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“They Block Everything”: Avoidable Deprivations in Humanitarian Aid to Ethnic Civilians Displaced by War in Kachin State, Myanma

August 30th, 2018  •  Author:   Fortify Rights  •  4 minute read


More than seven years after war resumed between the Myanmar Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)—the main ethnic army operating in Kachin State—more than 106,000 ethnic civilians remain forcibly displaced in Kachin and northern Shan states. The Myanmar Army has killed, raped, and tortured civilians with impunity, and the Myanmar Army and KIA continue to lay landmines and use child soldiers.

Meanwhile, forcibly displaced civilians in Kachin and northern Shan states lack adequate humanitarian aid. While it has been widely known that displaced civilians in Kachin State lack adequate access to aid, much less is known about why and how aid fails to reach those in need. This report documents how civilian and military authorities in Myanmar have worked in concert since 2011 to weaponize the denial of humanitarian aid to Kachin State. While the Myanmar military is the biggest obstacle to the delivery of humanitarian aid to Kachin civilians, the previous administration of President Thein Sein (2011 to 2016) and the current administration of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (2016 to present) have demonstrated continuity in their respective policies to deprive war-affected Kachin civilians of adequate humanitarian aid.

This report also finds that Chinese authorities urged Myanmar authorities and nonstate ethnic armies to prevent the United Nations and international humanitarian aid organizations from operating on the Myanmar side of the border near China’s Yunnan Province.

Kachin State’s internally displaced persons (IDPs) are currently located in 140 displacement sites, an estimated 40 percent of which are in areas beyond the control of the Government of Myanmar and in territory administered by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political body associated with the KIA.

The Government of Myanmar—and particularly the Myanmar military—have severely and systematically limited humanitarian access to displaced populations in Kachin State by imposing onerous and unnecessary travel restrictions on humanitarian aid organizations and failing to provide them with the necessary authorizations. These measures drive avoidable deprivations in aid and have left tens of thousands of displaced civilians without adequate access to food, healthcare, shelter, and other life-saving aid and assistance.

The government-imposed travel authorization process for humanitarian organizations is complicated, time-consuming, and inconsistent. Few requests for travel authorization for humanitarian purposes are unconditionally approved, and some international humanitarian aid organizations have stopped applying for travel authorizations to areas in Kachin State due to the perceived futility of the process. This report finds that from June 2017 to June 2018, the Government of Myanmar unconditionally approved approximately five percent of 562 humanitarian aid applications for travel authorization to government-controlled areas by international humanitarian agencies.

Even when the government provides travel authorizations for humanitarian organizations, it often imposes overly burdensome conditions, including restrictions on travel routes, aid-delivery locations, and types of aid. These restrictions limit the effective delivery of aid to populations in need.

“There is no food for people on the border”, said “Zau Raw”, a 60-year-old displaced Kachin man in KIA territory who witnessed Myanmar Army soldiers loot money from aid trucks attempting to access KIA territory, before turning the trucks away. “They block everything. All trucks that are trying to cross into KIA-controlled areas are blocked.”

“Sometimes we’ll have [travel authorization], but only for Myitkyina town or [the government will] give [approval for] Waingmaw or Mansi [townships], but we’re not allowed to go there by road”, said a representative of an international humanitarian organization working in Kachin State. “They’re putting in these interesting clauses that make it impossible to actually go. It’s not real access.”

Recently, the Myanmar authorities took steps to criminalize humanitarian aid groups. On May 21, 2018 the Kachin State Minister of Security and Border Affairs sent a letter to the Kachin Baptist Convention—one of the largest providers of aid to displaced communities in Kachin State—threatening them with prosecution under Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act for traveling to deliver aid in an area under the control of the KIA. Conviction under Article 17(1) carries a three-year prison sentence and/or a fine.

Download full report in English HERE.

Download the report summary in Burmese HERE.