Sexual violence is common in conflict-prone areas of Myanmar, the United Nations said in a 2016 report, noting that the Defense Ministry had prosecuted 61 members of the military for such acts from 2011 to 2015.
Women’s rights advocates say the violence is exacerbated by drug and alcohol abuse among men, and by a common attitude among both sexes that women who are abused or raped somehow deserve it.
Victims have few legal options, advocates say, in part because most relevant statutes are antiquated, having been enacted during the British-colonial era, which ended in 1948. One section of the penal code, for example, criminalizes assault on a woman “with intent to outrage her modesty,” without defining specific offenses.
The proposed legislation, the National Prevention of Violence Against Women bill, was drafted over several years in consultation with international experts.
But when it landed in a government committee, women’s rights advocates said, critics from several ministries began trimming passages that would clearly define sexual violence and hold soldiers accountable for rape in conflict zones. In its report last year, the United Nations described recent revisions to the draft law as “problematic.”
Some of the proposed law’s critics have argued in closed-door sessions that the 19th-century penal code already protects women or that the proposed law would unfairly target men, according to rights advocates involved in the discussions.
“The courts haven’t grappled yet with this issue,”