Despite fierce campaigning by women rights groups and an international outcry, Burma has introduced a birth control law which opponents say is aimed at ethnic minorities. 

The controversial bill is one of four pieces of legislation driven by nationalist Buddhist monks who fear that the Muslim population is growing too quickly.

Under the law signed by president Thein Sein, governments of the 14 states and regions can request a presidential order so that local authorities can “organise” women to have a gap of 36 months between births.

The World Health Organisation recommends a similar policy to reduce child mortality. However, the law explicitly states that factors taken into consideration, as well as mortality rates and food shortage, can be “a high number of migrants in the area, a high population growth rate and a high birth rate”, that are seen negatively impacting regional development.

This has reinforced concerns of international observers that the law is aimed primarily at controlling birth rates of the Muslim community – which has been subject to birth-control policies in the past – and non-Buddhists more widely.

Burma’s attorney general Tun Shin, who is reported to be a London-educated Christian, will oversee the laws and will be supported by Khin Yi, a retired brigadier-general who was previously chief of police.

The Health Care for Population Control act does not identify any specific group within Burma’s web of ethnic communities and religions. But as the plight of thousands of Rohingya Muslim fleeing persecution unfolds, the US and human rights organisations have stepped up their criticism.

US deputy secretary of state Antony Blinken said at a press conference in Yangon on Saturday that he was “deeply concerned” about the four laws, that “could exacerbate ethnic and religious divisions.” He said the population law could be enforced in such a way as to undermine the reproductive rights of minorities. Blinken lobbied president Thein Sein about the law on a visit last week while it had already been “discreetly” signed.

“We are particularly concerned that the bill could provide a legal basis for discrimination through coercive, uneven application of birth control policies, and differing standards of care for different communities across the country,” the US State Department said.

Comments by extremist monk Ashin Wirathu, close to the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion movement that inspired the laws, has fueled concerns. “If the bill is enacted, it could stop the Bengalis that call themselves Rohingya, who are trying to seize control,” he told The Irrawaddy, a local magazine.

“[The bill] was drafted for healthcare. The World Health Organization also advised a three-year interval between each child. Will it only be legal when women join the discussion? Did women have any participation in sharia law?” He added.

The three other laws would impose restrictions on religious conversion and inter-religious marriage and prohibit extra-marital affairs.

The final version of the bill was approved by the joint houses of parliament on 14 May following minor amendments submitted by the president. Members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy opposed the bill.

“Activists with a racist, anti-Muslim agenda pressed this population law so there is every reason to expect it to be implemented in a discriminatory way,” Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams said, warning that the package of laws was “likely to escalate repression and sectarian violence”.

Rights groups complain that they have not seen the final text of the law but earlier drafts instruct authorities in designated “health zones” to “organise” married couples to practise birth spacing. The bill does not contain explicit guarantees that contraceptive use should be voluntary with consent of the user. It does not specify punishments either, nor does it mention abortion.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, also expressed concern over the four bills as they moved through parliament in February.

“During an election year, it will be tempting for some politicians to fan the flames of prejudice for electoral gain,” he said, placing the legislation in the context of an unpopular quasi-civilian government facing parliamentary elections in November and unwilling to antagonise powerful lobby groups of Burma’s Bamar Buddhist majority.

One of the constant narratives of a hardline minority of Buddhist monks is that the ancient religion of Burma must be defended against an advancing tide of radical Islam, with the Muslim population growing more swiftly within the country and entering as illegal immigrants from without.

A report commissioned by the government after violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims concluded in 2013 that “the extremely rapid growth rate of the Bengali population also contributed to fear and insecurity … The growth was not only due to high birth rates, but also to a steady increase of illegal immigration from neighbouring Bangladesh”.

Khon Ja, a member of the Kachin Women’s Peace Network which is part of a wider group of women’s organisations trying to stop the law, said it particularly affected minority groups.

“The target is the Rohingya,” she said, referring to the Muslim minority. “But the law could affect anyone,” she added.

She is worried about the vagueness of the law and what punishments might be entailed. There are concerns it would be applied to pregnant women in prison, and whether they might come under pressure to have abortions.

Members of the Akhaya women’s group, which promotes education about sexual health, said they were sexually harassed on social media and even accused of “treason” for speaking out against the law.

Activists still hope that even after becoming law the government will fail to follow up with the specific directives that would activate the population controls. If Aung San Suu Kyi’s party wins the elections in November and is allowed to form a government they could then influence that process and clarify the law. However, a new government will not take office until next March 2016.

The U.S. got a human rights report card from the rest of the world. They think we can do better.

Every four years, each one of the 134 member countries in the United Nations gets a human rights review. The U.S. just had its turn.

At a hearing held May 11, 2015, 117 of the member nations spoke up. Each representative got only 65 seconds to speak, but it still added up to about three and a half hours of statements.

The United States did not get a glowing review.

Nations repeatedly called out the U.S. for police violence and especially systemic racial discrimination by the police. Many of them also identified the continued use of the death penalty as a human rights concern as well as the ongoing operations at Guantánamo Bay. (In its previous review in 2010, the U.S. committed to “find a solution for all persons detained at Guantánamo Bay" — yet as of January 2015, 122 men are still kept at the facility.)

Widespread, systematic and institutionalised abuse of Palestinian minors detained by Israeli security forces in the West Bank, including night-time arrests and long periods of solitary confinement CONTINUES UNABATED.
Israel’s security forces have been accused by a United Nations monitoring group of torturing and tormenting Palestinian children.
“[Palestinian children are] systematically subject to physical and verbal violence, humiliation, painful restraints, hooding of the head and face in a sack, threatened with death, physical violence, and sexual assault against themselves or members of their family, restricted access to toilet, food and water.
"These crimes are perpetrated from the time of arrest, during transfer and interrogation, to obtain a confession but also on an arbitrary basis as testified by several Israeli soldiers as well as during pretrial detention.”

Fossil Fuel Extraction Dangers: Native American and Women’s Organizations Request UN Help on Sexual by “Honor The Earth”

On April 21, 2015, a coalition of Native American and women’s organizations filed a submission to the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, requesting UN intervention in the epidemic of sexual violence brought on by extreme fossil fuel extraction in the Great Lakes and Great Plains region. This body was convened in New York from April 20 to May 1, 2015, for the Fourteenth Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The submission documents the connection between extreme extraction and sexual violence against Native women in the Bakken oil fields of western North Dakota and eastern Montana, and the Tar Sands region of Alberta, Canada, where vast “man camps” of temporary labor have become lawless hubs of violence and human trafficking. It also contextualizes this epidemic within the history of colonization, genocide, and systemic violence against Indigenous peoples, which has always disproportionately affected women and girls.

The submission was made by Dr. Dawn Memee Harvard of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, also on behalf of Honor the Earth, Brave Heart Society, Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, One Billion Rising, Indigenous Women’s Network, and individuals including Tanaya Winder and Prairie Rose Seminole.

“Violence against our earth and water is perpetrated on a daily basis, against those things absolutely vital to our very existence,” said Patina Park, Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center. “We can’t be surprised that people who would rape our land are also raping our people. We must do something to stop this from continuing.”

“I have been to the Bakken oil fields and witnessed firsthand the extreme extraction being perpetrated against our earth. I have heard the horrific stories of women who are being trafficked and violated simultaneously. I know our fight is here. We must stand with our Indigenous sisters who are on the front lines of this abuse and demand the end of rape of women’s bodies and our earth,” said Eve Ensler, Executive Director of One Billion Rising.

Winona LaDuke, Executive Director of Honor the Earth, said, “We are in a time of extreme extraction, as we grasp desperately for the last remaining deposits of fossil fuels to satisfy our addiction. This means extreme violence against Mother Earth, exploding her bedrock, pumping lethal chemicals into the water, removing entire mountaintops, and destroying our own habitat. This violence impacts Indigenous communities the most, especially women. Violence against the land has always been violence against women.”

The submission requests that the UN Special Rapporteur hold hearings in the cities and indigenous territories of Minnesota and North Dakota to address the epidemic of sexual violence against Native women. In the coming months, the coalition will be working to organize those hearings.


Abuse of Children Latest Horrors From Central African Republic

Recent reports are exposing new horrors in the almost forgotten war in the Central African Republic (CAR). During the conflict that began in 2013, thousands of civilians fled the fighting so when French troops arrived in Bangui, the CAR capital, in December 2013, many took refuge near their base, believing they would be safer there.

Sadly, according to a United Nations report, some French soldiers acted as predators rather than protectors, sexually abusing children in exchange for food or money.

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