Join us in celebrating Blog Action Day 2013 – Human Rights with our Top Ten List of Human Rights Abuses in Burma. Over the course of 2013, Burmese government officials have reached out to western nations to convince them to lift sanctions and invest in Burma. But these very same government officials continue to be responsible for ordering human rights abuses. Which human rights abuses have been particularly egregious in 2013? Keep reading to find out…
10. Land Confiscation
New foreign investment has led the government to confiscate millions of acres to use for mega development projects (e.g. mining, dams, pipelines). Two 2012 farmland laws stripped Burma’s farmers of the right to property – the government owns all “private” land, and farmers who protest seizures face severe penalties. Private, military, and government enterprises have been allowed to forcibly relocate entire towns, and destroy homes, religious buildings, and land without providing compensation. See where the government has seized land on our interactive Development & Development Map.
9. Arbitrary Arrests
The Burmese government symbolically releases prisoners of conscience before international trips, using them as pawns, but it simultaneously continues to detain local activists and over 1,300 ethnic people, mainly Kachin and Rohingya men and boys. From June-September 2013 alone, 61 new activists were arrested, and as of the first week of October, around 130 people were awaiting trial for charges under the notorious 2012 Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law (“section 18”).
These new arrests prove that the Burmese government actively monitors the activities of its civilians, because not only are many activists being arrested under old laws, they are also being arrested for “offenses” that were committed years ago. One example is the July arrest of Daw Bawk Jar, a Kachin female activist known for providing legal advocacy to Kachin farmers whose land was confiscated by US-sanctioned tycoon Tay Zaw and the Burmese military. She was outrageously charged with homicide under the government’s absurd allegation that she treated a Kachin IDP last year who later died.
8. Forced Labor
The problem of endemic forced labor and of widespread child labor plagues Burma’s most disadvantaged. The US State Department’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons report highlights forced labor practices in Burma, particularly in state agricultural and commercial enterprises, and in ethnic and border regions. The UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma has repeatedly documented forced labor cases, and communities affected by land confiscation or in conflict/post-conflict areas are most at risk. Ethnic people – in 2013 those particularly in Shan, Kachin, and Karen States – are forced by the Burmese military to serve as porters, human shields, landmine sweepers, and construction workers.
Burma is consistently regarded as one of the world’s most extreme in terms of child labor violations, and has remained obstinate about addressing child labor. Nearly one in five children in Burma between the ages of 10 and 14 are victims of forced labor, according to a UNICEF report, including many children who are sex trafficked.
7. Child Soldiers
The Burmese military is notorious for its use of child soldiers. More than 5,000 children are currently serving in the military, not including those who were recruited as children but are now past their 18th birthdays. Poor and uneducated children are the most likely to be recruited, and recruiters have been known to use threats and force against them. Children who refuse can be shackled and fettered; many will never see their families again. Children who do manage to escape from the army are detained and treated as adult deserters.
Military perpetrators enjoy total impunity, and the government continues to fail to comply with terms agreed upon in a 2012 joint action plan with the UN that aimed to end the use of child soldiers. Learn more on our child soldiers page.
The Burmese government, military, and police use torture and severe beatings to interrogate, intimidate, and discriminate against rural protestors, ethnic civilians, and prisoners. Last month, the Burmese military tortured a 16-yr-old Kachin boy who was coming home from a soccer game. The military also tortured ten male villagers in Nhka Ga village, northern Kachin State. The men were tied up, hung from their feet, and beaten inside their church. Two of the villagers, a church deacon and a young man, were killed, and their bodies were dumped alongside a road; others, including the village’s pastor, are in critical condition but are being held as hostages and denied medical care. Instances of torture in Kachin State have increased since August – beating and killing villagers is how the military prepared for the early October peace talks between the Kachin and the government, which unsurprisingly did not lead to a ceasefire agreement.
5. Human Trafficking
Labor and sex trafficking have escalated in Burma’s most vulnerable areas. Displaced Kachin women and girls on the China-Burma border are extremely vulnerable to sex trafficking; as are Rohingya Muslim women who have been rendered stateless by the government. Those who flee Burma for safety or economic reasons are often looped into trafficking rings on Thai or Malay fishing boats or factories. This year, the Thai navy has reportedly participated in trafficking Rohingya who are fleeing religious violence. Refugees from Burma in the Thai fishing industry are among the most defenseless victims of human trafficking worldwide; nearly 60% of migrants interviewed in a recent UN survey reported having witnessed a fellow worker being murdered. But the trafficking of Burmese migrants has not given our stomachs pause: most of our shrimp and canned tuna in the US comes from Thailand’s trafficking-driven fishing industry.
The US government, along with the US stomach, also turns a blind eye to trafficking in Burma, and falsely upgraded Burma’s ranking in the US State Department’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons report so that the US could avoid imposing mandatory sanctions. Find out more about human trafficking in Burma on our interactive Conflict & Human Rights map.
4. Needlessly Creating IDPs & Refugees
Hundreds of thousands have fled to live in refugee camps or communities in Thailand, Bangladesh, and Malaysia, all countries that refuse to ratify the UN Convention on Refugees and severely limit the basic rights of refugees. In addition, over 250,000 people have been internally displaced since 2011. These currently include…
- 140,00 people in Arakan State, mostly Rohingya, have been confined to apartheid-style internally displaced persons (IDP) camps due to ongoing anti-Muslim violence. The Rohingya are victims of what the UN is calling a deliberately dire humanitarian crisis because the government has blocked humanitarian aid.
- 10,000 Burmese Muslims in central Burma are also confined to camps, and due to the government’s perpetuation of anti-Muslim sentiment and policies, they will likely never be able to return to their property. When the UN special rapporteur attempted to visit these IDPs in August, his convoy was attacked by a Buddhist mob; the government ludicrously denied the attack.
- 1,000 Shan were displaced when the military broke a ceasefire agreement around a government hydropower project along the Salween River in spring 2013.
- 100,000 Kachin have been confined to camps along the Burma-China border. The government blocks international or domestic humanitarian aid from reaching the majority of IDPs who live in Kachin-controlled areas. Take action – ask the US Government to direct humanitarian assistance to Kachin IDPs.
3. Rape & Sexual Violence
Rape and sexual violence have long been used as weapons of war in Burma. On September 3, Burmese soldiers gang raped a group of women and girls in northern Kachin State. The soldiers then abandoned the women naked in the forest. Rohingya women are also being targeted for rape and sexual violence by Burmese security forces, and the US State Department has reported that Rohingya women are being kept as sex slaves on Burmese military bases in Arakan State.
Burma calculatedly refused to sign the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative at the UN in September 2013. The international community, despite committing to end sexual violence in conflict zones around the world, has not placed any coercive pressure on the Burmese government to sign and has instead continued awarding the Burmese government further diplomatic legitimacy and economic concessions without preconditions.
2. Extrajudicial Killings
Over the past year, Burmese soldiers have murdered many civilians – men, women, and children – with impunity. At the end of September, troops fired at two farmers sitting in their homes in Shan State; one escaped but the other, 50-yr-old Loong Sai Lek, was bound up and later found dead on the road. Rohingya Muslims held captive in IDP camps over the past year have also been shot dead with impunity by security forces guarding the camps. The Burmese military has murdered many Kachin civilians over the course of the past year, and there have been many reported disappearances.
1. Ethnic Cleansing
Burmese authorities and Arakanese groups have committed crimes against humanity and imposed an ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims since June 2012. There are about 800,000 Rohingya left in Burma, and they mainly live in Arakan State, western Burma. Hundreds have been killed in domestic attacks, though the exact number is unknown because the government blocks international access to the Rohingya. Since the attacks began, thousands have fled Burma by boat, and at least hundreds have drowned. President Thein Sein, who has said the “only solution” to anti-Muslim violence is to deport all Rohingya or put them in camps, is ostensibly seeking to push all Rohingya out of the country by subjecting them to a fabricated and completely avoidable humanitarian crisis. Rohingya IDPs now languish under an imposed system of apartheid, and humanitarian aid workers assisting the Rohingya are intimidated and threatened.
The government discriminatorily considers Rohingya to be illegal Bengali immigrants and rendered them stateless through the 1981 Citizenship Law. The government has long exercised anti-Rohingya policies, including restrictions on travel, employment, education, worship, construction of religious buildings, marriage, childbearing, etc. The government’s discriminatory policies have served to legitimize attacks and massacres against Rohingya, and since March 2013, against other Muslims throughout Burma. Muslims are targets of the “969 campaign,” which in the name of the Buddhist faith, promotes anti-Muslim hate and stigmatizes people who sell goods to Muslims.
The Burmese government’s systemic impunity and the military’s independence from civilian control exacerbate human rights abuses – perpetrators of violence are not held accountable for their actions, and the corrupt legal code allows abuses to continue unabated. We hope that the international community will choose to hold the Burmese government accountable for its crimes and that in 2014, there will be no need for a top ten list for human rights abuses in Burma.
How can we realize genuine peace in Burma? Take action – call on the UN to strongly condemn the Burmese government for ongoing human rights abuses and impose measurable benchmarks for reform.