Untold Miseries

Photo from HRW

“While I was taking a shower, the Burmese army soldiers came and fired a machine gun. My children had to jump down from the hut in the farm, and I had to hide to not be shot…. The soldiers … were standing and shooting. If we didn’t flee, we’d have been shot dead, because the bullets hit the ceiling.”

– F.F., 35, female, Kachin State, Burma, November 16, 2011

Today Human Rights Watch released a new report that highlights the ongoing abuses and aid crisis in Kachin State, Burma.  “‘Untold Miseries’: Wartime Abuses and Forced Displacement in Burma’s Kachin State” is an essential look into a conflict zone that has not received enough international attention.

The report is based on over 100 interviews with displaced people, aid workers, army deserters and community leaders.

Here are some key points:

“- Kachin civilians described to Human Rights Watch how Burmese army soldiers have attacked Kachin villages, razed
homes, pillaged properties, and forced the displacement of tens of thousands of people.

– Soldiers have threatened and tortured civilians during interrogations for information about KIA insurgents, and raped women. The army has also used antipersonnel mines and conscripted forced labor. Children as young as 14 have been tortured and forced to serve as army porters, including on the front lines. The KIA has also been involved in serious abuses, including using child soldiers and antipersonnel landmines.

– At a time of significant political progress in Burma, the dire human rights and humanitarian situation for Burma’s Kachin people has received inadequate domestic and international attention. Approximately 75,000 men, women, and children have fled their homes since June 2011, most seeking refuge in some 30 camps for the internally displaced along the China border in KIA-controlled areas. After fighting began,thousands of civilians hid from the Burmese army in the jungle, some for up to two months, before continuing via rugged mountain terrain to makeshift camps. Their numbers have steadily grown since June.

– Many abuses documented in this report constitute serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights
law, including deliberate or indiscriminate attacks on civilians, unlawful killings, torture and ill-treatment, the use of child soldiers, and the use of abusive forced labor in conflict zones. In addition, both parties to the conflict are using antipersonnel mines—indiscriminate weapons that do not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Their placement throughout Kachin State will complicate any future repatriation of IDPs and refugees, and threaten civilians who return to areas that have not been cleared.

– A robust humanitarian aid effort from governmentcontrolled territory to KIO-controlled areas has been effectively blocked by Burmese authorities. The government only granted relevant United Nations agencies access to areas of significant need in December, six months after it started military operations. Even then, access has been very limited.  To date, the government has not allowed further UN aid deliveries

– Local civil society organizations have delivered considerable aid in government-controlled areas, but they have been constrained by limited funding and capacity, and in some instances, by government obstruction to access unauthorized areas where there is a population in need

– The developments in Kachin State stand in stark contrast to hopeful human rights developments in lowland Burma in recent months. It is essential that support for recent reforms not lead to international complacency about the serious human rights violations still plaguing Burma. Legal and political changes are only beginning to make headway and there is a long way to go before all Burmese benefit from them. Among those who have seen little improvement to date are many ethnic minority populations, with conditions considerably worsening in Kachin State. As long as ethnic minority populations continue to suffer abuses, Burma’s prospects for reconciliation and development will be stifled.

As a 58-year-old Kachin farmer told Human Rights Watch: “We are restricted, we are abused, and we are not free. The life of the Kachin people is very miserable now.”

Also important is protecting human rights and investigating abuses. From the release:

“Burma’s newly created National Human Rights Commission has not played an effective role in monitoring abuses in Kachin State, Human Rights Watch said. In February 2012, the commission’s chairman, Win Mra, announced that the commission would not investigate allegations of abuses in the country’s ethnic armed conflict areas due to the government’s efforts to negotiate ceasefires.

“Concerned governments should urgently support an independent international mechanism to investigate abuses by all sides to the conflict in Kachin State and in other ethnic areas,” Pearson said [deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch]. “An objective investigation into abuses in Burma’s ethnic areas won’t happen unless the UN is involved, and such an effort can help deter future abuses.””

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