Myanmar: Human Rights Take a Back Seat as Conflict Continues

The human rights situation in Burma is moving too slowly, says Fortify Rights a non-profit human rights organization based in Southeast Asia, with positive political progress being undermined by a festering civil war in the country’s north.

“Positive political changes have come to Burma but the human rights situation is deeply concerning,” said Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights. “The pending resolution should acknowledge Burma’s political progress but shouldn’t gloss over the immense amount of work that remains to be done.”

On December 24, 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 67/233 to focus attention on ongoing human rights abuses in Myanmar while noting significant progress underway within the country.

The 2012 resolution expressed concern about “arbitrary detention, forced displacement, land confiscations, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as violations of international humanitarian law.” It called for the government of Burma to “ensure accountability and end impunity” for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

The human rights violations articulated in the UN General Assembly’s 2012 resolution remain prevalent in Burma, and impunity continues, Fortify Rights said.

Human rights abuses are especially prevalent in the country’s north, where Burma’s military has been engaged in a deadly war in Kachin State and northern Shan State since June 2011, facing off against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

More than 100,000 Kachin have been forcibly displaced since June 2011, and at least 65,000 have fled to 51 camps in KIA-held territory, where the government continues to deny access to international humanitarian agencies. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UN agencies have only been authorized by the government to provide minimal short-term aid deliveries to 20 percent of those displaced in KIA-controlled territory.

Recent investigations by rights groups including Fortify Rights and Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlighted cases of serious abuses including extrajudicial killings, forced labor and rape carried out by Burma Army units.

“The Myanmar army’s targeted abuses against civilians in situations of armed conflict must be brought to an end and perpetrators should be held accountable, and the resolution should clarify that,” said Matthew Smith. “Impunity for wartime abuses will be a serious obstacle to lasting peace in Kachin State and should be clearly addressed.” Matt Smith said.

In January 2013, the humanitarian organization the Free Burma Rangers documented the use of Burma Army helicopter gunships, jet fighters and heavy artillery use to attack areas near the Kachin State capital of Laiza.

Both the Burma Army and the KIA continue to recruit and use child soldiers, and to deploy antipersonnel landmines throughout the conflict zone.