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A decision by the Rangoon Division government to ban the release of a report on torture in ethnic conflict areas shows the limits of what rights advocates can expect under Burma’s new civilian government, civil society organisations (CSOs) said on Tuesday.
The report, “Trained to Torture,” was to be launched by the Ta’ang Women’s Organisation (TWO) at a press conference at Rangoon’s Orchid Hotel on 25 June but was cancelled at the last minute by Rangoon authorities.
A subsequent attempt to hold the event at another venue, the Excel Treasure Hotel, on Monday also failed when officials denied permission for it to go ahead.
No reason was given for the decision, but it appeared to be related to the report’s allegations of human rights abuses committed by Burma’s military against ethnic Ta’ang people in northern Shan State, where it is waging an offensive against the Ta’ang National Liberation Army.
“We have the evidence for the allegations in the report — it highlighted the Burmese army’s systematic and widespread use of torture, alleging that this is a war crime, but the government decided to block us since it is concerning the Tatmadaw [Burmese armed forces],” said Lway Poe Nyein, a spokesperson for the TWO.
Khin Ohmar, coordinator of the Burma Partnership, a coalition of Burmese CSOs, said the move demonstrated the extent of freedoms under the new National League for Democracy (NLD) government.
“I think this particular event gave us a clear signal that under the current NLD government, freedom of expression is still restricted,” she told DVB on Tuesday.
She added that the ban on the report, which covers a five-year period from March 2011 to March 2016, would likely set back the current government’s efforts to achieve peace in Burma’s decades-old ethnic conflicts.
“How are we going to have national reconciliation unless there is trust? Such grievances of the ethnic civilian population need to be heard by all, and especially by the government,” she said.
The fighting in Shan State, which also involves other armed groups, including the Shan State Army-South, has displaced thousands of civilians, more that 100 of whom, from 33 villages, were interviewed for the TWO report. The alleged crimes committed include extrajudicial killing, sexual violence, forcing villagers to be porters and human shields, and shelling of civilian targets.
“Our intention is to bring justice and truth for the people who were subjected to these abuses, but not to attack the Tatmadaw,” said Lway Poe Nyein, adding that the TWO is calling on the government to halt all offensives and invite an international fact-finding commission to investigate crimes against civilians in conflict areas.