Human rights atrocities and potential war crimes have been stepped up against other Burmese minorities while the world has been distracted by the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims, a new United Nations report has revealed.
The revelations, disclosed in Geneva this week by the UN’s international fact-finding mission in Burma, also known as Myanmar, will compound global pressure on leader Aung San Suu Kyi, for her failure to curb harrowing human rights abuses across the country since coming to power in 2015.
While the Burmese military has inflicted horrific cruelty against the Rohingya, prompting a mass exodus from the western state of Rakhine since August, military violence against minorities in the northeastern states of Kachin and northern Shan has been silently escalating.
“The long-standing conflicts in Kachin and Shan states have recently intensified, leading to more reports of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed in these areas by the security forces,” head of the UN mission, Marzuki Darusman told the Human Rights Council.
These include reports of “extrajudicial killings, arbitrary deprivation of liberty, enforced disappearances, destruction of property and pillage, torture and inhuman treatment, rape and other forms of sexual violence, forced labour, recruitment of children into armed forces.”
Kachin and Shan states Burma (Myanmar)
Investigators are also probing violations of international humanitarian law that may have been committed by ethnic armed organisations, including the recruitment of children.
The UN said it was “deeply concerned” about recent clashes between security forces and the Kachin Independence Army since January 2018, including military airstrikes in civilian areas around the town of Tanai, which targeted lucrative amber and gold mines.
The strikes trapped about 3,000 civilians, leaving them without food, water or sanitation. Humanitarian access was denied and they were reportedly stripped of their belongings.
Along with Muslim Rakhine, the largely Buddhist and Christian Kachin and Shan states have seen internal conflict, albeit for different reasons, since shortly after Burma gained independence from the UK in 1948.
Kachin insurgents, including the Kachin Independence Army, have fought with government soldiers for more autonomy since 1961, with the exception of a ceasefire from 1994 to 2011.
Meanwhile, in Rakhine, the oppressed Rohingya minority has demanded the right to become full citizens.
While the conflicts are of a different nature, the Burmese military has been accused of using similar brutal tactics to contain them.
Burma’s light infantry division 99, a battle-hardened counter-insurgency force with a reputation for ruthlessness, has been reportedly deployed at different times in both in Kachin and Rakhine.
Although the scale of military operations in Kachin and northern Shan is not of the same magnitude, the UN investigation suggests “certain patterns of violations” also seen against the Rohingya.
The allegations include the use of rape as a weapon of war. In one of the most disturbing cases in 2015, Maran Lu Ra and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin, both 20, were brutally raped and murdered in the Kachin village of Kutkai Kaung Kai.
The young women were volunteer teachers with the Kachin Baptist Convention. Their mutilated bodies were found in a hut they shared just 100m from a temporary army camp that had just been occupied by Burmese soldiers of the 503 rd light infantry regiment.
Suspicion for the crime immediately fell on the newly arrived troop, but the accusations were strongly denied by the army.
An investigation into the double murder has reportedly been hampered by ongoing tensions in the area, but the crime is reportedly not isolated.
“Women and girls have reported many instances of sexual violence,” said Mr Darusman.
He said UN investigators had also documented civilians allegedly being forced to work for the Burmese military, as porters, jungle guides or even as human shields for soldiers on patrol.
“Many reported that they were severely beaten, had their identity cards confiscated, were insulted with derogatory racist language or were sexually assaulted,” he added.
Much of the UN’s investigation, which records human rights allegations from 2011 to September 2017, was obtained from exiles who fled from the country. The UN has been denied access to Kachin and Shan states.
Benedict Rogers, East Asia team leader for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said the UN report on Burma required the immediate attention of the international community.
“The human rights situation in the country as a whole is rapidly deteriorating, especially the conflict in Kachin and northern Shan states, which is largely ignored,” he said.
“Burma as a whole requires urgent action to restore the hopes that were raised in recent years and to address a severe human rights crisis.”
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