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International Acclaim for Burma’s Reforms is Cause for Deep Concern for Ethnic National Peoples

By Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust  •  February 16, 2012

‘They All Came to the Spotlight and They Didn’t See Us in the Darkness’

The ethnic national peoples of Burma who comprise 40% of the population and occupy 60% of the land are deeply worried by the international community’s enthusiastic endorsement of the Burmese government’s recent reforms, according to representatives who met a delegation from HART February 20-27 th .

According to a Shan leader: “when foreign leaders stepped on Burmese soil, they brought great advantages to the Burma Government and nothing to the ethnic national peoples.”

Although HART can report some improvements in Chin and Karenni States, there is widespread fear in other States that the concessions made to the Burmese Government may have disastrous consequences for them. Leaders and local people whom we met from Shan, Karen and Kachin States and a spokesperson for the Rohingya people claim that the Burmese Government has received all its desired rewards: Chairmanship of the ASEAN Conference, hosting the Asia Games, lifting of EU travel sanctions and massive opportunities for funding through aid and investment – but there have been no benefits for the ethnic national peoples.

They fear that they will suffer irreversible harm for their people and pillaging of their natural resources. Particular issues identified to HART include:

  • Recent Ceasefire Agreements allow Burmese military to regroup, occupy more land and expand supplies; they are already being broken – for example with fierce fighting last week in Eastern Shan State;
  • Foreign funding for ‘Aid’ and ‘Development’ will escalate investment in building dams and pipelines as well as other forms of resource exploitation, causing irreversible harm to people and the environment, with massive dislocation of ethnic nationals from their lands – with no consultation and little or no compensation; flooding of villages and vast tracts of fertile land; pollution of rivers; destruction of livelihoods; and increased regional instability as armed resistance movements try to defend the rights of local people. Even the halting of the construction of the Myitsone Dam was only agreed ‘for the duration of this government’. It can be restarted; none of the equipment has been removed and local people have not been allowed to return to their land.
  • There is an urgent need for comprehensive Peace Agreements instead of cease-fires in order to address the escalating suffering of many ethnic national peoples, such as the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Karen exiles in camps on the Thai-Burma border and the half million Shan refugees, many living in dire conditions as migrant workers in Thailand; and the war-related human right abuses and tragedies associated with continuing fighting in Kachin and northern Shan States.
  • The ethnic national peoples urge the international community to protect their rights and not to allow the Burmese Government to use new-found credibility and financial resources- and not  to exploit them further. They particularly request measures to ensure informed consultation with ethnic national peoples before ‘aid’ and ‘development’ programmes are initiated; to guarantee fair compensation; and to monitor implementation to ensure protection of local people from human rights abuses.
  • Unless appropriate measures are taken to protect the rights and livelihoods of ethnic national peoples, there will be continuing conflict and instability for the Burmese nation which may impact regional stability. 17 armed resistance groups are active along almost all of the borders, in most of the areas rich in natural resources and in 30% of Burma’s territory.

Caroline (Baroness) Cox emphasises ‘It is therefore essential for the international community to recognise the concerns of the ethnic national peoples and to ensure their full participation in any political agreements affecting the Burmese nation – if the suffering of their people is not to become even worse and if there is not to be continuing, irreversible loss of their historic heritage, their culture, their lands and their livelihoods.’

Download the full report here.

For interviews with Baroness Cox please contact Lydia Tanner (HART Communications Officer) on lydia.tanner@hart-uk.org or 0208 204 5661.

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This post is in: Ethnic Nationalities

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