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Campaigns: Crimes Against Humanity

The military regime’s oppression extends beyond those who oppose it politically, reaching into all corners of Burma. Decades of military dictatorship have wreaked havoc on the country, and ethnic people—especially those in resource-rich areas and areas of armed conflict—have paid the highest price. In the past 13 years, over 3,500 ethnic villages have been destroyed in Burma.

Burma’s community organizations, international organizations and the United Nations have compiled extensive documentation providing evidence of the severity of the junta’s crimes, including forced relocation, forced labor, sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture, and the recruitment of child soldiers. Read more about these issues.

This documentation demonstrates that attacks on civilian populations are not isolated, but are widespread and systematic tactics of the regime used to secure their economic and political control. As such, they constitute not only human rights violations, but are crimes against humanity and war crimes.  And yet, the military regime has not been held accountable for these acts; impunity prevails in Burma.

The profitability of exploiting natural resources in ethnic areas makes it all the more important for the regime to maintain political control of these communities. The junta wants to ensure it continues to profit from development projects, such as oil and natural gas pipelines, hydro-electric dams, and mining. Read more about environmental and economic justice issues.

The 2008 Constitution, which will be enacted through the 2010 elections, centralizes military dominance over the ethnic areas, ensures continued control over natural resources, and denies demands for ethnic rights and greater autonomy. Many ethnic communities oppose the extreme discrimination entrenched in the 2008 Constitution and have publicly condemned the elections. Read more about the 2010 elections.

The regime’s preparations for the 2010 elections have only intensified the suffering of ethnic civilians. In 2009 alone, military offensives in Eastern Burma forced over 43,800 ethnic people to flee the country, just the latest wave of refugees streaming over Burma’s borders. At the end of July 2009, the military regime renewed its scorched earth campaigns in central Shan state, driving more than 10,000 ethnic Shan villagers from their homes, arresting and torturing over 100 villagers. A month earlier, the regime began an upsurge of attacks in Karen state, in an attempt to obliterate ethnic Karen opposition before the 2010 elections, causing over 6,600 people to flee for safety along the Thai-Burma border. In August, conflict broke out between the regime and the small Kokang ethnic group because of its resistance to transform into a Border Guard Force, under Burma Army command. The conflict sent over 37,000 refugees into China. China has already begun preparing more refugee camps in anticipation of further attacks against civilians, and NGOs in Thailand also expect an increase in refugees before the 2010 elections.

Despite the severity of the regime’s crimes and the dire consequences for regional stability, the international community has done little to address impunity and prevent further crimes. Meanwhile, the military-written 2008 Constitution provides blanket immunity to the regime, sanctioning the continuance of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The international community must take action to ensure that the victims of the junta’s crimes are able to seek the justice that is denied to them in the 2008 Constitution.

Draft Recommendations from the movement for democracy and rights of ethnic nationalities:

  • Establish a global arms embargo to prevent the regime’s access to new weapons and new weapons technology that can be used in scorched earth campaigns to devastate ethnic civilians. The military’s recent attacks against ethnic armies and civilians in Karen and Shan states suggests that it will continue to use its access to international arms for brutal implementation of its so-called “disciplined democracy.”
  • Establish a Commission of Inquiry into international crimes in Burma, including sexual violence, the recruitment and use of child soldiers, forced labor, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, extrajudicial killings and disappearances. Considering the 2008 Constitution’s blanket immunity for crimes committed by the SPDC, a Commission of Inquiry could be an initial step towards ending the reign of impunity in Burma and deterring the regime’s future perpetration of widespread and systematic human rights abuses against ethnic civilians.