Ahead of 20 June, 2020 World Refugee Day, we the 123 undersigned civil society organizations call for an immediate end to the ongoing armed conflict, human rights violations and humanitarian crises in ethnic areas and for the establishment of a genuine federal democracy that protects and respects the rights of all people from Myanmar.
We are deeply concerned that despite the transition to so-called democracy since 2011, the world’s longest civil war has continued to displace hundreds of thousands of ethnic people who have sought safety within different parts of their ancestral land within Myanmar as well as in neighboring countries, including Thailand, Bangladesh, India and Malaysia. This ongoing displacement is a testament to the failed peace process, as fighting between the Myanmar military and the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) has continued, even in areas where the Myanmar government and the EAOs have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.
Meanwhile, the main perpetrator of human rights violations, the Myanmar military, continues to enjoy impunity under the 2008 military-drafted Constitution. The same violent, systematic and widespread tactics that were used by the Myanmar military against other ethnic people who have been displaced is now being wielded with might against civilians in Rakhine and Chin States, as whole villages are burned to ashes. Civilians – including women and children – are being killed by airstrikes and arbitrarily detained and tortured by the Myanmar military. These acts are in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention, and are being carried out under the cover of an Internet blackout that persists in eight townships in Rakhine and Chin States. In other ethnic areas, such as Shan State, torture and extrajudicial killing of ethnic Shan civilians is ongoing while for Ta’ang communities they live in fear of arbitrary arrest, torture and forced portering. In Karen State, fighting between the Myanmar military and the Karen National Liberation Army – the armed wing of the Karen National Union – has been ongoing, leading to displacement of villagers, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, landmines throughout the country continue to pose a threat to villagers in conflict-affected areas.
The failing peace process and the ongoing human rights violations are deeply concerning for many of the nearly 100,000, mostly Karen and Karenni refugees who have remained in the nine refugee camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border. They are struggling to maintain their livelihoods and survive as funding for refugees has decreased drastically. If the ongoing conflict and violence had not already made clear the lack of preparedness to receive refugees, the handful of recent returnees’ lack of access to education and health, identification, and livelihood has.
Meanwhile, those displaced inside the country in Myanmar also suffer from limited humanitarian aid as we see some of the worst conditions for IDPs that we have observed in decades. For example, in places like Mon State where government’s delivery of aid to remote locations has not reached those in need amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, while there are 110,000 IDPs in Kachin and northern Shan State, international humanitarian aid to the approximately 40,000 IDPs who are residing in Kachin Independence Organization-controlled areas has been blocked by the government since 2016, and the emergence of COVID-19 has made it even more difficult for local aid groups to reach these populations. Furthermore, IDP camps such as Ei Tu Hta in Karen State and the six Shan camps along the Shan-Thailand border are also suffering from a debilitating lack of essential aid. We are concerned that these IDPs inside the country may be left to starve without any food during the rainy season.
We are also deeply concerned that the homes and land that belong to both refugees and IDPs has been and is being confiscated by the Myanmar military, businesses and other malign actors. Land laws only further legitimize and facilitate large-scale land grabbing without recognition of customary land laws. There is currently no government land policy or system that provides restitution of housing, land and property for displaced persons that complies with the Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and IDPs (The Pinheiro Principles).
Alarmingly, The Ministry of Social Welfare Relief and Resettlement-led National IDP Camp Closure Strategy in Karen, Kachin, Shan and Rakhine States is moving forward without consultation with the displaced communities themselves or civil society organizations who have not been able to receive any information or offer input into the strategy. These areas have all observed clashes in recent years, displacing thousands, while in Rakhine State, fierce fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army has led to the displacement of 160,000 people since the end of 2018.
In addition, in the world’s largest and overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh, over 900,000 Rohingya refugees remain as a consequence of Myanmar military’s ‘clearance operations’ in 2017. Plans to repatriate refugees have been unsuccessful as Rohingya’s right to self-identification, citizenship and legal protection has been denied. They remain in the refugee camps, struggling for their survival and facing uncertainty to return to their places of origin in northern Rakhine State. They, like many ethnic displaced communities, continue to call for justice and accountability for the grave crimes they have endured.
Refugees and IDPs have been driven out of their homes and their rights and livelihood deprived but let us be clear that they have hopes and dreams. They yearn for security and a better future. They want to contribute to making their communities a better place. We thus recommend the following to the Myanmar Government:
The above recommendations are to facilitate a voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of displaced ethnic communities from Myanmar. The undersigned organizations stand in solidarity with all refugees and internally displaced people across the world ahead of the World Refugee Day in recognition of their plight, as well as their strength and courage to continue to seek a better tomorrow.
For further information, please contact:
Progressive Voice, email@example.com
Karen Women’s Organization, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kachin Women’s Association Thailand, email@example.com
Chin Human Rights Organization, firstname.lastname@example.org
Human Rights Foundation of Monland, email@example.com