By-Election Losses, Violence and Faltering Trust
As the recent by-election results indicate a clear loss of trust in the National League for Democracy (NLD) throughout ethnic areas, the desperate need for further trust-building in the peace process is palpable as two ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) announced the postponement of their participation in further peace talks. Meanwhile, the number of ethnic people displaced by armed conflict continues to increase by the thousands as the conflict in northern Myanmar worsens. To add insult to injury, 15 local Kachin aid workers with connections to a religious organization – the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) – who have served as the sole source of humanitarian aid for a significant number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) – have been targeted and detained by the Myanmar military.
Another round of fighting erupted between signatories and non-signatories to the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) in northern Shan State, forcing thousands of villagers to flee to Hsipaw and Lashio from surrounding villages. The conflict took place as the members of the Northern Alliance – the Arakan Army, the Kachin Independence Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, all of whom have not signed the NCA – met with the Myanmar Government’s peace commission in Kunming, China. More than 1,000 villagers fled fighting between members of the Northern Alliance and the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army – South (RCSS/SSA – S) – a signatory to the NCA – taking refuge in neighboring monasteries. The RCSS/SSA – S has also been engaging in armed clashes with the Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army – North (SSPP/SSA – N) and as the fighting intensified over the week, over 2,000 villagers from Namtu Township took refuge in churches and monasteries in Lashio.
While the continuing increase in the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) indicates a need for increased support from humanitarian aid organizations, the Myanmar military has instead demonstrated that civilian aid workers can be targeted and detained for carrying out their invaluable work. In Kachin State, the Myanmar military detained 15 members of the KBC who have no ties to any EAOs. The 15 detainees have since been released, but the members of the KBC could continue to face charges under 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act as the Myanmar military has accused the group of associating with the Kachin Independence Army.
The Myanmar military and the government have continuously placed severe and systematic limitations on humanitarian access to displaced ethnic communities in Kachin and northern Shan State through the imposition of unnecessary travel restrictions against humanitarian aid organizations. They have continued to weaponize humanitarian aid by depriving aid to tens of thousands of IDPs without access to food and healthcare as well as other life-saving aid and assistance – acts that are in serious violation of international law and which may constitute war crimes.
As the fighting continues unabated, there is a clear indication that the government is losing the trust of the people in Myanmar – particularly of the ethnic communities and EAOs. The Karen National Union – one of the largest EAOs and a signatory to the NCA – has announced it will postpone its participation in further talks in the peace process, stating the need for internal discussions after the government announced an agreement regarding the formation of a single army, thus indicating a significant loss of trust in the process. Following suit, the RCSS/SSA – S – also a signatory to the NCA – has indicated it is also [postponing its] participation in further discussions in the peace process.
In addition, the NLD won only seven of the 13 constituencies which were up for grabs in the by-elections held on Saturday. The results indicate a possible trend for the upcoming general elections in 2020. While the NLD was able to secure votes in central Myanmar where majority Bamar Buddhists reside, in northern Kachin State, they came in third in an Upper House race that they secured during the 2015 general elections. In their place, the military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party won the seat ahead of the Kachin Development Party, mainly through a large number of advance votes from a military cantonment. These results indicate a need for serious reform within the NLD and reconsideration of their current approach and policies in ethnic areas. This includes the perpetuation of Burmanization policies carried out by previous military governments which led to the current status quo of a dominant Bamar Buddhist majority, while further marginalizing, discriminating and segregating the ethnic and religious minority communities.
As the peace process continues to falter and civilians bear the brunt of the armed conflict, more must be done to urgently address root causes of conflict, end impunity of the Myanmar military and prevent further violence. Prevention, as described by the Chair of the International Independent Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar during the recent UN Security Council briefing, is “premised on accountability.” While the world continues to be fixated on the Rohingya crisis, their horrific situation must not be seen in isolation. Similar patterns of human rights violations are observed in Kachin and Shan States which are, according to the Chairperson, “predominantly committed by the Myanmar military and are rooted in the same policies, tactics and conduct,” threaten the peace, security and well-being of the region and the world.
While the Myanmar military continues to commit possible genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes against ethnic and religious minority communities, the world must urgently act to end these atrocities and hold the Myanmar military to account. To this end, members of the UN Security Council must join together to urgently refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court while the UN General Assembly must ensure that the upcoming resolution on Myanmar fully supports the establishment and funding of the ongoing independent mechanism to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes. Only when victims can find justice and accountability for the decades of grave violations they have suffered and perpetrators are held to account, the people of Myanmar can begin to heal and find sustainable solutions towards peace and reconciliation.
 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
Statements and Press Releases
By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners
By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners
By Burma Human Rights Network
By Burma Human Rights Network
By European Commission
By Karen National Union Headquarters
By Tavoyan Women’s Union
By Yangon Youth Network
By Freedom House
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.”