|What is affected||
|Type of violation||
|Date||01 June 2011|
|Region||A [ Asia ]|
Duty holder(s) /responsible party(ies)
Desperation of displaced in Myanmar’s war-torn north
Posted on 09/30/2012 11:01 AM | Updated 09/30/2012 11:01 AM
LAIZA, Myanmar - As fierce fighting rages between Myanmar’s army and ethnic Kachin rebels, tens of thousands of people forced to flee their homes have become trapped, with conflict on one side and an unsympathetic China on the other.
On the surface, daily life seems to carry on almost as normal in the rebel stronghold town of Laiza, near Myanmar’s border with China in the far north.
But the relentless thud of artillery fire -- often for hours at a time -- provides a near-constant reminder of a bloody conflict that has torn through the area since a 17-year ceasefire between the military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) shattered last June.
Deadly clashes prompted thousands of civilians to seek refuge in camps, cut off from their homes and unable to work their land.
Many months later, their lot has not improved.
We lived peacefully before. But we got scared when others began to leave, 26-year-old Kham Mai told AFP, standing with her baby strapped to her back between the makeshift bamboo dormitories that house hundreds of families at the Je Yang camp near Laiza, where she arrived last year.
Estimates of the number of internally displaced people within Kachin state vary from 75,000, according to the United Nations, to over 100,000 according to Kachin sources.
Most are in KIA-controlled territory, wedged between the combat zone and China -- which last month controversially evicted thousands of ethnic Kachin refugees, forcing them back over the border and into the unrest.
They were sent back into a very difficult situation, said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch.
It is still the rainy season there, there is inadequate food, inadequate potable water, inadequate shelter, he said. It is quite clear that the government is still blocking humanitarian assistance to KIA-controlled areas.
It is an accusation also leveled by the rebels.
The government believes that when nothing is left to eat, the Kachin will surrender, said Colonel James Lum Dau, the Thailand-based deputy foreign affairs chief for the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), the KIA’s political wing.
That is the reason why no one is allowed to go in and help.
Despite government ceasefires with a number of other major ethnic rebel groups across the country -- and an order for the fighting to stop from reformist President Thein Sein as long ago as December -- Lum Dau said there has been no let-up in the conflict.
There is no change, except they sent more troops to Kachin state, he said.
Civil war has gripped parts of Myanmar since independence from British colonial rule in 1948, with many of the country’s ethnic minority groups demanding varying levels of autonomy.
The Kachin accuse the government of pushing dialogue only on the basis of ceasefires and troop withdrawals, neglecting to address long-standing demands for greater political rights. Talks between the two sides have so far proved fruitless.
I think the government is not ready to go to the next step which requires transparency, Major General Gum Maw, KIA’s deputy commander-in-chief, told AFP in Laiza.
A Myanmar minister recently admitted talks with the Kachin were more difficult than with other groups, citing the relative swiftness of eliciting an agreement with Karen rebels, whose rebellion is the world’s longest-running civil war.
When we talked with the Karen, we started from zero. But with the Kachin, we started from minus four... Now we can say we’re at minus one, close to zero, the official told AFP in Naypyidaw.
President Thein Sein said in New York this week that the two sides are working to further strengthen confidence building measures.
Until that can be achieved, it’s the civilians who are bearing the brunt of the war.
Inside the camps it is hard to miss the signs emblazoned with the red-and-blue UK Aid logo of the British government’s Department for International Development (DFID).
With a new £2 million ($3.2 million) budget this year, DFID has been able to provide food, water, shelter and medicine to some 27,500 people, largely in border camps not controlled by the government -- and only with the help of local aid groups.
Access for international agencies to these areas has been difficult, said a western source with knowledge of the situation.
Health and sanitation issues are of particular concern.
The refugees mostly suffer from diarrhea and malaria. They also suffer from hepatitis and malnutrition, said Doi Pyi Sa, chairman of the rebel-run relief committee for refugees, although he said there was enough medicine for the moment.
In this remote region, far away from television cameras and the eyes of the world, the plight of Kachin’s displaced people risks being forgotten, said Robertson.
The situation is extremely desperate now, and is slowly spiraling downwards, he said.
How bad do things need to get before you call it a disaster? - Soe Than Win, Agence France-Presse
See video report: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xt20r0_kachin-refugees-forcibly-evicted-in-southern-china-rights-groups-say_news
Destruction of Property
The Burmese army has pillaged and razed villages in Kachin State since the fighting began, confiscating and destroying civilian property. Civilians told Human Rights Watch they ventured back to their homes after fleeing only to find widespread property destruction.
Eighteen people told Human Rights Watch about the pillaging of their homes and villages. For decades, undersupplied Burmese army soldiers have pillaged ethnic villages to provide for themselves. In 1998, Burma’s War Office declared a policy of economic self-reliance for local units of the Burmese army, largely out of economic necessity to accommodate the burgeoning military, which went from 180,000 soldiers in 1998 to approximately 300,000 in the mid-1990s.106 This prompted local army units to confiscate resources (food, animals, cash, labor, and land) from the civilian population.107 The impact of this policy have been exacerbated by armed conflict and displacement across much of Burma’s rural ethnic areas.108 Army commanders have ordered villagers in their area of authority to provide food—usually rice and livestock—to feed the troops. Villagers under threat of violence, detention, or being conscripted for labor have little choice but to comply.109
The Burmese army has also long engaged in the destruction of villages and means of livelihoods of civilian populations in ethnic conflict areas to deprive insurgents of support from the local population and to punish communities suspected of supporting armed groups.110 Pillaging and destruction of villages directly impacts the food security of the civilian population, which largely comprises subsistence farmers. It also tends to force them to seek food and resources from insurgent groups. There is no accountability of officers and soldiers committing these abuses.
Villagers described to Human Rights Watch the pillaging of their villages by Burmese army units. A Christian pastor, 65, who fled his village on June 10 told Human Rights Watch:
The soldiers took all of our belongings. They took 18 motorbikes, one rice mill, and all the buffalo, pigs, chickens—everything. Some people were going to build a house and the soldiers took all their materials. I don’t know how many soldiers are there now, but when the fighting started there were 500 soldiers who came, and now they are living in the village. They are living in our houses.111
A 58-year-old woman who fled her home in Sang Gang told Human Rights Watch that her family had lost nearly all of their personal effects after the Burmese army entered her village on June 9:
My friends and I [secretly] returned to the house to give the pigs and chickens some food, and when we arrived all the houses [in the village] were messy and [ransacked]. We were very afraid and we wanted to take our food but we could not. Some villagers were in the jungle. We joined them … and then came here [a displaced persons camp]. When I think of our belongings, I feel so much pain. We have tried so hard to collect our things and to save money and to build a house and collect what we need to build our lives.112
A 62-year-old woman who fled Sang Gang as Burmese soldiers shot at her twice, along with her three grandchildren, told Human Rights Watch what she found when she got home:
The next day we returned to the village and found all our belongings were destroyed. We had closed all the doors but they were destroyed. All our wooden clothes boxes were destroyed. All our belongings were thrown everywhere.113
Shopkeeper M. Nan, 22, told Human Rights Watch how the Burmese army entered the
predominantly Kachin village of Hkasang Yang in northern Shan State on September 26.
She and others fled to the jungle and settled on a nearby mountaintop, providing them with a clear vantage point of their village. She said:
We could see around 200 Burmese soldiers based in our village and taking our things and our food and the goods from the shops. They were also killing our chickens and pigs. The traditional Kachin clothes are made with silver—they are very expensive—they took these kinds of traditional clothes too. They took everything from my shop.114
A 35-year-old woman from Daw H’Pum Yang village told Human Rights Watch how on June 17 the Burmese army opened fire on her home while she and her children were inside. She said, “After that, we left the hut and when I came back everything we had was stolen, like mobile phones and clothing and food, everything, even the tractor vehicle and the fuel. The soldiers were very close. We could see them.”115
The vast majority of Kachin are Christian. A 65-year-old Kachin villager from Sang Gang told Human Rights Watch that when the fighting started in June the Burmese army uprooted a large Christian cross from a hilltop regarded by the villagers as sacred, and used it as a stand for their weapons. The villagers had planned to eventually construct a church on the site. He said, “We villagers made a large cross for the [proposed] church [on the hilltop], and the Burmese soldiers took it out of the ground and used it to prop up their big machine guns.”116
Other human rights groups have documented how in November and December the
Burmese army razed homes and Christian churches in several villages in Kachin State, including Namlim Pa, Dawhpum Yang, Dingga, Namsang Yang, Aungja, and Sanpai villages, leading thousands to flee to improvised camps on the border or in China.117 A local humanitarian worker who was guiding villagers as they fled to a remote area of the
China-Burma border told Human Rights Watch, “On [November 9], the Burmese army burned down … Aungja village. Now there are about 1,300 people from 21 villages heading to the border.”118
Plight of Displaced Persons
Since the conflict in Kachin State began in June 2011, at least 75,000 ethnic Kachin have fled their homes and villages to avoid the fighting between the KIA and the Burmese army, and Burmese army abuses. This figure includes approximately 20,000 internally displaced Kachin in Burmese government-controlled areas in towns such as Myitkyina, the state capital, and Bhamo; approximately 45,000 internally displaced who fled to KIA-controlled territory nearer to the Burma-China border; and approximately 10,000 who fled to China, where most live as unrecognized refugees in squalid, improvised town and jungle camps.155
Humanitarian needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Burma include food and other necessities, such as medicine, blankets, warm clothing, firewood and fuel, and adequate shelter. Problems are particularly severe where population density is high, as in several camps visited by Human Rights Watch. In November, a local civilian aid worker told Human Rights Watch:
The immediate needs and long-term needs are food and food security. That is, the immediate provision of food to IDPs, and the provision of adequate food for a longer period of time.… Shelter is another big problem now, and medicine. In [the largest camp outside Laiza] there’s a huge camp but no hospital. We are trying to build a 15-bed hospital. It’s a small clinic. Doctors are not there. Only small-qualified nurses trained here. They can only provide basic medications. Also it is winter. It is very cold.156
These needs have become more acute in recent months. On-site health care in the camps or in locations available to camp residents is insufficient, nutrition needs of children and pregnant women are not being met, and there is, at the time of writing, a need for better data about humanitarian conditions and needs.
103 Human Rights Watch interview E.I., Kachin State, Burma, September 13, 2011.
105 Partners Relief and Development, Crimes in Northern Burma, November 2010,
http://www.partnersworld.org/usa/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=162 (accessed March 4, 2012).
106 Mary P. Callahan, “Of Kyay-zu and Kyet-su: Tthe Military in 2006,” in Trevor Wilson and Monique Skidmore, eds.,
Myanmar: The State, Community and the Environment (Canberra: Asia Pacific Press, 2007), pp. 46-48.
107 See, for example, Matthew F. Smith and Naing Htoo, “Energy Security: Security for Whom?” Yale Human Rights and
Development Law Journal, Yale Law School, vol. 11, 2008: pp. 237-39.
108 See Center on Housing Rights and Eviction, “Displacement and Dispossession: Forced Migration and Land Rights in Burma,” December 2007, http://www.burmalibrary.org/show.php?cat=2173 (accessed March 4, 2012). The report also argues that control of land is a key strategy of the Burmese military and a means of promoting its ongoing expansion.
109 See, for example, Human Rights Watch, Burma: “We are Like Forgotten People”: The Chin People of Burma: Unsafe in Burma, Unprotected in India, January 2009, pp. 68-70, http://www.hrw.org/de/reports/2009/01/27/we-are-forgottenpeople-
0 (accessed March 4, 2012).
110 See, for example, Human Rights Watch, Burma: “They Came and Destroyed Our Village Again”: The Plight of Internally Displaced Persons in Karen State, June 2005, p.9, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/06/09/they-came-and-destroyed-ourvillage-
again (accessed March 4, 2012).
111 Human Rights Watch interview C.Z., Kachin State, Burma, August 5, 2011.
112 Human Rights Watch interview C.D., Kachin State, Burma, August 5, 2011.
113 Human Rights Watch interview C.E., Kachin State, Burma, August 5, 2011.
114 Human Rights Watch interview M. Nan, Kachin State, Burma, November 15, 2011.
115 Human Rights Watch interview F.F., Kachin State, Burma, November 16, 2011.
116 Human Rights Watch interview C.Z., Kachin State, Burma, August 5, 2011.
117 See, for example, Partners Relief and Development, Crimes in Northern Burma: Results from a Fact-Finding Mission to
Kachin State,November 2011, http://www.partnersworld.org/usa/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=162
(accessed January 10, 2012); Free Burma Rangers, Kachin State- Burma Army Burns and Loots Homes in Wai Maw District Kachin State, Burma, November 15, 2011; “Burma: Kachin churches attacked, women raped, and civilians killed by military while regime talks of reform,” Christian Solidarity Worldwide, news release, October 21, 2011; Francis Wade, “Images Show Scorched Earth in Kachin War,” Democratic Voice of Burma, December 19, 2011; “Troops Raze Villages, Locals Flee,” Democratic Voice of Burma, November 11, 2011.
118 Human Rights Watch interview A.I., Kachin State, Burma, November 18, 2011.
155 UNOCHA reported to Human Rights Watch in March 2012 that there were approximately 20,000 IDPs in government controlled areas; RANIR reported to Human Rights Watch in March 2012 that there were approximately 45,000 IDPs in KIO-controlled areas; and reliable sources in Yunnan report to Human Rights Watch that there are at least 10,000 Kachin refugees in China.
156 Human Rights Watch interview F.A., Kachin State, Burma, November 12, 2011.