Three Years of Suffering for the Kachin People, How Much Longer?

As we pass the marking of the third year of the conflict in Kachin and northern Shan State between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burma Army, it is difficult not feel pessimistic.

As we pass the marking of the third year of the conflict in Kachin and northern Shan State between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burma Army, it is difficult not feel pessimistic. A report released by Fortify Rights, a non-profit human rights organization based in Southeast Asia, highlights the continuing torture of Kachin civilians by Burmese security forces, while Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) expressed their concern at the increasing offensives on KIA positions. Peace talks have occurred sporadically in an attempt to resolves the conflict, but still, all we see is the continuing persecution of Kachin communities.

The Fortify Rights report, ‘Myanmar: End Wartime Torture in Kachin State and Northern Shan State’ demonstrates how torture, both physical and mental, has been systemically inflicted upon Kachin civilians thought to be associated with the KIA. Fortify Rights believes that this constitutes war crimes and crimes against humanity. The perpetrators include not just the Burma Army, but also military intelligence and the police force. Beatings during interrogation, cutting off blood circulation, deprivation of food, drink, and sleep, sexual assault, and stabbings among other methods were all documented. Mental torture was also used, such as forcing prisoners to dig graves and telling them it is their own, having to drink from pools of their own blood and being put in execution style positions. This report comes just a few months after the Women’s League of Burma released, ‘Same Patterns, Same Impunity’ that exposes the systematic use of rape and sexual assault as a weapon of war by the Burma Army in ethnic areas.

Not only is torture and sexual assault brutal and systematic, it is committed with complete impunity. Under the 2008 Constitution, a courts-martial system was established with the Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, Min Aung Hlaing, at the top of the decision-making pile, effectively preventing any soldier from appearing in a civilian court. Thus, incidents such as sexual assault of Kachin women, and extreme torture of suspected KIA sympathizers go unpunished. This severely damages any prospects of peace. As Amnesty International point out, “The continued fighting and reports of crimes under international law and human rights violations allegedly committed by the Myanmar Army raise serious questions about commitment to human rights reforms in the country and threaten ongoing efforts to negotiate a nationwide ceasefire.”

Furthermore, while human rights violations continue systematically and unpunished, the fighting itself is increasing. In a statement on 9 June 2014, KWAT draws attention to increase in offensives by the Burma Army in recent months in an attempt to “seize control of key trade routes and economic zones.” Inevitably such operations bring the destruction, displacement and persecution that Kachin people have been experiencing for the past three years.

The war has gone on for three years now. So have the abuses. Generations of ethnic people of Burma, including the Kachin, have experienced this. How much longer will the Kachin people have to endure such suffering at the hands of the Burma Army? Offensives need to stop, abuses needs to stop, impunity needs to stop. The international community needs to put more pressure on the Burma government to end this suffering of ethnic people of Burma. As Matthew Smith from Fortify Rights explains, “The international community needs to wake up and comprehend the severity of abuse being perpetrated against the Kachin people. Foreign governments should demand an end to these abuses and ensure survivors get the support they need. Governments and donors should increase financial, technical, and advocacy support for human rights defenders in the country.” Another year of this persecution simply cannot be allowed to happen.