Many have hailed the recent announcement that President Thein Sein has ordered the Burma Army to cease offensive attacks on the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), instructing the Army to engage only in self-defense. Indeed, were the Burma Army to put an end to the offensive that it began in June, breaking a seventeen year ceasefire, this would be a positive development. However, as of yet, this appears to be only one more instance of the regime making promises designed to satisfy the calls for change from the international community without taking real action to improve the situation for the people of Burma. Multiple credible reports indicate that Burma Army attacks on KIA positions have continued over the course of the past week, despite President’s order.
Refugees fleeing the fighting and attendant human rights abuses are in increasing danger as the weather turns colder and the makeshift camps become more crowded, increasing the risk of disease. In one positive development, the regime permitted the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees, along with other UN bodies based in Burma, to visit refugees in KIA controlled areas for the first time. However, one visit from the UN cannot solve this crisis and refugees continue to be in desperate need of further assistance. The regime must grant the UN and international organizations continued access to these areas and permit them to continue to provide relief to civilians in need.
Burma’s newly established National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also visited Kachin State this week, to assess the condition of refugees but it remained in government controlled areas and did not visit KIA controlled areas, where most of the refugees are located. While the body did note that children forced to flee because of the conflict were suffering “psychological trauma” and adults were feeling a sense of insecurity, it also proved that it is unwilling and unable to act as an independent human rights monitoring body. The Commission’s chairman, U Win Mra stated that he had not read reports from independent human rights groups documenting the commission of human rights violations against Kachin civilians and that the body did not investigate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity during its visit because “our mission was mainly concerned with the humanitarian aspect.”
The dire situation of civilians in conflict areas is not unique to Kachin State. The Karen Human Rights Group released a report this week noting that human rights abuses against Karen ethnic civilians have continued unabated over the course of the past year. As Saw Albert, field director for the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), told the Democratic Voice of Burma: “Some people are discussing changes since the election, and the potential for reform. But the villagers speaking and working with us are struggling to respond to the same abuses now as in the past…Nothing that has happened over the last 12 months has created new opportunities for them to address this abuse – let alone resolved the root causes.”
It is time that the international community not be convinced by mere words and insist that in order to believe that change has truly come to Burma, human rights abuses against civilians must end and the root causes of conflict must be addressed.Tags: Armed Conflict, Burma Partnership, Ethnic Nationalities, Myanmar National Human Rights Commission