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Displaced Childhoods: Human Rights and International Crimes against Burma’s Internally Displaced Children

By Partners Relief, Free Burma Rangers  •  April 7, 2010

Launch of Displaced Childhoods report at 11am on April 7
Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand
Penthouse, Maneeya Center
518/5 Ploenchit Road, Bangkok

Displaced Childhoods is the first comprehensive report which documents the experiences of internally displaced children against the backdrop of Burma’s obligations under domestic and international law. Burma’s children have been scarred by death, destruction, loss and neglect at the hands of Burma’s military. For more than 40 years, Burma’s military government has forced children from their homes and villages, subjected them to extreme human rights violations, and  left them to fend for their survival in displacement settings without access to basic provisions or humanitarian services.

From 2002 to the end of 2009, more than 580,000 civilians, including over 190,000 children, have been forcibly displaced from their homes in Eastern Burma alone. An estimated one to three million people live as internally displaced persons (IDPs) throughout Burma. A third of these are children.

The report in three sections examines the reasons for displacement; conflict, development, human rights violations, types of displacement; relocation sites, ceasefire areas, and hide sites and finally presents a legal section analyzing the law and directly presenting evidence of the law being broken with primary sources.

According to the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, national authorities are responsible to “prevent and avoid conditions that might lead to displacement of persons.” Far from fulfilling its obligations under international law, the actions of Burma’s military regime have led to violent attacks on civilians, irresponsible development projects and widespread human rights abuses which have resulted in new instances of displacement throughout the country. In 2009 alone, the military regime was responsible, directly or indirectly, for the displacement of some 112,000 villagers in eastern Burma. Of those displaced, children are particularly at risk.

This report documents how childhood is often disrupted by violence, insecurity, and poverty. Children are witnesses of and subject to arbitrary and extrajudicial killings, torture and mistreatment, arbitrary arrest and detention, rape and sexual violence, forced labor and portering, recruitment as child soldiers, and restrictions on basic and fundamental freedoms. They are inordinately affected by the rampant poverty, inadequate schools and poor healthcare that exists in Burma.

One Kayan Padaung man said:

Everyone in my family got sick within a year of being forcibly relocated. My three-year-old and six-year-old got sick so quickly. They couldn’t eat and got terrible fever and diarrhea. Within a week they were both dead…Most of the children from my community died in that year.[1]

A Karen couple from Muthraw District, Karen State described how their daughter died while they were on the run from the Burma Army. They said:

During the attack on our village, a mortar went off near our daughter. She became traumatized by the explosion and went into shock. While we were in hiding, she got a high fever and could not eat. If we had the money, we could have gone to the hospital but we had nothing. If we had tried to go and met with the SPDC we’d also have problems. We tried to save our daughter’s life but we couldn’t.[2]

While nearly all children in Burma are affected to some extent by insecurity, poverty, and lack of adequate social services, internally displaced children face particularly extreme and appalling conditions in displacement settings. This report documents how IDPs are typically forced to leave their villages, homes, farms, and livelihoods with very little advanced warning. They find themselves in precariously unstable circumstances, lacking protection from human rights violations committed by the Burma Army and in danger of further displacement with little access to the most basic necessities, including adequate and sustainable food sources, clean drinking water, stable shelters, schools, and healthcare facilities.

Based on the incidents documented in this report, it is clear the SPDC is in contravention of its legal obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. Considering the nature and scale of displacement in Burma, the SPDC’s actions may also amount to more extreme violations, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. While the wounds inflicted by the SPDC will take many generations to heal, before the healing process can begin those responsible must be brought to justice and held accountable for their actions.

Partners and Free Burma Rangers (FBR) are calling for a formal investigation through a UN Commission of Inquiry to evaluate allegations of international crimes committed against the civilian population in Burma, including crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Partners and FBR collected information from at least 200 people affected by displacement in Burma through community-based surveys and border interviews and conducted 82 in depth interviews with IDPs and former IDPs living along the Thai-Burma border between June and December 2009. Interviewees included parents and grandparents as well as children from Arakan State, Chin State, Kachin State, Karen State, Karenni State, Mon State, and Shan State with experience living in SPDC-designated relocation sites, in ceasefire areas, and in hiding. Between July 2009 and January 2010, 52 FBR teams surveyed more than 93 people from the ethnic Karen and Shan communities, including 38 women and 46 children.

Steve Gumaer, Chief Executive Officer of Partners, said:  “I have asked displaced people in Burma what they need and they almost always reply, ‘We need food, security, shelter, and school for our children’. This report bears witness to the context of that appeal and our desire to do our part to make their voice heard in the international community. Please give serious consideration to the findings and recommendations and help us bring free full lives to the children of Burma.”

David Eubank, director of FBR, said: “The dictators have committed their lives, fortune, and honor to keeping power. If we want to be a part of freedom in Burma by resisting the power of hate with love, we can do no less. We love the people of Burma and stand with them, this is our heart.  We believe that oppression is morally wrong, this is our mind. We go because the people of Burma count and it is right to help them.  This is our soul. As you read this report please think about your role in helping the children of Burma.

For more information email info@partnersworld.org or call Steve Gumaer on  +47 90 29 30 06 (before the launch event, contact Richard Chilvers on +66 879 191812)

NOTES TO EDITORS:

Please let us know if you are planning to attend the press conference.

Partners is a Christian international relief and development agency founded in 1995. It  provides humanitarian relief to refugee and internally displaced communities impacted by the war in Burma. Partners also provides education and medical care and training to the people of Burma. For more information visit www.partnersworld.org

Free Burma Rangers is a multi-ethnic, humanitarian service organization with 53 teams in the ethnic areas of Burma. Its mission is to bring help, hope, and love to people of all faiths and ethnicities in the conflict zones of Burma. FBR is committed to shining a light on the actions of the military regime, to stand with the oppressed, and support leaders and organizations committed to liberty, justice and service. For more information visit www.freeburmarangers.org


[1] Interview with N.R. from Shardaw Township, Karenni State, 27 October 2009.

[2] Interview with K.G. and M.E. from Muthraw District, Karen State, 15 November 2009.

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