Violent actions towards women prisoners in Myanmar
Aysu Amaha Öztürk
Myanmar and Human Rights Researcher
Global Human Rights Defence
A secret handwritten note from the Oba Prison in Myanmar was delivered to the Anti-Junta Forces Coordination Committee - Mandalay in early February (“Smuggled note”, 2023). The note explained how an argument between an inmate and a prison official led to many women political prisoners being injured. Allegedly, more than 100 female prisoners are seriously injured including having a broken arm, eye injuries and facial bruises (“Smuggled note”, 2023). The note also reported that around 150 male prison guards arrived at the Oba Prison with slingshots, batons and bamboo sticks (“Smuggled note”, 2023).
The next day, there was another argument between some female prisoners and guards, which again hurt women. This was also confirmed by lawyers, activists, family members, prison wardens and medical staff (“Smuggled note”, 2023). It was also reported that specifically men were used to handling these women prisoners. The prisoners were also denied medical care which resulted in lawyers sending in medicine through under-the-table methods (“Smuggled note”, 2023). The prisoners were later isolated or transferred to other jails without the families receiving a notification.
Since the junta took control of Myanmar, the number of prisoners has increased rapidly, they have imprisoned around 16.000 people (“Smuggled note”, 2023). This cannot be held independent from the fact that behaviours towards the prisoners have become worse. Myanmar ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1992 (Ratification Status of Myanmar) which is an international treaty that aims to eliminate discrimination against women and girls and also promote gender equality. CEDAW does not have a specific provision on gender-based violence. However, Article 2(f) of CEDAW requires governments to take all appropriate measures on customs and practices that discriminate against women. It has been established that this provision can be interpreted as state parties being required to take measures to eliminate violence against women (General Recommendation No.19, 1992). If Myanmar does not stop violence against women prisoners, especially by determining male guards to do so, it will continue violating CEDAW. Although it is non-binding, the Bangkok Rules which determine the treatment of women offenders and prisoners should also be taken into consideration (UNODC, 2011). This document states that there should be positive measures to address structural causes of violence against women including women in detention facilities (UNODC, 2011, p.7). Thus, there should be policies regarding the use of force by staff in prison, to protect women as they are also more vulnerable to discrimination and violence. Women being in prisons or detention facilities should not be a reason or a way to further subject them to violence.
Sources and further reading:
Human Rights Bodies. Ratification Status for Myanmar. United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies Database. https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/TreatyBodyExternal/Treaty.aspx?CountryID=119&Lang=EN
Smuggled note exposes violence against women in Myanmar jail - lawyers, activists. (2023, March 10). Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/smuggled-note-exposes-violence-against-women-myanmar-jail-lawyers-activists-2023-03-10/
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2011). United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders with their Commentary. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/Bangkok_Rules_ENG_22032015.pdf