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Myanmar: End Military Attacks On Kachin And Shan Civilians

By Fortify Rights  •  November 6, 2014

War Crimes Continue with Impunity in Northern Myanmar

(Yangon, November 6, 2014)— The Myanmar Army has targeted, attacked, and killed civilians with impunity in ongoing fighting in Kachin State and northern Shan State, Fortify Rights said in a briefing published today. The government of Myanmar should act to end such attacks and hold perpetrators accountable.

“The government of Myanmar wants the world to believe its human rights record is beyond reproach, but that’s just not the reality,” said Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights. “The romantic narrative of sweeping political change is inconsistent with the situation of ongoing war crimes and widespread impunity.”

In a continuing investigation into the conduct of the war between the Myanmar Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Fortify Rights documented incidents in 2011, 2012, and 2013 in which Myanmar Army soldiers attacked civilians and non-military targets in contested territories. Between September 2013 and August 2014, Fortify Rights conducted nearly 100 interviews in the conflict zones of northern Myanmar.

Most of the attacks documented by Fortify Rights occurred in civilian-populated areas with no presence of KIA or other non-state armed groups. These attacks led to widespread displacement of civilians and appear to be designed to undermine the KIA’s civilian-support structures and to gain effective control of strategic locations, including trade routes and areas rich in natural resources.

The Myanmar Army shelled and razed civilian homes, attacked makeshift camps of displaced persons, and entered villages while opening fire on civilians with small arms, Fortify Rights said. In some cases, soldiers committed extrajudicial killings.

“They shot at the villagers,” said “Khon Li Aung” (not her real name), an ethnic Kachin woman referring to Myanmar Army soldiers who entered and attacked her village Mung Ding Pa on October 22, 2013. “Some [civilians] were running to the church and some were coming from the fields to get to the church.”

Humanitarian law requires parties to armed conflict to distinguish between military and non-military targets, including civilians, and to refrain from attacking civilians. Moreover, attacking civilians is a war crime under international criminal law.

Kachin and Shan civilians also fled their villages to escape torture by the Myanmar authorities. On June 9, 2014, Fortify Rights released a 72-page report, “I Thought They Would Kill Me”: Ending Wartime Torture in Northern Myanmar, documenting the widespread and systematic use of torture against Kachin civilians in villages, places of detention, and other locations by the Myanmar Army, Myanmar Police Department, and Military Intelligence. Fortify Rights believes that the instances of torture described in the report constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity and that military commanders, including senior military officers, could be held liable for torture under a theory of command responsibility.

“The people of Kachin and northern Shan states are ready for peace and accountability, but entire communities remain under attack,” Matthew Smith said. “The government’s denial of wartime abuses and the international community’s soft-stepping has gone on for too long.”

Kachin State is home to multi-billion dollar jade deposits, minerals, timber, lucrative trade routes to China, and significant hydropower potential, all forming the backdrop to the conflict. These factors are compounded by ethnic and political disputes dating back decades. The conflict in Kachin State resumed in June 2011 in the area of a Chinese-investor-led hydropower dam near Sang Gang village, Kachin State, ending a 17-year-long ceasefire agreement.

Since 2011, the government and 14 non-state ethnic armies signed preliminary ceasefire agreements. The KIA is not among those with a ceasefire arrangement with the government. Negotiations between the government and non-state ethnic armies have failed to result in a nationwide ceasefire.

“If the government genuinely wants peace in ethnic states, it must end and rectify attacks on civilians and other abuses,” said Matthew Smith. “The survivors of these attacks have been denied their right to access justice and compensation for their losses—that needs to change.”

Read the briefing paper and recommendations here

For more information, please contact:

Matthew Smith, executive director, Fortify Rights +;
matthew.smith@fortifyrights.org; On Twitter @matthewfsmith @fortifyrights

Read the 72-page Fortify Rights report, “I Thought They Would Kill Me”: Ending Wartime Torture in Northern Myanmar (June 2014)

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This post is in: Press Release

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