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Famine Crimes: Military Operations, Forced Migration, and Chronic Hunger in Eastern Burma/Myanmar (2006-2008)

October 18th, 2018  •  Author:   Ken MacLean (Clark University)  •  2 minute read

Tatmadaw battalions carried out dry-season offensives in eastern Burma/Myanmar for decades. The offensives primarily targeted civilian populations, displacing tens of thousands of people each time they occurred. The goal: to cut the ability of the Karen National Union (KNU) to obtain the food, money, intelligence, and recruits needed to maintain a degree of autonomy in a context where successive military regimes sought to destroy it. The Northern Offensive, which lasted approximately two years (2006-2008), was the biggest one to date. The military operations carried out as part of it provide the conflict setting for this report. The goal of the report is two-fold: 1) to document the historical use of food as a weapon against civilians; and 2) to contribute to current discussions of international accountability with regard to ongoing systematic and widespread human rights violations in Burma/Myanmar.

Famine Crimes: Military Operations, Forced Migration, and Chronic Hunger in Eastern Burma/Myanmar (2006-2008) relies on field data gathered during relief missions by two cross-border humanitarian organizations—the Karen Organization for Relief and Development (KORD) and the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP). The data corroborate the findings of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at Harvard University. In 2014, the Clinic published a legal memorandum documenting war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Northern Offensive. The Clinic concluded that three commanding officers could be charged with crimes, as defined in Articles of 7 and 8, respectively, of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

This 604-page report not only corroborates the Clinic’s findings it extends them. The report focuses on an important, but under-examined grave breach of the Geneva Conventions—namely, “the extensive destruction or appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.” The field data, reproduced in summary form in the appendices, detail how Tatmadaw units systematically destroyed, removed, or otherwise rendered useless objects indispensable to survival—namely, agricultural areas, crops, food stuffs, and livestock. The deliberate starvation of civilians as part of the Four Cuts qualifies as a war crime and a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute. Sadly, such tactics remain in use today in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States. It is hoped that this report will inspire other groups to document the famine crimes taking place in these areas.

Download this report HERE.