Ethnic Communities’ Recurrent Nightmare

The indigenous peoples of conflict-affected Mutraw District of northern Karen State, where a Myanmar[1] Army offensive has displaced over 2,000 people in recent weeks, have implored State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to act to stop the violence. In a statement, the leaders of 16 indigenous Karen communities conveyed the suffering that they have experienced, not just in recent weeks, but throughout many decades of the Myanmar Army’s abuse. This was reiterated by a statement coming out of the Third Karen Women’s Seminar that called for the end of military operations in Karen areas.

The Indigenous Karen Village Leaders’ statement comes after the Myanmar Army violated terms of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) and entered Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) territory in order to rebuild a road. Over 2,000 people are displaced due to the subsequent fighting and hundreds more are living in fear. Building the road is significant, as it is part of a strategy to enhance the Myanmar Army’s political, economic and military power in the area which was previously inaccessible before the signing of the ceasefire. The Karen Peace Support Network (KPSN) has pointed out in an earlier statement, that “roads allow the military to bring heavy weapons into Karen areas, and villagers are often in danger of being shot near these roads despite the ceasefire.” To make matters worse, a proposed meeting between the KNLA and the Myanmar Army to discuss and attempt to resolve the situation was cancelled by the Myanmar Army, allegedly because the KNLA’s Brigade 5 Commander – the area in which the conflict has taken place – was not going to attend. This is despite the fact that the meeting was supposed to be attended by the Military Affairs Negotiation Team which was established by the Karen National Union – the political wing of the KNLA – exactly to deal with matters related to the NCA.

Over 2,000 people are displaced due to the subsequent fighting and hundreds more are living in fear. Building the road is significant, as it is part of a strategy to enhance the Myanmar Army’s political, economic and military power in the area which was previously inaccessible before the signing of the ceasefire.

The fractured and tense nature of the peace process, including the fragility of ceasefires was not lost on the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) during its 37th Session in March 2018. The HRC’s Resolution on Myanmar highlighted this very issue, “expressing concern at the violations of the Agreement against signatory groups.”

The violations of ceasefires and the systemic and institutionalized human rights violations committed by the Myanmar Army is a pattern of violence and displacement that has been ongoing for many decades throughout the country. In Kachin State which has seen some of the the worst of the armed conflict since 2011, even pursuing justice for murdered family members results in persecution. A family member of one of the two ethnic Kachin farmers extra judicially killed by the Myanmar Army in Mansi Township, Kachin State, has been charged under Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Association Act – a law used by successive military regimes in its campaigns of terror against ethnic nationalities – for alleged links with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). As the indigenous peoples’ statement points out, “Decades of these Tatmadaw [Myanmar Army] abuses have so traumatized us that mere mention of the Tatmadaw brings back nightmares.”

“Decades of these Tatmadaw [Myanmar Army] abuses have so traumatized us that mere mention of the Tatmadaw brings back nightmares.”

Indigenous Karen Village Leaders

Both the statement from the Third Karen Women’s Seminar and that of the Indigenous Karen Village Leaders also emphasize the importance of local communities deciding the terms of development. For example, the indigenous peoples implore the State Counsellor to “urge the Myanmar Army to respect and acknowledge our rights as Indigenous people to decide our own futures and engage in community-driven development that is compatible with our needs, our vision for peace, and our cultural values.” The Third Karen Women’s Seminar statement “calls on all stakeholders to stop mega development projects in all ethnic areas until there is genuine peace and a political settlement.” This is vital as many of the offensives by the Myanmar Army coincide with infrastructure construction, resource extraction, or land confiscations for agribusiness. In the context of a liberalizing economy and integration into global markets, the desire to pursue such aggressive state-centered projects are coming at the expense of indigenous peoples traditional livelihood and cultural practices that have long taken place on territories and lands that have belonged to their ancestors. Thus, any analysis of conflict must also acknowledge the economic benefits to the Myanmar Army and private business resulting from the ceasefire agreements that at the same time have damaging social, cultural and environmental impacts on indigenous peoples.

The statements from the Third Karen Women’s Seminar and the Indigenous Karen Village Leaders both highlight the pressing need for a peace process that is substantive, involves compromises and political will on the part of the Myanmar Army, recognizes indigenous ways of life, and above all protects ethnic and indigenous peoples that have borne the burden of the world’s longest civil war. As the new President, U Win Myint, comes into office, and as the State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi celebrates two years in charge of the country, these concerns regarding self-determination and ethnic equality must no longer be sidelined, and indeed must be prioritized. Meanwhile, all actors involved in Myanmar’s peace process must ensure the Myanmar Army does not violate the NCA. Otherwise the NCA is merely a piece of paper with no meaning or guarantee of the security of the ethnic civilians in ceasefire areas.

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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

Myanmar: New President Must Do more to Hold Perpetrators to Account
By Amnesty International

Petition Calling for Tatmadaw to Immediately Withdraw its Troops and Cease Military Road Construction in northern Mutraw (Hpapun) District, Karen State
By Indigenous Karen leaders of 16 villages in Luthaw Township

Third Karen Women’s Seminar Statement
By Karen Women’s Organization

ND-Burma 2017 Report on the Human Rights Situation Finds Military Continues to Block Justice for Abuses
By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

ND-Burma မွ ထုုတ္ျပန္သည့္ ၂၀၁၇ ခုုႏွစ္ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရးအေျခအေန အစီရင္ခံစာအရ အၾကမ္းဖက္ခ်ိဳး ေဖာက္မႈမ်ားအတြက္ တရားမ ွ် တမႈရရွိရန္ႀကိဳးပမ္းမႈမ်ားကိုု စစ္တပ္မွ ဆက္လက္ တားဆီး ဟန္႔တားေန
By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

reports

Reports

Report on the Human Rights Situation in Burma (January – December 2017)
By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

Human Rights Monitoring Report (1-31 March 2018)
By Odhikar

Killing and torture of civilians by Burma Army in Kyaukme and Mong Kung townships
By Shan Human Rights Foundation


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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