Jolie, who serves as a special envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, spent four days in the country, including a visit with Burma’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who spend decades under house arrest. The pair went to the factories to witness the “squalid and dire” conditions that the employees live in. Most of the women live in cheap hostels where they are vulnerable to sexual violence, trafficking and other human rights violations. Jolie was invited to make the visit by Suu Kyi, according to the British embassy.
“This visit underlined the vulnerability of women and girls living in protracted conflict faced by women living in protracted conflict situations to sexual violence, trafficking, and other human rights violations,” the British embassy said in a press release.
Kachin state is home to more than 10,000 displaced people since a ceasefire between Burma’s government and ethnic rebels broke down in 2011. The state has been in a civil war since that time.
On her first day, Jolie met with Myanmar’s President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw, the capital.
“It was moving and humbling to meet survivors of sexual violence in Kachin State,” Jolie said. “[There is] an urgent need for more medical assistance and legal and psychosocial support [and a] strong legal framework to ensure all perpetrators of sexual violence are held accountable.”
Jolie made an additional statement to People Weekly, saying, “The situation for the displaced inside this country is extremely serious.”
The conflict results from a disagreement between the Rohingyas, who claim that they originate from the Rakhine state, and the government, which claims that the Rohingya are Bengali migrants who illegally entered the country, which is why the government refuses to accept the Rohingya as citizens. The conflict has sent thousands of refugees fleeing throughout Southeast Asia.
“After violence erupted between Arakanese Buddhists and the long-persecuted Rohingya Muslims, state security forces took part in abuses against the Rohingya,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
This week Myanmar has resumed a controversial process that could see citizenship granted to the Rohingya people, who have been without an official country for years.
“One man I met expressed his concerns by saying he was afraid that in years to come his community would be found only in history books – and that the lack of medicine and healthcare is a top priority,” Jolie said.
Jolie has been working with the British embassy as part of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, which promotes the prosecution of perpetrators of sexual violence. She made her first visit to Burma/Myanmar in 2002, when she visited Thai refugees living in the country.