You Cannot Ignore Us: Victims of Human Rights Violations from 1970 – 2017 Outline Their Desires for Justice

Background and outline

This report has been prepared by the Reparations Working Group, initiated by the Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma (ND-Burma). The Working Group currently has 19 members and is campaigning for a government reparations programme.

The findings of this report are based on interviews conducted with victims of human rights violations between 2017 – 2018. The majority of interviewees had experienced either the repression of the 8888 uprising, the military operation during the 1991 Bogalay crisis in Irrawaddy Region, or the ongoing conflict in northern Shan and Kachin states. Testimonies came from conflict survivors, former political prisoners, and land grab victims. Interviewees and their families had suffered a range of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest, torture, killing, disappearance, rape, forced relocation, and arbitrary taxation

The report is divided into three parts. In the first part, survivor testimonies outline the impact of human rights violations and their desires for justice. The second part presents civil society action to help victims of human rights violations – a ‘blueprint’ for healing the wounds of the past. And the final section outlines our detailed recommendations to the Burmese government.

Summary

Impact of human rights violations

“I have suffered from economic hardship after my husband was arrested. I don’t know how to make business because I used to work as a farmer.[…] We have got food from the IDP camp but it’s not enough.”    
A woman whose husband has been jailed by the military

The most common impact of human rights violations was economic hardship. Conflict survivors were faced with the loss of a breadwinner due to extrajudicial killing, disappearance or imprisonment; or ongoing health problems as a result of torture. Land grab victims lost their livelihood along with their land. Former political prisoners could not work due to health problems, social ostracisation, and a lack of skills following incarceration.

A large number of  respondents said they continued to suffer physical and mental health problems. For conflict victims, this was a result of torture or harsh conditions in detention facilities or IDP camps. Former political prisoners continued to suffer the impact of torture, as well as age-related sickness. Land grab victims often suffered mental anguish following the loss of their property and accompanying legal battles to try and get it back.

Many respondents also had to terminate their own or their children’s education due to economic hardship.

 Desires for Justice

“Even Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said forget about the past however we still feel pain in our heart,”     
Former political prisoner

The most common desire for justice was institutional reform to prevent the human rights violation from happening again. This included: an end to conflict; self-determination for ethnic nationalities; demilitarisation of ethnic areas; security sector reform to ensure respect for human rights; an end to land confiscations; and respect for freedom of expression.

Interviewees also asked for compensation and symbolic forms of reparations such as acknowledgment and apology on the part of government and/or perpetrators. Many asked for restitution of their situation before the human rights violation took place, including: return of confiscated land and property; release of a relative wrongly imprisoned; full restoration of civil and political rights. Victims across the three categories asked for a mix of measures to help them rebuild their lives.

There has been impunity for the majority of cases in our dataset: three had seen some of the perpetrators sentenced to jail and in two military-led investigations were ongoing. In our 14 years’ experience of documenting human rights violations we have seen that the culture of impunity in Burma has led to a lack of faith in the legal process, with victims fearing futility, costs, and retribution from perpetrators. Our report highlights judicial harassment and military obstruction as key challenges to justice in Burma.

Recommendations

Our recommendations are for the Burmese government, which we believe must urgently deliver a reparations programme to address the needs of Burma’s many survivors of human rights violations.

Some of the key recommendations are:

Institutional Reform:

  • Adopt a Reparations Law that acknowledges mass human rights violations have been committed and that victims require reparations through an administrative government programme.
  • Adopt a military code of conduct that meets international human rights standards and prosecute soldiers accused of human rights violations in civilian, not military courts.
  • Ratify the UN Convention Against Torture, including the optional protocol, and amend the draft Prison Law to meet international standards for the treatment of prisoners.

Symbolic satisfaction: 

  • Publicly recognise that mass human rights violations have been committed, apologise for those violations, and accept that victims deserve reparations.
  • Recognise political prisoners and provide a definition of the term; provide a formal, public pardon; expunge their criminal records; and end ongoing surveillance and harassment.

Restitution:

  • Provide full property restitution or commensurate financial compensation for those who have lost their land due to conflict, military decree or private enterprise.
  • Where possible provide restitution of IDP and refugee land and property through voluntary and dignified return in accordance with the Pinheiro Principles.
  • Reinstate citizenship revoked following exile and subsequent application for foreign citizenship for those wishing to return.

Compensation:

  • Provide financial compensation schemes for victims of human rights violations through a reparations law.

Rehabilitation:

  • Provide free-of-charge healthcare, including mental health services, for victims of human rights violations continuing to suffer medical issues.

Download full report HERE.

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