All Burma Students' Democratic Front Repeals Law Criminalizing Homosexual Acts
The International Gay and
Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), May 18, 2001
1360 Mission Street, Suite 200, San Francisco, CA 94103, USA
Telephone: +1-415-255-8680; Fax: +1-415-255-8662
One of the largest organizations of Burmese democracy activists in exile,
which functions virtually as a parallel government with its own defense and
welfare mechanisms and its own legal code, has voted to decriminalize
consensual same-sex sexual relations in that legal code. This represents a
major step toward integrating respect for sexual autonomy into the
rights-based work of the Burmese democracy movement. IGLHRC joins the Campaign
for Lesbigay Rights in Burma (CRLB), which has long been advocating this
change, in calling for letters of congratulation to the exile organization.
Please send letters of congratulation to:
All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF)
P. O. Box 31
Mae Sariang 58110
Please send copies of your letters to:
Committee for Lesbigay Rights in Burma (CLRB)
P. O. Box 37
Chiang Mai University
Chiang Mai 50202
To the All Burma Students' Democratic Front:
We congratulate you on the decision, at your Sixth Conference held in April
2001, to repeal Section 33 of the Law for the Student Army. As you are aware,
that law applying to all ABSDF members imposed both a one-year prison
term, and dismissal from the organization, on any man or woman engaging in
same-sex consensual acts.
This decision is commendably consistent with the terms of international
human rights law. As you are undoubtedly aware, the United Nations Human
Rights Committee held in 1994 that a law criminalizing same-sex sexual
activity in the Australian state of Tasmania contravened Articles 2 and 26 of
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The
Committee ruled that existing prohibitions against discriminatory treatment
should be understood to include sexual orientation as a status protected from
More importantly, your decision is in conformity with the need, and right,
of all people to participate in the struggle for democratic freedoms as
equals, entitled to the same measure of dignity and respect. Your actions move
us all closer to a day when a free Burma will participate in the deliberations
of nations, as a State recognized for its commitment to the principles of
human rights for all.
The All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF), at its 6th Conference
held on April 10, 2001, voted to repeal a law criminalizing same-sex sexual
relations. Section 33A of the Law for the Student Armya code that applies
to all ABSDF members, whether in the cities or on the front linespunished
anyone, male or female, engaging in same-sex sexual acts with one year
imprisonment and dismissal from the organization. The conference also passed a
law increasing the penalty for same-sex rape, covered by Section 33B of the
Law for the Student Army, from three years to seven years.
The ABSDF was founded on November 1, 1988, to represent thousands of
democracy activists, mostly students, who had fled Burma for neighboring
Thailand, China, India, and Bangladesh in the wake of massive repression.
ABSDF was meant to provide an organized structure to counter both the
propaganda and the violence of the military State Law and Order Restoration
Council (SLORC), the junta in power in Burma (which meanwhile was officially
renamed Myanmar). ABSDF defines itself as "an organization representing
all students of all social classes throughout Burma in their struggle to
achieve human rights and democracy. The students of Burma are recognized as
the leading force fighting against the dictatorial military regime, and the
Front indiscriminately counts all Burmese ethnic nations and classes among
their membership. The ABSDF is at the forefront of the popular struggle for
democracy and human rights in Burma."
The declared aims of ABSDF, promulgated during its Fourth Conference in
1. To liberate the entire people of Burma from the suppression of
2. To achieve democracy and human rights.
3. To restore internal peace.
4. To emerge the federal Union of Burma [to re-establish the State as a
multi-ethnic federal system].
The recent decision eliminating the ABSDF's sodomy law grows out of long
discussions within the organization about the need to recognize rights on the
basis of sexual orientation as human rights, as well as the need for ABSDF to
respect international human rights laws and principles.
Meanwhile, Myanmar/Burma itself, under SLORC military rule, continues to
retain its own sodomy law. That law, Section 377 of the colonial-era Penal
Code of 1882-88, prohibits "Unnatural Offenses":
377. Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature
with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with transportation for life,
or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten
years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Explanation Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal
intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section.
ABSDF's decision moves Burmese democracy forces closer to condemning the
existing legal repression of homosexuality which continues on Burmese
ABSDF's decision, and its internal discussions, were furthered by the work
of the Committee for Lesbigay Rights in Burma (CLRB), an organization of
exiles and others committed to supporting lesbigay rights and their place
within the liberation struggle for Burma. It sees the democracy movement and
the human rights of all groups as interlinked. Its members seek to build the
committee to support Lesbigay networking and a newsletter for Burmese people.
The organization's goals are:
1. To build a strong lesbigay movement in Burma
2. To strengthen the democracy movement
3. To fight for sexual human rights and for the responsible sexual
liberation of all people of Burma
4. To fight HIV/AIDS and address the health-related concerns of lesbigay
people in Burma.
According to the CLRB, the repeal of Section 33A is a significant decision
because it signals concrete recognition and concern for lesbian, gay,
bisexual, and transgendered people. It is a major step in raising awareness
around these issues among the grassroots members of ABSDF. It also paves the
way toward greater understanding and respect for LGBT members of the
organization and of Burmese society, both in exile and at home when
they do "come out."
For more information about ABSDF, please see: http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Lobby/3190/factab.htm
For more information about CLRB please see: http://www.clrb.org [link not
working 12/5/2004 -Bob]
The mission of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights
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and communities subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual
orientation, gender identity, or HIV status.
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