Human rights violations in Karen State
Human rights violations in Karen State March to July 2010
Community Based Organisation calls for special UN commission to investigate
crimes against humanityperpetrated by the military junta in Burma
On 30th July 2010, thirty-two US Senators urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to back the creation of a special UN commission to investigate possible crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma. The Senators denounced “the use of child soldiers, the destruction of villages and the displacement of ethnic minorities, the use of rape as a weapon of war, extrajudicial killings, forced relocation, and forced labor” as being part of a consistent pattern of rights abuses targeting civilians . This appeal echoes the call made to the United Nations institutions by Mr. Quintana, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Burma, “to consider the possibility to establish a commission of inquiry with a specific fact finding mandate to address the question of international crimes” in Burma . Yet while human rights and humanitarian organisations have documented a systematic pattern of human rights violations against civilians in Burma and despite calls for a UN investigation into possible crimes against humanity perpetrated by the military regime, human rights abuses and a climate of impunity remain a fact of everyday life for Burmese civilians.
Civilians in Karen State of eastern Burma are deliberately targeted by the Burma Army and their allies, who aim to undermine resistance groups by cutting their links with local communities . In Karen State, civilians including women and children are often the direct targets of military violence. On 22nd March 2010, a 35 year-old woman from Ko Lu village in Kler Lwee Htoo was returning from visiting her father in a nearby village, accompanied by her 5 month-old and 5 year-old sons, when she came across soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion 369 of the Burma Army. The soldiers opened fire with MA1, MA2 and MA3 automatic assault rifles, killing the woman’s 5 year-old son and severely wounding the 5 month-old boy in the right thigh. The mother, who had been shot in the abdomen, walked to Ko Ta village, 40 minutes away, to seek help from the local Back Pack Health Worker Team (BPHWT) medic . The medic bound the wounds of the woman and her son so that they could be carried to Ler Taw Lu village by the villagers as they fled from the Burma Army. As the villagers fled, the SPDC soldiers burnt down Ko Ta village and laid landmines in the fields and in the paths used by people going to tend their crops. In Ler Taw Lu, BPHWT medics provided treatment to the injured mother and her son but were unable to save the child, who became yet another young victim of military violence against civilians.
More recently, on 23rd-24th July 2010, Burma Army troops attacked and burnt down Thada Dae village in Pa Pun, destroying over 70 houses, the high school, and the food supplies and belongings of community members. The attack began with SPDPC soldiers firing artillery rounds into the village, forcing approximately 1000 villagers from Thada Dae and four surrounding villages to flee into the jungle where they hid from the soldiers. One BPHWT medic was shot and killed in the attack. On 25th July, the SPDC troops withdrew after laying landmines around the village. Hiding in the jungle during the monsoon season made the villagers particularly vulnerable to illness: between the 23rd and 28th July, local medics who were part of an Emergency Response Team provided health care to 165 villagers suffering from illnesses such as Acute Respiratory Infection, seasonal flu and malaria. Many of the villagers – being afraid of returning to their village because of the landmines laid by the SPDC but also not wanting to abandon what may be left of their livelihoods – remain in crowded and unsanitary temporary shelters around the village, vulnerable to further attacks by the SPDC and at risk of contracting highly contagious diseases.
Civilians in Karen State are at increased risk of violence and other systematic rights violations in the run-up to the planned 2010 elections and as a consequence of the military junta’s attempts to crush political and armed resistance by ethnic groups in the country’s borderlands. On 25th July, approximately 700 villagers from at least four villages in Myawaddy township fled to Phop Phra town in Tak province of Thailand, following a warning that fighting between the Burma Army and DKBA troops could break out as a consequence of unsuccessful talks over the SPDC’s Border Guard Force (BGF) plan. Most of the villagers who fled into Thailand were women and children; although they were provided with food and drinking water by Thai authorities, the latter advised the villagers that they should not be in Thailand unless there is actual fighting in their villages. Some of these villagers have returned to their homes but others remain in hiding either side of the Thai-Burma border, afraid of an outbreak of violence between the SPDC and battalions of the DKBA that oppose joining the BGF plan. People’s attempts to flee possible violence can also lead to further tragedies – on 29th July, a group of 40 people attempted to cross the Ma Kla Klo river in an attempt to flee to Thailand. The boat sunk and three children, all under the age of five, drowned; the surviving villagers lost all the food and possessions they had been able to bring with them.
Chronic displacement of civilians in eastern Burma is directly and indirectly driven by systematic human rights abuses and militarisation . Humanitarian and human rights NGOs working with communities in eastern Burma have documented ongoing and systematic attacks on civilians, destruction of villages (as well as schools and clinics), forced displacement of civilians by armed groups to relocation sites, forced labour, destruction of food supplies and property, summary executions, torture and rape . A Health and Human Rights Survey conducted in 2004 by medics of the Back Pack Health Worker Team highlighted the adverse health impacts of the systematic human rights violations perpetrated by the military regime and its allies. For example, families forcibly displaced in eastern Burma are two times more likely to incur the death of a child, three times more likely to incur child malnutrition and four times more likely to have a family member injured by a landmine . Community members’ basic right to health is further denied by the lack of health care services and the military’s attempts to prevent medical care provided by Community-Based Organisations from reaching communities in need. Back Pack Health Worker Teams providing assistance to communities in eastern Burma thus have to do their work while hiding from hostile SPDC troops; to date, nine Back Pack medics and one Traditional Birth Attendant have been killed by the SPDC.
The human rights violations reported in Karen State between March and July 2010 are not isolated events but rather part of a consistent pattern of state-sanctioned abuse that takes place within a culture of impunity. Reports by organisations working in eastern Burma provide strong proof of consistent patterns of abuse and reconfirm the conclusion made by the UN Special Rapporteur that: “Given the gross and systematic nature of human rights violations in Myanmar over a period of many years, and the lack of accountability, there is an indication that those human rights violations are the result of a state policy that involves authorities in the executive, military, and judiciary at all levels” . The creation of a UN Commission to investigate possible crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma is an essential first step towards convincing the military regime that the international community is truly committed to human rights and the rule of law and has not completely turned its back on the people of Burma.