Widespread abuses, including forced labour, systematic rape and arbitrary killings, are being carried out by the Burmese army in Kachin state, while the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is enlisting child soldiers and laying anti-personnel mines in breach of international humanitarian law.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has outlined the details of the abuses on both sides of the lines in a scathing new report published today.
“The Burmese army is committing unchecked abuses in Kachin State while the government blocks humanitarian aid to those most in need,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at HRW. “Both the army and Kachin rebels need to act to prevent a bad situation for civilians from getting even worse.”
“We do have some child soldiers,” admitted a spokesperson for the KIA. “We are trying to find solutions.”
Despite President Thein Sein’s public commitment to end ethnic strife throughout the country, the Burmese army broke a 17-year ceasefire with the KIA in June last year over a contested area near the controversial multi-billion dollar Chinese Taping dam.
Witnesses interviewed by HRW cited cases of torture, violence and sexual abuse as endemic. “Soldiers would come and take the women and bring them from tent to tent,” explained one man who was forced to porter for the Burmese army. “We were so afraid and we couldn’t watch the whole night. The next morning, the women couldn’t walk right. They seemed like they were in pain. They walked hunched over. And they were crying.”
Two young brothers quoted in the report told of being abducted and interrogated by Burmese soldiers in Mangpang village. “We were asked repeatedly where the KIA are and in which house the weapons are hidden, and then the soldier said, ‘If you don’t show us and don’t give us the answers then you will be killed and your hands will be cut off.’”
At least 45,000 people have been displaced within KIA-controlled territory along the Chinese border, where residents are facing a growing humanitarian crisis. The Burmese government continues to deny the UN’s humanitarian agencies access to large parts of Kachin state. A small shipment of aid supplies was let through on 12 December 2011, but nothing since.
A spokesperson for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told DVB earlier this month that they had reached an agreement with the Burmese government, but were still ironing out the details. Weeks later no progress has been reported.
“Humanitarian access has not been obstructed by outright government or military denials, but rather through stalled responses, requests that receive no reply, and in other indirect, subtle ways,” said the HRW report.
The national human rights commission established by the Burmese government last year has rejected calls for a probe into abuses against ethnic minority groups. HRW has called for the establishment of an independent international probe into human rights abuses.
“Concerned governments should urgently support an independent international mechanism to investigate abuses by all sides to the conflict in Kachin State and in other ethnic areas,” Pearson said. “An objective investigation into abuses in Burma’s ethnic areas won’t happen unless the UN is involved, and such an effort can help deter future abuses.”