International Campaign for Freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Weekly Highlights: Nowhere To Go, No One To Turn To

    

Nowhere To Go, No One To Turn To

 Kachin IDPs shelter at a KBC church in Tanai town after fleeing conflict in the nearby mining areas. Photo credit: Lawi Weng / The Irrawaddy

 

 

As the Myanmar Army[1] increases its presence in ethnic areas, the outlook for civilians has become evermore grim. Renewed clashes on 3 June, 2017 between the Myanmar Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in western Kachin State's Tanai Township have escalated in recent weeks, displacing thousands of local people and migrant workers. Dispatches from the ground reveal harrowing scenes of hundreds huddled in churches and monasteries, relying on the rapidly depleting capacity of local humanitarian organizations while facing pressures to relocate once more. For the local people, the situation is especially distressing—unlike migrant workers, they have no alternative home to return to.

 

The Myanmar Army's actions reveal its continued flagrant disregard of customary international humanitarian law, under which parties to a conflict are required to take all feasible steps to remove civilians from the vicinity of military objectives. While the Myanmar Army did drop leaflets over Tanai after the initial clashes—announcing impending clearance operations and giving local residents ten days to evacuate—these warnings did not take into account the ability of civilians to flee safely. According to Kachin News Group, over 4,000 civilians found transportation routes blocked by the Myanmar Army as they attempted to make their way to Tanai town before the 15 June deadline. The very text of the leaflets themselves—which stated that residents that did not evacuate would be treated as "insurgents"—reveal the army's negligence of their responsibility to protect civilians. Issuing warnings, per customary international law, does not give any party a free pass to presume or treat anyone who remains in an area as a legitimate military target. (Locals also claim that the Myanmar Army began attacks prior to the 15th, and that some residents didn't take the order seriously given missing dates and signatures on the leaflets.)

 

But perhaps what's even more concerning is how, despite advance notice of the impending flow of internally displaced people (IDPs), the Myanmar Government failed to launch an adequate response. While some basic food and transport assistance came from the township and state authorities and political parties including the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), the lack of coordinated preparation left those fleeing the conflict without a sustainable solution. The Myanmar Government's neglect to the ground plight of conflict-affected civilians was on stark display when State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that she "had not heard anything" about the military order to flee when asked about it during her visit to Canada. At the height of the IDP flow this month, Kachin State legislators complained about difficulties they faced in attempting to bring the situation to light at the Union Parliament.

 

The recent Tanai experience is hardly unique. Since the Myanmar Army offensive that collapsed its 17-year ceasefire with the KIA in 2011, fighting has been sporadic but frequent in KIA-controlled areas, particularly in northern Shan State and areas near the KIA headquarters of Laiza in Kachin State. Throughout northern Myanmar, fighting occurs almost daily between the Myanmar Army and members of the Northern Alliance, a coalition of four ethnic armed organizations that have not signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement. As of this month, 98,000 IDPs remain in Kachin and Shan States, with many facing food shortages as the government and army continue to politicize and obstruct humanitarian aid.

 

In the backdrop of conflict, allegations of serious human rights violations by the Myanmar Army in ethnic areas continue to surface regularly. In her speech to the Human Rights Council last week, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee noted the "recurring pattern" of impunity in the conduct of the Myanmar Army, pointing specifically to the lack of action taken on the killing of three IDPs by the Myanmar Army in late May. Meanwhile, the Myanmar Government continues to oppose the UN-mandated fact-finding mission that aims to investigate abuses committed by the Myanmar Army.

 

The title of the latest Amnesty International report could not be more apt. Based on interviews conducted between March and May 2017, "All the Civilians Suffer" details grave violations of customary international human rights and humanitarian law by the Myanmar Army in northern Myanmar. (While abuses by ethnic armed organizations were also discussed, it's important to note that these are less frequent, less systematic, and much less egregious.)

 

As the peace process continues to evade tangible progress, it is evermore urgent for the Myanmar Government and Army to prioritize the situation of those most vulnerable to conflict. This involves complying with international customary law, opening humanitarian access to those displaced by fighting, and allowing independent, international investigations into human rights abuses to take place. As a Nobel Peace Laureate and the head of an elected government, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has a moral imperative to rise above the military to protect the people who have nowhere to go.
 


[1]One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country's name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term 'Myanmar' in acknowledgment that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of 'Myanmar' rather than 'Burma' without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, 'Burma' is used.

 

 

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66(d) Must Go

By Progressive Voice

 

STATEMENTS AND PRESS RELEASES

 

Myanmar Government Must Cooperate Fully with the UN on Human Rights
By Amnesty International

 

Myanmar: Ethnic Minorities Face Range of Violations Including War Crimes in Northern Conflict
By Amnesty International

 

ျမန္မာ – ေျမာက္ပိုင္း ပ႗ိပကၡတြင္ တိုင္းရင္းသား လူနည္းစုမ်ားသည္ စစ္ရာဇဝတ္မႈမ်ား အပါအဝင္ အမ်ိဳးမ်ိဳးေသာ အၾကမ္းဖက္မႈမ်ားအား ေတြ႕ ႀကံဳေနရျခင္း
By Amnesty International

 

Burma: Warnings Not a Free Pass to Harm Civilians
By Human Rights Watch

 

UN Special Rapporteur Urges Myanmar to do more to Protect the Rights of all Children
By U.N. Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner

 

World Refugee Day 2017 Celebration
By Karen Peace Support Network

 

ကမၻာ႔ဒုကၡသည္မ်ားေန႕။ ။ သတင္းစာရွင္းလင္းပြအဲခမ္းအနား ၂၀၁၇
By Karen Peace Support Network

 

Statement by Ms. Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar at the 35th session of the Human Rights Council
By Ms. Yanghee Lee/Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

 

REPORTS

 

Myanmar: "All the civilians suffer" Conflict, displacement, and abuse in Northern Myanmar
By Amnesty International

 

"အရပ္သားမ်ား အားလံုုး ခံစားေနၾကရပါသည္" ျမန္မာျပည္ ေျမာက္ပိုုင္းေဒသရွိ ပဋိပကၡ၊ ေနရပ္စြန္႔ခြာထြက္ေျပးမႈႏွင့္ ႏိုုင္ထက္စီးနင္းျပဳက်င့္ခံရမႈမ်ား
By Amnesty International

Humanitarian Situation update in Kachin State (15th June 2017)
By Joint Strategy Team

 

ကခ်င္ျပည္နယ္အတြင္းရွိ လူသားခ်င္းစာနာေထာက္ထားေရးဆုိင္ရာ ေနာက္ဆုံးရအေျခအေန
By Joint Strategy Team

 

About Progressive Voice

 

Progressive Voice is a participatory rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 the same day that Progressive Voice was formally established. For further information, please see our press release "Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice."

     


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As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi proclaimed,

As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi proclaimed,
"Justice is a dream. But it is a dream we are determined to realize."