Burma Partnership, Strengthening Cooperation for a Free Burma
Signup Now!
Join our mailing list for latest news and information about Burma.

7 – 20 April: Burma Army Makes a Mockery of the Census and its’ Backers

April 21, 2014

10.-Pic-Kai-soldiers-e1358254062732Just 48 hours after peace talks in Rangoon concluded on 8 April between the government and ethnic non-state armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the Burma Army launched another round of offensives in southern Kachin State against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Fighting has been on-going since, forcing thousands of Kachin, Shan, and Palaung villagers to flee, many of whom had already been displaced in this conflict.

Burma Army soldiers originally used the nationwide census as a pretext to accompany enumerators into KIA territory and launch attacks on various KIA outposts. State media has reported 22 dead due to the resulting clashes but the true figure is probably much higher. Meanwhile, according to a statement released by a coalition of humanitarian groups working in the conflict-affected areas, over three thousand villagers have been forced to flee, many of whom had to leave an internally displaced people (IDP) camp, from which they had settled after previous attacks. Several local news sources have stated the figure of those displaced maybe as high as ten thousand people.

The fighting took place near the China border and many people crossed, or at least attempted to cross, into China, to find sanctuary against the mortar shelling and gunfire. Yet China closed the official border crossing and its soldiers are patrolling the area in an attempt to prevent people entering its’ territory, leaving them at the mercy of Burma Army troops. Those who did manage to cross are facing pressure from Chinese authorities to return. China is a signatory to the Refugee Convention and as such is obligated not to violate the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits the forced return of refugees to places where their life is in danger. With the border so close to the fighting, China has both a moral and legal obligation to provide safe passage for those fleeing conflict into its territory.

This is yet another black eye for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and its donors who were behind the poorly planned census that now bears partial responsibility for extreme violence in both Kachin and Arakan States. It is also a black eye for those who are espousing the success of the peace process. These attacks came just two days after peace talks in Rangoon. While the government talks peace, the army shoots its guns.

The Burma Army remains the most powerful institution in Burma and is completely unreformed. It still commits widespread human rights violations with impunity, continues to wage war in ethnic areas, raping and sexually assaulting women and children of ethnic minority, and has shown zero commitment to the peace process. Furthermore, it has used the nationwide census, which has been heavily backed financially by western governments and donors , and planned by the UN, as a pretext to cause more suffering to the ethnic civilian population in the most impoverished war-torn border areas. The international community needs to not only condemn the actions of the Burma Army, but take concrete punitive measures against the government in order to demonstrate that it is taking the issue seriously.

The western donors and governments who are behind the census must also swallow their pride and accept that this operation has been a failure and has certainly not adhered to the principle of ‘do no harm.’ Harm has been done, and responsibility must be taken for this harm to prevent further abuse and to heal the wounds. A start would be to urge the Burma Government to provide unhindered access and humanitarian aid to the local organizations that are caring for the displaced people where there is a current shortage of medicine, accommodation, drinking water and blankets. Meanwhile, the Burma government and its peace negotiating team must stop the pretence that it has control over the Burma Army, and start to implement reforms that reduce the power of this destructive institution. They must play a proactive role in holding Burma Army’s activities in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian norms, while urging them to commit to the peace process. Otherwise, there will never be an end to the suffering of Burma’s ethnic people.

News Highlights

Census is extended until the end of May with issues surrounding the identification of the Rohingya cited as a one of the cause

Inside Burma

U Win Tin, Burma’s democracy elder and co-founder of the National League for Democracy dies at age 84

A journalist from Democratic Voice of Burma is sentenced to one year in prison for trespassing while covering a story on Japanese funded scholarships, while Myanmar Journalists Network are to submit proposed amendments to the Printers and Publishing Law

Peace talks in Rangoon between ethnic armed groups, government officials, parliamentarians and military representatives conclude with an agreement in principle although disagreements remain over wording as the Burma Army insists on compliance with the 2008 Constitution, while renewed fighting between the Burma Army and Kachin Independence Army intensifies

Days after the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Min Aung Hlaing meets ethnic armed groups in Shan State, including the The United Wa State Army (UWSA), the UWSA and the Shan State Army South clash over gold mining in Shan State

Government pledges to ensure safety of humanitarian aid workers returning to Arakan State although still no sign of return, while Government commission charged with investigating recent attacks on INGOs in Sittwe finds the Arakan State government at fault

Displaced villagers from Thameelay in Rangoon receive healthcare assistance from Dr. Cynthia Maung’s Thailand-based Mae Tao Clinic


Shwe Mann, parliament house speaker visits China

Reuters wins Pulitzer Prize for reports on persecution of Muslims in Burma while two Thailand-based journalists face trial for citing a paragraph from the award-winning work which insinuates that Thai officials profit from the smuggling of Rohingya Muslims from Burma

Refugees from Chin State in India falling to victims of sexual assaults as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and local organizations struggle to effectively protect the displaced women and children


Daw Aung San Suu Kyi travels to France and Germany to meet senior government officials and receive a peace prize

North Korean officials visit their counterparts in Naypyidaw to discuss territorial dispute between North and South Korea, but experts say alleged weapons-related deals a possible topic of discussion

The UK calls the Burmese Ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in an effort to restore humanitarian access in Arakan State and US calls on Burma to address Rohingya crisis at the UN Security Council Meeting

US State Department official announces President Obama’s return visit to Burma later this year

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs highlights concerns in Arakan State with President Thein Sein and other government ministers during his visit to Burma


Internet Freedom in Myanmar: A Curse or an Opportunity
By Jillian C. York
Al Jazeera

Latest from the Blog

Poorly Planned Census in Disarray as Calls for Postponement Grow Stronger
By Burma Partnership


TAKE ACTION! Send an email to Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development, calling for an inquiry into why the Department for International Development (DFID) funded a census, which increased ethnic tensions, triggered violence in Arakan State and is causing discrimination against the Rohingya

Villagers displaced by the Thilawa Special Economic Zone project request another meeting with the main financial backer, Japan International Cooperation Agency, to air grievances

A movement to prevent the spread of hate speech, Panzagar, meaning flower speech, spreads throughout the country

Newspapers in Burma print black front pages in protest at recent arrests of journalists

Local trainees at the Letpadaung copper mining project stage a protest calling for safer working conditions and fair wage

Statements and Press Releases

ASEAN Peoples’ Forum 2014 Representatives Meet with ASEAN Affairs Department of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar to Prepare for an Interface Meeting with ASEAN Leaders
By ASEAN Civil Society Conference / ASEAN Peoples’ Forum 2014 Steering Committee

Humanitarian Crisis Update for Kachin State and Northern Shan State
By BRIDGE, Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), Kachin Relief and Development Committee (KRDC), Kachin Women Association (KWA), Kachin Development Group (KDG), Karuna Myanmar Social Services (KMSS), Metta Development Foundation, Shalom Foundation and Wunpawng Ninghtoi (WPN)

Burma Campaign UK Welcomes Foreign Office Quarterly Human Rights Update
By Burma Campaign UK

DFID Should Conduct Inquiry Into Burma Census Funding
By Burma Campaign UK

Rape and Sexual Violence by the Burmese Army
By Burma Campaign UK

Ongoing Sexual Violence in Burma Requires International Investigation
By Burma Campaign UK

Burma Army Soldiers Beat, Stab and Rob Villager in Northern Shan State
By Shan Human Rights Foundation

Joint FCO-DFID Call for Urgent Restoration Humanitarian Access to all Communities in Rakhine State. Mr Swire Summons Burmese Ambassador
By UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and UK Department for International Development

Myanmar: UN expert raises alarm on Rakhine State
By United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

This post is in: Weekly Highlights