Thursday, June 14, 2018

Weekly Highlights: Seven Years and No Peace in Sight


Seven Years and No Peace in Sight​

Displaced persons take shelter at a Catholic church in Tang Phre village in Myitkyina. Photo credit: Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint/The Irrawaddy



The 9th of June, 2018 marked the seventh year since the civil war reignited in Kachin State. The Myanmar[1] Army has continued to launch offensives against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) since the resumption of war in 2011, when the Myanmar Army broke the ceasefire that had been in place since 1994. An estimated 120,000 people have been displaced from their homes and villages, trapped in conflict zones or forced into internally displaced persons (IDP) camps scattered throughout Kachin and northern Shan States. Since the last anniversary, armed conflict in Kachin State has become particularly severe for civilians, with the continued bombardment of heavy artillery and aerial bombings by the Myanmar Army targeting civilians. The Kachin Women's Association - Thailand has documented many of these abuses, such as civilians being used as human shields and minesweepers, blocking IDPs from accessing refuge and humanitarian aid, and looting and destruction of personal property. Kachin civilians who have fled to safety have recounted war crimes and crimes against humanity at the hands of the Myanmar Army including rape, torture and extrajudicial killings.

The Myanmar Government is wilfully blind to the plight of those who have been displaced due to ongoing conflict, instead initiating discussions to close IDP camps in Kachin, Shan, Karen and Rakhine States. The policy, which is the work of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, is incomprehensible considering the recent and continued escalation of conflict in Kachin State. Aung Thurein, Director of the Ministry of Social Welfare, said the camps are only a temporary solution and the government wishes to draw up and oversee a plan to see the safe return of displaced people. No details have been disclosed about how exactly this process will be implemented or actual means to address the cause of displacement. In addition, no efforts have been made by the government to facilitate a consultation process for the return of the Kachin and other IDPs to their homes – one which guarantees their safety and dignity. Sut Seng Hoi, a leader within the Kachin Youth Movement, has urged the government not to close the camps until internal fighting ceases. She said "The Burmese Military's troops are still in the villages. That's why the civilians don't want to go back there." In order for there to be meaningful discussions towards sustainable solutions, the government must acknowledge the causes of the conflict and address these causes as well as the humanitarian crisis that is facing the Kachin people at present. Discussions surrounding the safe and dignified return of IDPs to their homes should be conducted in a manner that is free, prior, informed and involves the full participation of, and consultation with, the IDP community. In addition, the role and agency of the local ethnic community based and civil society organizations who have supported the IDPs in their communities for decades should be recognized and respected. Their involvement in the entire process of consultation, decision making and implementation is crucial to IDPs' safe, dignified and sustainable return.  

It appears the National League for Democracy (NLD) Government is unable or unwilling to address the human rights abuses caused by the conflict, due to the Myanmar Army's disproportionate power. Similarly, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) has a long track record of being unable to properly adjudicate armed conflict related human rights violations. Recently, the MNHRC has concluded that two men found dead at the hands of the Myanmar Army were KIA fighters killed in battle. This is in stark contrast to villagers who claim the two men were arrested by the Myanmar Army as they were farming near Hkat Pra village in Mansi Township. Hpaugan Yaw, 65, and Nhkum Naw San, 35 were last seen on 31 January, 2018 in the custody of the Myanmar Army, until they were found dead on 8 March, 2018. One of the men was found in KIA uniforms, which local eyewitnesses have contest was put on him by the Myanmar Army. According to a medical report, one of the men suffered gunshot wounds and the other suffered severe head trauma. One villager has claimed, the investigation conducted by the MNHRC was based on "one side, the Army's side." The MNHRC as a national human rights institution only announced its concluding statement without providing full and transparent details of the investigation, including disclosure of how they reached their findings, which only serve to question its credibility, independence and impartiality, given this is largely contested by local eye-witness accounts.


What makes matters worse is there is no impetus by the NLD-led Government to work towards ending Myanmar Army's attacks and abuses or providing much needed humanitarian aid, instead they carefully avoid the causes of conflict in order to kowtow to the Myanmar Army. Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in Kachin State has worsened. Compounding the problem is the intimidation and retaliation faced by civil society who call for peace, humanitarian aid and for the safety of IDPs, as was the case of 3 activists, Zau Jat, Nang Pu and Lum Zawng, who were charged with defamation for their part in the Kachin youth sit-in peaceful demonstration. In addition, authorities in Myitkyina who agreed to the planned prayer by civil society to mark the 7th anniversary of the resumption of civil war in Kachin State on 9 June, are planning legal action against the organizers because the event went "beyond the permitted time and staged a drama for which permission had not been granted." In Yangon, authorities outright banned any public commemoration of the anniversary.


In the wake of the seven year anniversary of the resumption of war in Kachin State and as the one year mark of what has been characterized as crimes against humanity and possibly genocide of Rohingya in Rakhine State approaches, the most recent call by the UNSC for the Myanmar Government to respond to the Council's 30 day request to allow UN experts to investigate atrocities in Rakhine State, is a welcome step in the right direction. However, this call must not end there; it must be followed by action. The UNSC must refer Myanmar to the ICC, as this is the only way to hold perpetrators to account and end the impunity of the Myanmar Army. Meanwhile, the Myanmar Government should cooperate with the UN and international community while they still have a chance to make genuine reforms towards a federal system of governance and place the Myanmar Army under civilian control.


[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.






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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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