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4 – 10 June: Burma’s Inequalities Must be Addressed Through National Reconciliation and Broad Reforms

June 11, 2012

The past week has brought shocking news of sectarian tensions erupting in violence in Arakan State, while 9 June marked one year since armed conflict broke out in Kachin State, ending a 17-year long ceasefire agreement between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). These problems highlight the urgent need for national reconciliation across political, ethnic and religious lines, and comprehensive reforms that address deep inequalities in Burma.

On 8 June, the Kachin Women’s Association – Thailand (KWAT) released a new report at a press conference with other Kachin organizations to highlight the ongoing armed conflict and human rights abuses. KWAT’s report documents how in the last year, the people of Kachin State have faced arbitrary arrest, torture, forced labor, rape and sexual violence at the hands of the Burma Army who continue to commit these crimes with impunity. Among the most horrendous accounts are those of women being gang-raped, tortured and used as sexual slaves by Burma Army soldiers. More than 75,000 people have fled the fighting and human rights violations in Kachin State, but receive virtually no humanitarian assistance. After being blocked by the government on several occasions, the UN is now only providing food rations to a few thousand internally displaced persons on a monthly basis, leaving people in a precarious situation with no end in sight as ceasefire negotiations have failed repeatedly.

On 5 June, Kachin organizations and communities around the world issued a letter to President Thein Sein calling for an immediate end to the humanitarian crisis. The letter, which was copied to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma Tomás Ojea Quintana, was endorsed by 71 organizations, including regional and international non-governmental organizations. The letter was a part of actions organized around the world to highlight the dire situation; events were held in Burma, Thailand, Japan, Australia, India, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, Canada and the US, with more planned in the coming weeks. For more news and photos of these events, please see here.

This week has also brought troubling news about sectarian tensions boiling over in violent attacks between Buddhist Rakhines and Muslim Rohingya in several townships in Arakan State. It is still too early to obtain objective accounts of what is happening on the ground; a declared state of emergency and imposed curfew have yet to quell the violence or heated responses to the situation from throughout the country and around the world.

In such moments of crisis, it is important to remember our common humanity and that under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights [and] everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in [the] Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Sadly, the state-run media’s use of a derogatory term for Muslims has fuelled the tensions, inciting divisions and discrimination along the very lines the Universal Declaration of Human Rights aims to eliminate. The situation in Arakan State sadly illustrates how urgently national reconciliation is needed in order to address issues of political, social, ethnic and religious inequalities throughout Burma.

With the lifting of sanctions, countries such as the US and most recently Australia have said they will continue to encourage further reforms and monitor the human rights situation in Burma. This week’s problems in Arakan State have underscored the need for the international community to push for comprehensive reforms and peace initiatives that address issues of human rights violations and discrimination that are deeply rooted in the country.

News Highlights

Sectarian violence breaks out in Arakan State; President Thein Sein declares a state of emergency

Rangoon Division Minister warns journalists about biased reports regarding the situation in Arakan State that encourage violence and pose a threat to national security, and lays out ethical guidelines for non-state media (Burmese)

Inside Burma

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi dismisses speculation that her high-profile visit in Thailand annoyed the government

President Thein Sein removes deputy ministers of Post and Telecommunication, and Energy

As labour strikes increase in Rangoon, Minister of Industry calls for more support of trade unions and the protection of workers’ rights

Thura Shwe Mann, speaker of the lower house of Parliament, indicates he is open to parliamentary discussions to revise the Constitution

Authorities tell the All Burma Federation of Student Unions to register as an official association or face imprisonment

Kachin Independence Army soldiers shut down a Burma Army checkpoint collecting taxes from civilians in Northern Shan State

Burma Army is reported to extort money from villagers living along the Tavoy to Kanchanaburi road, in Southern Burma

More than 100 households and 20 acres of farmland in Kyaukpyu Township, Arakan State, are forced to make way for an airport expansion project with only partial compensation

New media center opens in Rangoon under the supervision of well-known comedian Zarganar

Burma will issue a 10,000-kyat banknote that will be the country’s highest-denomination currency

Authorities say electricity supply has returned to normal in most parts of the country except in some areas of Rangoon and Mandalay

Regional

A workshop in Mae La refugee camp sets the groundwork for the possible repatriation of displaced civilian by 2015

Burma delegation led by Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin to make an official visit to the Philippines to attend the second meeting of the Manila-Yangon Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation

International

Australia lifts its remaining travel and financial sanctions against military figures involved in past human rights abuses and announces a new $3 million package of assistance for human rights initiatives

US and UK call for an immediate halt to the sectarian violence that has racked Arakan State

Opinions

Curb Your Burma Enthusiasm
By Khin Ohmar
The Wall Street Journal

One Year of the Kachin War
By Min Zin
The Irrawaddy

Burma: Talking Peace, Waging War
By Rena Pederson
The Freedom Collection

Latest From the Blog

Global Actions Calling for an End to the Humanitarian Crisis in Kachin State
By Burma Partnership

Burma Has Two Faces, One for the International Community and One for the Ethnic People
By Burma Partnership

Actions

Kachin people urge the President and the world to address their conflict as they mark the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the fighting

Around 40 people stage a protest at the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok to criticize the ongoing armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in Kachin State

Thousands of miners in Mandalay Division’s Yamethin Township protest against an order from the Ministry of Mining demanding the suspension of all mining operations across the country

Statements and Press Releases

Urgent Appeal to President Thein Sein to End the Humanitarian Crisis in Kachin State
By 71 Kachin organizations and communities around the world, and regional and international non-governmental organizations

Myanmar at Risk of Land-Grabbing Epidemic
By Asian Legal Resource Centre

Burmese Activists Still Remain In Jail – Free Shwe Htoo!
By Burma Campaign UK

Kachin and Supporters Protest at Embassy in Bangkok; Deliver Letter to President Thein Sein
By Burma Partnership

Kachin People Highlight Crisis and Call for an End to Conflict in Burma’s Kachin State
By Burma Partnership

CSW Condemns Religiously-Motivated Violence in Burma and Calls for Religious Freedom, Tolerance and Harmony
By Christian Solidarity Worldwide

CSW Calls on Burma Army to Stop Attacks on Kachin and Begin a Peace Process After One Year of War
By Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Reports

The War in Kachin State: A Year of More Displacement and Human Rights Abuses
By Altsean-Burma

Ongoing Impunity: Continued Burma Army Atrocities Against the Kachin People
By Kachin Women’s Association – Thailand

This post is in: Weekly Highlights