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Events commemorating the third anniversary of renewed conflict in Kachin State were held across Burma on Monday, coinciding with statements from rights groups criticising the Burmese military for human rights violations.
Baptist churches in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina staged a mass prayer for peace on Monday morning to commemorate the end of a 17-year ceasefire between the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and the Burmese government.
On Sunday, Kachin youths gathered in Rangoon’s Mahabandoola Park to perform traditional songs and circulate pamphlets calling for an end to the hostilities.
On 8 June, 2011, Burmese troops allegedly encroached on KIO-held territory, demarcated by a ceasefire signed in 1994. Since the breakdown of the agreement, battles have raged across Kachin and northern Shan states, despite the KIO’s involvement in peace talks.
And as the conflict continues, the humanitarian situation is deteriorating, according to Thailand-based watchdog Fortify Rights, which released a report on Monday documenting scores of human rights violations.
While abuses by both sides have been documented, Fortify Rights believes that atrocities committed by the Burmese Army, particularly their use of torture, could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity under international law.
“The most common practice that we’ve documented involves Myanmar [Burma] army units moving into a village, detaining or apprehending able-bodied men that they suspect as sympathisers or participants in KIA activities, and then subjecting them to torture,” Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights said.
“This is just the most common pattern we’ve documented. We’ve documented all manner of human rights violations in Kachin state.”
Fortify Rights is calling for the government to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. This recommendation was also issued by Tomás Ojea Quintana, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Burma, who visited internally displaced person camps in Kachin state during his final tour of the country in February.
Presidential spokesman Ye Htut refuted all allegations of torture.
“Torture is not the policy of the government nor the armed forces,” Ye Htut assured DVB on Monday. “If someone commits such a crime, they can report the case either to us or the human rights commission. We take strong action against all those who commit such kind of crimes.”
The government has insisted that reports of abuses in Kachin State are dubious, though Fortify Rights said that the publication is based on 78 in-depth interviews.
“I haven’t read all the Fortify Rights report in detail yet,” Ye Htut told DVB on Monday. “But according to the last experience [we had] with the group, they are writing news stories with second-hand experience, not based on not fully verified information on the ground.”
First-hand accounts of the events in northern Burma are hard to get; access to the region has been heavily restricted to journalists, researchers and aid workers alike. Three years on, the area remains isolated and under-resourced.
Fortify Rights estimated that as many as 5,000 civilians have been displaced in just the last three months. Total displacement since the breakdown of the ceasefire is estimated around 120,000.