by Naomi H
The number of Kachin people coming to Thailand is growing year by year and the social and economic problems in the Kachin community have also increased accordingly. Recognizing the urgent need for women to organize themselves to help solve these problems both in Kachin State and in Thailand, five far-sighted women formed the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) in Chiang Mai on the 9th of September 1999. Since their founding, KWAT has been at the forefront of documenting human rights violations and gender based violence, leading capacity-building training, and providing direct services.
Today, the US Campaign for Burma team had the opportunity to meet with the incredible staff of the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT).
Kachin state is the northernmost state of Burma. It is bordered by China to the north and east; Shan State to the south; and Sagaing Division and India to the west. After a seventeen year ceasefire with the military regime, fighting resumed in March 2011 with skirmishes regarding illegal dam projects and has continued to escalate without media attention. While the world focused on US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s historic visit to Rangoon, the military regime burned villages in Kachin state.
The armed conflict has exponentially increased grave human rights situation for women and children in Kachin state, and increased the need for the important work of KWAT.
While working near the border with China this December, KWAT team members documented that the situation for women is worsening. With upwards of 15,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), in addition to the already over 60,000 living Kachin IDPs at the border and in China, KWAT witnessed terrible health conditions in the makeshift camps. Living under just a plastic tarp in freezing weather, there are no restroom facilities or medical supplies, and only enough food to nourish half of the struggling community. After months, disease and malnourishment plague the camps.
On 21 December, KWAT witnessed a woman hemorrhaging a stillborn baby. Two hours later she died. This is one story among many. Every day brings more horrific stories. This is especially the case for women and girls who experience these human rights abuses in addition to harassment, rape, and other sexual exploitation by the military as they attempt to find shelter for themselves and their families.
There has been an embarrassing silence from the international community. Only on 12 December did the United Nations bring limited assistance to the Kachin area. Given supplies for 800 households, the Kachin IDPs were forced to divide these meager rations among thousands. With promises to return with more, the United Nations has yet to acknowledge the situation or increase assistance.
While focus on Burma and potential for increased international relations is growing each day, it is important to understand that while there may be small changes occurring in and around Rangoon, ethnic communities continue to experience daily structural human rights abuses at the hand of the military regime. With an important aspect of potential cooperation with Western nations focusing on natural resources – 90% of which are located in ethnic areas – the international community has a responsibility to call for ethnic equality and free, prior, and informed consent of ethnic leadership in these development projects.
The Kachin Women’s Association in Thailand is tirelessly striving for a new paradigm and calls for support from the international community. Please visit: www.kachinwomen.com for frequent updates on women in the Kachin state, and especially human rights abuses associated with the current military conflict in the region.