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Summary of the Public Hearing on Human Rights Abuses in Burma

By SAPA Working Group on ASEAN, Task Force on ASEAN and Burma, Burma Partnership, South East Asia People’s Center, KontraS and Solidaritas Indonesia for ASEAN People  •  November 7, 2011

MONDAY NOVEMBER 7, 2011, 9:30AM – 12:30 PM


“Among the most tragic features of the military campaign in ethnic areas [of Burma] is the disproportionate effect on civilian populations… the killing, terrorizing or displacement of civilians is often part of a deliberate strategy”. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, 2006, Special Rapporteur on Myanmar

Introduction by Khin Ohmar from Burma Partnership:

Civilians in conflict areas ofBurmaface gross human rights abuses on a daily basis. The situation since the November 2010 elections has not improved. While there may be some changes in the political situation in Naypyidaw andRangoon, civilians in conflict areas are seeing no evidence of change.

The public hearing will cover the following crimes that are happening inBurma: rape, torture, forced labor, use of landmines and forced displacement. However, many other crimes are occurring throughoutBurma. It is also important to keep in mind that crimes occur in concert with one another i.e. the laying of landmines around homes and fields may force civilians to flee their villages.

Consuelo Katrina Lopa from SEACA on the crime of rape

Rape of women and young girls by Burma Army soldiers and police is rampant in ethnic areas. Soldiers are given free reign to rape ethnic women with prosecution of violators beeing non-existant. The Shan Women’s Action Network documented the rapes of 12 women between the ages of 12 and 50 from March-July2011 inNorthernShanState. Kachin Women’s Association Thailand documented the rapes of 37 women from June-August 2011, 13 of these women were killed.  Video testimony documents the rape of several individuals, including a disabled girl and elderly woman, inKachinStateas well as a teenager inShanState. A statement by a former Burma Army soldier who says that troops are given license to rape is also included.

Debbie Stothard from Altsean-Burma on the crime of forced labor and the laying of landmines:

Burma’s regime has long relied on forced labor for the completion of infrastructure projects and support to military camps. The International Labour Organization has been calling onBurmato end the practice for more than a decade and has referred to the steps taken by the regime on the issue as “totally inadequate”.

Some of the most egregious cases of forced labor occur through:

  • Forced Recruitment of Child Soldiers – Recent estimates suggest that there are over 70,000 children below the age of 18 serving in the Burma Army in violation of international humanitarian law.
  • Forced Portering in which civilians are required to carry supplies for moving army units and are often used as human shields and forced to walk in front of the units as they travel through contested territory.

In video testimony, a Kachin villager describes his experience being captured by the Burma Army and forced to provide them with labor for tasks including collecting and transporting the dead bodies of soldiers killed in combat. Former child soldiers and family members describe how they were forcibly recruited into the armed forces and prevented from returning to their villages.

Burma’s regime is the only government in the world actively laying new landmines. In 2009 alone, 4000 people inBurmawere killed or injured stepping on landmines.Burma’s landmine injury rate is third in the world, behind onlyAfghanistanandColombia. Even more problematic is the use of human minesweepers, civilians who are required to clear brush or walk in front of moving army units in areas where Burma Army soldiers believe mines have been laid in order to clear the hazard for advancing troops. A number of individuals who were forced to serve as porters and human minesweepers provide video testimony. Testimony is also given by a villager who saw her father-in-law wounded when he stepped on a newly laid landmine in the family’s kitchen.

Nyi Nyi Aung on the crime of Torture

Torture of civilians inBurmaoccurs in conflict areas by Burma Army soldiers and is often based on suspicion that villagers are supporting armed groups. But it is also often used against political prisoners during interogation.

Nyi Nyi Aung testifies about the torture he experience inBurma’s prisons between 2009 and 2010. He is an American citizen and former political prisoner who was arrested, blindfolded, and deprived of sleep, food and water. He was beaten constantly to the point where he still suffers from back injuries and his body still bears the consequences of this severe violence. He was denied a fair trial, put in solitary confinement in the most unhygienic conditions, deprived of access to medical care, humiliated, prevented from seeing his family or contacting the American consulate. By video, a Karen villager testifies about his experience being tortured by the Burma Army after being accused of laying the landmine that destroyed an army truck.

Saw Kweh Say from Burma Issues on the crime of forced displacement

Forced Displacement inBurmaoccurs through the burning of villages including homes and fields, the laying of landmines which prevent access to fields or movement in and around villages, orders from Burma Army troops demanding that villagers relocate and/or seizure of homes and other property byBurmaarmy troops. 3,700 Villages and settlements inEastern Burmawere destroyed by the Burma Army since 1996 with 105 destroyed between August 2010 and July 2011. Individuals who have witnessed the burning of homes and villages provide video testimony.

Conclusion / Findings by Rinno Arna

There is a complete lack of respect for the principle of distinction which, according to international humanitarian law and common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, requires that militaries engaged in conflict must distinguish between combatants and non-combatants and must not intentionally direct an attack of any type against non-combatants. Crimes against humanity are any one of a number of predicate acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.  The crimes discussed today likely amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The regime has long denied the existence of these crimes and ignored repeated requests to provide justice and accountability. In June 2011 the regime rejected the recommendation of the Universal Periodic Review UN Human Rights Council that it “investigate and punish all cases of intimidation, harassment, persecution, torture and forced disappearances, especially against political dissidents, journalists, ethnic and religious minorities and human rights defenders.” There is a complete lack of the rule of law inBurmaand, as of yet, no independent judiciary.

Burma is not ready to lead ASEAN: war crimes and crimes against humanity are continuing unabated. Justice and accountability are absent and impunity reigns. Changes taking place in Naypyidaw have not affected civilians in conflict areas or the 1,700 political prisoners that remain behind bars. The behavior ofBurma’s regime does not fit with the mission of ASEAN to “promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries of the region and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter.” ASEAN should not be led by a country that falls so far behind the other countries in the regional group in adherence to international human rights standards.

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This post is in: Crimes Against Humanity

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