A human rights watchdog called Tuesday for U.N. intervention to stop fierce fighting between Burma’s government troops and Kachin rebels which it says has left 75,000 people in desperate need of humanitarian aid.
The Burmese army has attacked Kachin villages, razed homes, pillaged properties, and forced the displacement of tens of thousands of people since fighting renewed with Kachin rebels in June of last year, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
Burmese soldiers routinely threaten and torture civilians during interrogations and rape women, the report said, adding that the army has also used antipersonnel mines and conscripted forced laborers, including children as young as 14, on the front lines.
Rights abuses are also being perpetrated by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), it said.
Some 75,000 ethnic Kachin displaced persons and refugees are in desperate need of food, medicine, and shelter, HRW said in its report, entitled “’Untold Miseries’: Wartime Abuses and Forced Displacement in Burma’s Kachin State.”
“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.”
“An objective investigation into abuses in Burma’s ethnic areas won’t happen unless the U.N. is involved, and such an effort can help deter future abuses,” Pearson said.
Need for investigation
HRW recommended that the Burmese government ask the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish an office in Burma, noting that the country’s newly created National Human Rights Commission has not played an effective role in monitoring abuses in Kachin state.
Last month, National Human Rights Commission chairman Win Mra announced that the body would not investigate allegations of abuses in the country’s ethnic armed conflict areas due to the government’s efforts to negotiate ceasefires.
HRW said that of the 75,000 Kachin civilians displaced since June, at least 45,000 have sought refuge in 30 camps for internally displaced persons in KIA-controlled territory along the Burma-China border.
But the Burmese government has granted U.N. agencies access to this area only once, in December, and even then they were not permitted to visit several areas where tens of thousands of displaced persons reside and are in need of humanitarian aid that local Kachin organizations have been unable to provide.
Humanitarian needs of displaced persons in Kachin state include food and other necessities, such as medicine, blankets, warm clothing, firewood and fuel, and adequate shelter, HRW said.
A 17-year treaty between the rebels and the army broke down in 2010 when Burma’s then-ruling military junta tried to force Kachin troops to form a border guard under government leadership. Clashes between the two have been ongoing since June, causing tens of thousands to flee their homes.
The HRW report was based on more than 100 interviews with refugees and victims of abuse, as well as Kachin rebels, Burmese army deserters, and relief workers.
HRW traveled twice to areas in Kachin state last year and to areas across the border in China’s Yunnan province where refugees have fled.
The situation in Kachin state is in sharp contrast with recent human rights reforms in lowland Burma, HRW noted, including the release of political prisoners, a spate of legal reforms, and greater media freedom.
After historic elections, a nominally civilian government took power in Burma last year, ending decades of military junta rule.
Aside from political reforms, the new government under Prime Minister Thein Sein also reached preliminary ceasefire agreements with a number of other ethnic groups in Burma’s remote border areas in late 2011 and early this year, in what analysts have described as a “fragile” peace process that is still incomplete.
The group called on the Burmese government and the KIA to end abuses, ensure humanitarian access to those in need, and permit an independent international mechanism to investigate abuses by both sides.
Reported by Joshua Lipes.