Thirty-two ethnic Kachin civil society organizations urged the United Nations on Wednesday to refer the Myanmar military to the International Criminal Court for what they say are human rights violations against civilians and the denial of humanitarian assistance by soldiers in Kachin state.
“Our people have been subject to numerous violations of international law, including executions, torture, forced displacement, forced labor, rape, and other forms of sexual violence, confiscations of property, arbitrary arrest and detention, and denial of humanitarian assistance,” the Kachin groups said in a letter to the U.N. Security Council.
“These types of human rights violations are not new to the Kachin people or to other ethnic groups in Burma,” it said, using Myanmar's former name. “The Burma military has used these tactics to instill fear and control in their attempts to destroy our ethnic identity, destroy our religion, colonize our lands, and steal our natural resources.”
“Members of the United Nations Security Council must support a resolution referring Burma to the International Criminal Court,” said the organizations, which included Kachin groups in Myanmar, other Asian countries, Europe, Canada, and Australia.
The groups also said that the international community, including members of the Security Council, had failed in their duty to uphold international law. They also pointed out that the U.N. has documented crimes committed by the Myanmar army in Kachin and neighboring Shan state for decades.
The groups urged the U.N. to proceed with the appointment of a special envoy to Myanmar and immediately send that person to Kachin state to negotiate free movement and humanitarian access, which have been denied by the Myanmar military.
They also expressed a desire for China, India, the United States, and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to mediate talks for a resolution of the prolonged civil war in the state. They suggested that an international or regional peacekeeping mission be appointed to Kachin state to enforce any repositioning of soldiers and to protect civilians.
'The last straw'
The Myanmar military and Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an ethnic armed group, have engaged in skirmishes since 2011, when a 17-year bilateral cease-fire agreement between the two sides broke down.
Over the years, the hostilities have displaced more than 90,000 people who have sought safety in Buddhist monasteries, Christian churches, or displaced persons camps in the state.
A recent uptick in fighting in Hpakant and Tanaing townships have driven another 2,000 ethnic Kachin villagers from their homes and into nearby jungles this month.
Earlier this week, KIA and Myanmar army soldiers clashed near Kasong village in Namti township, forcing about 2,000 civilians to take refuge in churches in Namti, Myanmar’s Mizzima news outlet reported on Thursday.
“The government hasn’t paid any attention to Kachin region,” a woman named Khonja who is a member of the Kachin Peace Network told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“The new president hasn’t done anything that he said he would do in his speech,” she said, referring to President Myint Win’s inauguration speech on March 30 during which pledged to implement democracy and human rights.
“Neither any political party nor parliament has done anything for ethnic Kachins, so that the situation is that the Kachin people have to deal directly with the government army,” she said.
“That’s why we have tried this method, asking the U.N. Security Council to refer Myanmar to the ICC as the last straw.”
A reference to the Rohingya
In their letter to the Security Council, the Kachin groups pointed out that the U.N. has stated that atrocities committed by the military against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state in late 2016 and early 2017 amounted to ethnic cleansing and demonstrated elements of genocide. Thousands of Rohingya were killed in the crackdown and nearly 700,000 others fled to Bangladesh.
Earlier this month, an ICC prosecutor asked the tribunal’s judges to rule on whether the body can exercise jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh, a possible crime against humanity,
She raised the jurisdiction issue because Bangladesh is a member of the ICC, while Myanmar is not.
Though the Myanmar government said the extension of jurisdiction is not in line with the ICC Charter or other international statutes to which the country is not a party, the pre-trial chamber agreed to hold a hearing on the issue during which Myanmar and other interested parties could state their views on the question of jurisdiction.
The KIA is one of several militias with which the Myanmar government is trying to end decades of ethnic separatist civil wars and forge peace in the country through a series of peace negotiations launched in August 2016 by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the KIA’s political wing, has not signed the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement that eight of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armies inked in October 2015, with two more having joined since then.
The Myanmar military has accused the KIA of illegally using the area’s natural resources and taking money from mining businesses that should otherwise go to the state, while the ethnic militia believes the government army has stepped up its attacks on rebel-held territory in hopes of gaining control before the next round of peace negotiations.
Reported by Thiha Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.