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International Community Neglects to Take a Stand as Humanitarian Crisis Deepens in Kachin State

By Burma Partnership  •  May 21, 2012

In a week where the US has significantly eased sanctions against Burma, the plight of the Kachin people remains perilous as the humanitarian situation caused by Burma Army attacks worsens.

The Chairman of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, urging him to do more to help the tens of thousands of Kachin refugees who are suffering from the conflict. The letter speaks of “ethnic cleansing” by the Burma Army and appeals to take action to prevent the situation becoming more “complex.” The Chairman encourages Ban Ki-moon to “facilitate visits by UN personnel to conflict zones and IDP camps in Kachin State, so that appropriate assistance can be arranged and provided to the IDPs.”

With this appeal it is apparent the people of Kachin State are in a dire situation. Human rights abuses such as torture, forced labour and abductions are commonplace while the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT) issued a press release documenting an example of such atrocities whereby an ethnic Kachin woman, a 48 year old mother of twelve, was gang-raped by Burma Army soldiers earlier this month. According to KWAT, “About ten troops beat her with rifle butts, stabbed her with knives, stripped her naked and gang-raped her over a period of three days in the church.” As hundreds of cases have been well documented and reported by women organizations from Burma, the Burma Army uses rape as a weapon of war in its offensives against various ethnic resistance groups over the years. Over 60 cases have been documented since the conflict started in Kachin State nearly one year ago.

The response to this letter by Ban Ki-moon has been to almost gloss over the realities of the situation. His spokesperson, Martin Nesirky commented, “While we have no confirmed information of the situation in the conflict areas the secretary-general calls on all parties to cease offensives and to find a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict there.” The supposed lack of confirmed information goes against the numerous reports by media groups, community-based organizations and rights groups that have been documenting the conflict since it started last June.

The response from the UN Chief has caused anger among human rights groups. Prominent Karen activist Zoya Phan expressed her frustration, especially with the Secretary-General use of words such as “all parties” to stop attacks, as this ignores “the fact that the Burmese army is the aggressor.” She also laments the weak response by the international community to the crisis in Kachin State stating that “the abuses committed by the army and the government are so serious that if Burma were a signatory to the Rome Statute, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court would automatically have opened investigations into the actions of President Thein Sein and Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.”

In a week where reports are being released of horrendous human rights abuses, more people are becoming refugees, the Burma Army continues its attacks, and prominent spokespeople for Burma’s ethnic people express their extreme concern about the crisis in Kachin State, it is ironic and disappointing that the US government has undertaken a significant lifting of sanctions.

Following the premature actions of the EU, Norway, Australia and Canada, the US has lifted its investment ban. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton announced, “Today we say to American business: Invest in Burma.” More businesses will now be eyeing the plentiful natural resources in Kachin State where the Burma Army provides security for large development projects such as dams. As we have seen this past year, however, this security is reflected in an increased military presence that causes protracted conflict, widespread human rights violations, and huge numbers of displaced persons.

With an escalation in conflict and the people in Kachin State continuing to suffer at the hands of the Burma Army, this is not the right time for the international community to be rewarding Thein Sein’s government with the lifting of sanctions. Despite this worsening crisis Hillary Clinton deemed Thein Sein’s actions as “irreversible” contradicting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s warning just a few days earlier that “the democratization process is not irreversible.” As Zoya Phan notes, the international community’s policy of focusing on the positive side of the government’s actions while forgetting the negative consequences is “now costing the lives of Kachin children.”

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