Civilians Continue to be Targeted in Decades Long War in Myanmar

As the world marked this year’s World Humanitarian Day, the campaign led by the UN highlighting the need to protect civilians and aid workers caught in conflict and to reaffirm that they are “#NotATarget” reflects the reality on the ground for the over 1,000 newly displaced people who fled recent attacks by the Myanmar[1] Army in Kachin State. As peace negotiations continue between ethnic armed organizations and the Myanmar Government, internally displaced persons (IDPs) – who now make up 9% of the population in Kachin State – face food shortages as politicization and obstruction of humanitarian aid by the government and the Myanmar Army endangers the lives of the IDPs, particularly women and children.

The crimes and human rights violations of the past that the country is being urged to leave behind today are still all too real for the ethnic nationality IDPs who fled the recent attacks by the Myanmar Army. The Myanmar Army continue to display its flagrant disregard towards customary international humanitarian law, as local news and civil society organizations reported hundreds of Myanmar Army troops shooting indiscriminately at civilians in Kasung village, in Mogaung Township, Kachin State. The attack killed at least one and injured several civilians as over 1,000 villagers were forced to flee – some trekking for miles to the town of Namti for safety, while others hiding from the violence in the nearby jungle were rescued by local organizations days later. In line with patterns of practices that prevent and impede the provision of humanitarian aid in ethnic areas, aid workers who attempted to assist the newly arrived IDPs in Namti were stopped by local authorities and arrested as one female aid volunteer was beaten by the police and hospitalized. These attacks against humanitarian aid workers are signs of a broader pattern of “collective punishment” that indiscriminately targets ethnic nationality people and are not only deplorable, but threaten the humanitarian operations and the lives of thousands of people who rely on the assistance for their survival.

The latest attacks began on the same day as the Delegation for Political Negotiation, the negotiating body of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) – the ethnic alliance bloc – and the government Peace Commission convened its sixth round of talks. As the Myanmar Government negotiator raised hopes for the so-called “nationwide ceasefire agreement” (NCA) to be signed by the UNFC members, the UNFC representative Khu Oo Reh indicated that the trust-level between the parties was still at zero after months of negotiation and that the position of the peace policy makers did not accurately reflect the reality of the situation on the ground.

The trust-level between the parties was still at zero after months of negotiation and that the position of the peace policy makers did not accurately reflect the reality of the situation on the ground.

The UNFC representative Khu Oo Reh

His words no doubt ring true to the increasing number of IDPs who have been sheltering in IDP camps for up to six years across northern Myanmar since the collapse of the ceasefire agreement between the Kachin Independence Army and the Myanmar Army. For the approximately 100,000 IDPs, the prevention of the delivery of humanitarian assistance, particularly food, has contributed to acute and chronic food shortages. Where they are able to receive aid, the current aid package provides most IDPs with just $0.22 dollars a day to live on – barely enough to purchase leaves to fry and boil in soup.

According to local and international organizations, these dire conditions drive displaced women, particularly those who are young, to seek work in China often without documentation, which makes them extremely vulnerable to being drugged, raped and trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced marriage. Such conflict-related violence experienced by women is unique and their voices must be included and become an integral part of the peace process as reaffirmed by the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions adopted by the UNSC on women, peace and security. In addition, the continuing use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war in ethnic nationality areas with impunity, which many of the women flee from, is considered a war crime and a violation of the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict to which Myanmar became a signatory in 2014. These concerns highlight the urgency in realizing the recommendation by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to develop a comprehensive national action plan for the implementation of Resolution 1325.

The Myanmar Army must not be allowed to flout their obligations in armed conflict and show their contempt for human life and dignity. An independent and transparent judiciary and legislative reform is needed to bring an end to impunity and justice for victims. This requires that the 2008 Constitution be amended – a constitution which CEDAW recognizes is problematic – and the military be brought under civilian control. In addition to holding the perpetrators accountable, establishing the truth about the grave crimes being committed in these ethnic nationality areas by allowing access to the UN mandated fact-finding mission can strengthen the democratic process and help to create a path towards peace. In the meantime, the international community must do more to protect all civilians in armed conflict by continuing the provision of humanitarian aid to affected areas, while pressuring the Myanmar Government, and in particular the Myanmar Army, to end all hostilities in ethnic areas and develop a national action plan towards the implementation of Resolution 1325. Civilians including women are #NotATarget in war, but without recognizing the crimes of the past with a commitment to addressing root causes of conflict, they will continue to bear the brunt of the decades long war in Myanmar.

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[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 acknowledgement 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.

Resources from the past week

actions

Statements and Press Releases

India: Don’t Forcibly Return Rohingya Refugees
By Human Rights Watch

World Humanitarian Day: Keys message from Joint Strategy Team (JST), for solidarity with IDPs in Kachin and Northern Shan States, Myanmar
By Joint Strategy Team

Karen Human Rights Group Statement on World Humanitarian Day
By Karen Human Rights Group

ND-Burma Update on the Human Rights Situation Finds Continued Impunity for Abuses
By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

ND-Burma မွ ထုုတ္ျပန္သည့္ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရးေနာက္ဆံုုးအေျခအေန အစီရင္ခံစာအရ ခ်ိဳးေဖာက္မႈမ်ား ရွိေသာ္လည္း အျပစ္ေပးအေရးယူမႈမွ ကင္းလြတ္ေနဆဲျဖစ္သည္

By Network for Human Rights Documentation-Burma

reports

Reports

Update on the Human Rights Situation in Burma, January – June 2017
By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

ျမန္မာႏိုုင္ငံ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရးအေျခအေန အစီရင္ခံစာ ၂၀၁၇ ခုုႏွစ္ ဇန္န၀ါရီလမွ ဇြန္လအထိ
By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

Briefing Paper: The Status of the Delegation for Political Negotiation Talks with the Peace Commission and the Way Forward
By United Nationalities Federal Council (Union of Burma)

Burma: 2016 International Religious Freedom Report
By US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

 


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 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. 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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