but what role was played by the judiciary in upholding women's human rights? Also, as Myanmar was now considering the establishment of an independent human rights institution, in line with the Paris Principles, what was the timeframe for its establishment?
Experts also asked if they could have access to the documents outlining the requirements for the registration of non governmental organizations. Another Expert asked if there was an article in the Constitution defining the legal status of the Convention. Was it directly applicable or was it transformed into national law?
Response by Delegation
Concerning the establishment of an independent human rights institution, the delegation said that they needed to study the international norms and standards first. But they were currently actively engaged in the drafting of the terms of reference of the future institution. This was a work in progress and the terms of reference would also be harmonized with the ASEAN's human rights body. This work was planned to be finished by next year.
Concerning the registration of non governmental organizations, the delegation said that it was conducted by the Ministry of Home Affairs. All non governmental organizations had to apply for registration and they were very-well informed about the process to do so.
The delegation also noted that Myanmar people fully enjoyed religious freedom. In Yangoon alone there was a Pagoda, a Muslim Mosque and a Christian Church a few meters away from each other, and those communities had been living side by side since a long time and there was no discrimination whatsoever against them.
Further Questions by Experts
Concerning the Myanmar National Committee for Women's Affairs, one Expert was astonished that this body had been established from the top, by a governmental decree, and not by the wish of women itself. How many members did it include and were they volunteers or permanent staff? Did they have an evaluation mechanism in place in order to assess how effective its work was? Also, what kind of relationship was there between the national committee and the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation? Could the Federation decide what work it wanted to carry out?
Also, Experts wondered whether the Committee for Women's affairs had any means to monitor the status of women in specific fields, such as women from minority groups or women from poor and rural communities.
An Expert noted that equality on the basis of law did not necessarily mean actual equality on the ground. No country on Earth had yet achieved full equality, so this was probably also the case in Myanmar. Did the National Committee for Women's Affairs have any plans to specifically work on the subject of discrimination against women?
Response by Delegation
Concerning the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation, the delegation said that it was established in 2003; it was composed of six departments and six working groups. Under these working groups they had sub-working groups working on several themes, such as violence against women and trafficking. All members of the Federation were volunteers under which were also retired officials from the Ministry.
With regard to poor women, the delegation said that they had many plans to assist them; they were providing micro-credit programmes and were also providing help to women in healthcare and education.
Questions by Experts
Experts raised further questions on whether there were specific measures for the accelerated advancement of women provided for in the Convention. One Expert asked if the delegation could clarify the status of the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation. As it was a non governmental organization, how could it then hold the Government accountable with regard to the implementation of the Convention?
Concerning violence against women, one Expert noted that there was not much information available regarding violence against women in the report, except for the information on the alleged rapes perpetrated by the military. The delegation was asked to provide the Committee with the documents regarding all the proceedings of these cases. The delegation was also requested to provide the texts of the military regulations and police laws which dealt with violence against women? Regarding the training of soldiers in gender sensitivity, was the delegation aware of the Security Council resolution which required giving training to soldiers on these issues?
Another Expert noted that in the definition of rape in the penal code, a male having sexual intercourse with his own wife, who was not under 13 years of age, could not be considered as a rape. The Expert wondered how it was possible that a girl could be married at 13 years if the legal age for marriage was 18 years in Myanmar.
Response by Delegation
Concerning the rape cases by soldiers, the delegation said that the two persons found guilty had been sentenced each to 10 years of imprisonment.
Concerning the legal age for marriage, the delegation said the penal code definition had been derived from the penal code of India, where 13 was a legal age for marriage. But 18 was in fact the legal age in Myanmar, thus this definition did not apply to Myanmar.
Questions by Experts
One Expert said that the fact that Myanmar had ratified the Palermo Convention and that they had several machines and laws in place to combat trafficking was very commendable. Concerning the training in this regard, the Expert wondered if it was really done at all levels. The Committee had received information that there were some problems, related to the protection of women and girls returnees along the border with China.
One Expert hoped that the Government would also reach the areas where there were problems with their training programs and especially train immigration officers. Also, what were the procedures for receiving returnees from abroad? What were the measures taken for witness protection? Concerning the cooperation with other countries in the area of trafficking, such as China, the Expert hoped that in the bilateral agreements there were not only papers but also action.
Response by Delegation
Concerning the training on various levels, the delegation said that Myanmar had collaborated with Australia on a training programme between 2003 and 2006. The training had targeted the police, law enforcement and other related agencies, especially the anti-trafficking special task force deployed in the border areas.
Regarding the collaboration with other countries against trafficking, the delegation said that they could exchange information with partners and, on the basis of this information, they could trace back the nationality and family of the trafficked person and confirm its nationality. Once this was done, the person could be repatriated. This was easy to do with China, but with other countries, other lengthier steps had to be undertaken. In the case of Thailand, it was more difficult because they had no Government representatives dealing with trafficking present in the border area.
Concerning the witness protection, the delegation noted that this was something important. They had no laws specifically dealing with it, but they had the necessary tools to deal with it.
Questions by Experts
Turning to Article 7 of the Convention, Experts noted that it was a crucial article; it referred to the obligation of a State party to ensure the equal representation of women and men in the Government and of their participation in non governmental organizations. What provisions were there in the new Constitution guaranteeing the equal representation of women in elections? An Expert also noted that one fourth of the seats in Parliament were reserved for the military. Was it correct that the military was mainly constituted of males?