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This past February, the Auschwitz Institute awarded the Raphael Lemkin prize to Dr. Barbara Harff, to recognize her contributions to the field of genocide prevention. Dr. Harff agreed to discuss via print correspondence some of her thoughts and positions on subjects related to the state of genocide prevention today, her past and current work, involvement with the Institute, and thoughts toward the future.
 
Dr. Harff is Professor of Political Science Emerita at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and has twice been a distinguished visiting professor at the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. She is a prolific author, whose work has been important for the crafting of genocide prevention policy, as well as academics. She co-coined the useful term ‘politicide,’ and her early warning framework for genocide prevention has been a critical component of many projects and programs.

Much of your work has focused on ethnic aspects of conflicts, genocides and politicides… do you feel the role of this sort of lens has changed since you started out in the field? Do you see or foresee any potential challenges or problems in the way of this approach?

I co-authored a book on ethnic conflict and suggested that these types of conflicts have the potential to escalate into genocide (as in Rwanda), but so do other conflicts such as revolutions (see Cambodia) and adverse regime change (such as in Chile, which turned into a politicide). During the late 70’s and early 80’s, most genocide scholars (meaning all approx. 10 of us) thought that any combinations or a single  factor such as ethnicity, race, or religion were a necessary condition in most genocidal situations, given the wording of the Convention.  However, when I began collecting information on the 46 cases that eventually became the data set used by State Failure (now Political Instability Task Force), it became apparent that victims sometimes were members of mixed ethnic groups and that perpetrators targeted them because they belonged to political opposition groups. Cambodia was a classic example, where most victims and perpetrators were ethnic Khmers — only a minority of victims belonged to different ethnicities, such as the Chams, Vietnamese, and Chinese. Cambodia was a reason that I coined the term politicide, which suggests that victims not only could be members of multiple identity groups but were primarily targeted because of their political affiliation. Of the 46 cases that I identified post WWII, many are mixed cases. For example, the Kurds in Iraq and indigenous Maya that supported  the left in Guatemala.

Your work has been seminal, influencing an indeterminably wide swath of policy and scholarship… have you been particularly disappointed with any of the frameworks, policies, or concepts that have been built upon your ideas?

There are other scholars who have contributed more. I am especially thinking of my friend and mentor Helen Fein, the late Leo KuperFrank Chalk, and others. We have listened to each other, critiqued, cited, and supported one another’s efforts. We have built a discipline and it is now possible to get jobs in good universities, which was not a necessary truth in the 1980’s. As a Northwestern PhD, (according to my professors) I should have been at a major research university but the most frequently asked question at the time during interviews was, “What is that stuff you are doing?”.

How could I be disappointed? Systematic analysis is flourishing in Australia, Canada, Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the US—the Albright/Cohen report mentions my risk assessment and early warning efforts as something that needs doing and risk assessment is done routinely not just by me but in the US government and others. The UN (I had provided them with a framework and regular risk assessments) is a bit behind despite their talented personnel. That probably has much to do with antiquated opinions about quantitative analysis, as well as politically motivated leadership in related UN offices. When Juan Mendez became Adviser to the UN, he and his two associates visited me at my home in Annapolis to see how we could work together. I am not just a number cruncher but also a case study person and a specialist on the Middle East. Moreover, having been born into a leftist German family, I am also quite familiar about European affairs. A genocide scholar is/should not be bounded by either discipline or approach. My dissertation focused on prevention using legal philosophical arguments, but grounded in international law, and it also included an empirical exercise in which I tested empathy in different societies using fictional scenarios that had a historical base.

My/our work has caught on beyond expectations. Genocide is a household word — we have seen action in many situations and the recognition that systematic risk assessment and early warning are ever more needed is apparent. Aside from an African initiative, other governments have proceeded to establish their own centers. Why not indeed emulate the hard sciences instead of dabbling in case study-based analysis of specific situations? We do it globally based on accepted wisdom regarding dozens of cases. It is not too hard to generate good data, develop hypotheses based on theory, and then test assumptions. We/I have tested dozens of variables (including economic and environmental variables) that purport to support escalation to genocide. In addition, I developed a complex early warning model that used dynamic factors to track that evolution. For example, we tracked hate propaganda, small arms deliveries, etc. on a daily basis.

Your term and idea of politicide has not caught on as much as it perhaps could have in the international community. Are policymakers and scholars hamstringing themselves from potentially greater efficacy by not considering the targeting of political groups as a more important factor? Where would you like to see this focus brought to bear in today’s climate of conflict?

Why is there not more international action? Because, to use my old mantra, we do not know what remedies that tap state capacity and interest work in what situations at what time. What worked in Macedonia does not work in Syria. I made that argument many times and have developed response scenarios based on my early warning analysis, but much work remains. Just think of Burma—in the past, it was one of the worst case scenarios. I had argued for lifting sanctions to incorporate that country into the international community of states. There was a huge black market, and sanctions did not work—they more often make it harder for the already poor—and the West had zero influence but ASEAN, China, and Japan did—things are getting better.

Are you optimistic that the genocidal trends you’ve studied for three decades are diminishing? Can you realistically envision a world where we have early warning systems adequate to the task of completely circumventing mass atrocities?

For the time being, the occurrence of genocides are diminishing. But over the long run, I am pessimistic.  The West may have a learned a few more lessons after Bosnia but Africans will be challenged by Muslim radicals—see Mali, Northern Nigeria, the 10th century maps of Islamic expansion. I am deeply disturbed by the emergence of right-wing movements in Europe that occasionally spout anti-Jewish rhetoric. In addition, there are indigenous peoples still under threat of annihilation, ethnic cleansing, and extreme discrimination, such as the indigenous peoples of West Papua.

What role do area experts have to play?

Experts need to both show compassion and distance themselves from quick judgment. Most of us are driven by a belief and desire that it is possible to build a better world, based on mutual respect and tolerance. However, given the unequal  distribution of resources, lack of access to education, and re-emerging  medieval  ideas about how women should be treated, I am a profound pessimist. Especially disturbing for me is re-emerging anti-semitism in its most primitive form (blood libel, the Protocol of the Elders of Zion, etc).  Are we regressing to superstitions and the caveman mentality that drove Nazis? I see a dangerous trend evolving in the Muslim world—tribalism, sectarianism, radical forms of Islam (Salafis), indoctrination of their unemployed and undereducated youth. Where will it lead?

Regarding Syria, is there an onus on Western actors to intervene, or otherwise impact the conflict? What sorts of missteps are we in danger of making?

It made my list of extremely high-risk cases before the outbreak of violence. The UN was informed—we had pictures of mines on the border with Turkey—their aim was to maim refugees. But the West is tired and sees the Middle East as a cauldron of  ever re-emerging conflicts. There is a real lack of enlightened leadership. You cannot build democracies by relying on networks of families, clans, tribes, sectarian and/or religious loyalties. We have always underestimated the strength of these ties. Countries running out of energy, water, having extended droughts and exploding birthrates are endangered to descend into chaos. Of the few that have functional educational systems, meaning they educate their young in the sciences, there are no opportunities. Maybe these countries have to go through these convulsions to find their way into the modern world. It is possible that Yemen, the poorest and most vulnerable (running out of water), has a chance of success through inter-tribal dialogue that includes women to build a stable autocracy or semi-democracy. Syria as of now may divide into Sunni, Alawite, and Kurdish regions under the influence of Iran/Russia/Saudi Arabia, and/or aligned with Salafis in Egypt. Of course, this is speculation.

How did you come to be involved with the Auschwitz Institute? Has your time as an instructor impacted any aspects of your scholarship or views?

What AIPR does is laudable, to put it mildly. As to my two lectures and one interview, the interview went well but the Jagiellonian University’s information system had too few subscribers. One lecture went well; the other, nowhere.  I expected the participants to read and they did not. Well, a lesson learned—start on a more basic level. My suggestion is to be bold—challenge re-emerging anti-semitism wherever you find it. Some of our young hosts (Jewish students from Poland)  told me that they keep a low profile—it deeply upset me. And then there is Auschwitz—as a German born non-Jewish scholar, it provides all the answers about why I am doing this kind of work—but this place is hell on earth and am I bothered that some visitors show a lack of respect when they walk over one of the largest cemeteries on earth.

The situation of the Rohingya people in Burma remains dire. Even as President Thein Sein has launched political and economic reforms to move the country away from its authoritarian past, and even as Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s champion of human rights, has been freed from house arrest and is now in the middle of an historic, emotional, and heavily publicized visit to the United States, there is still a threat of genocide for the Rohingya. 

With this in mind, Christine Lim traveled to the campus of Columbia University on Sept. 14 for a discussion titled “Burma in Transition: Minorities, Human Rights, and Democratic Process.” Speakers for the event were Amartya Sen, 1998 Nobel Prize laureate in Economics; Wakar Uddin, director general of the Arakan Rohingya Union; T. Kumar, director of international advocacy for Amnesty International USA; and Elaine Pearson, deputy director of the Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. 

By CHRISTINE LIM

Opening the event was Wakar Uddin of the Arakan Rohingya Union and the Burmese Rohingya Association of North America. His graphic, eye-opening slideshow relayed the horrific facts of everyday life for the 800,000 Rohingya Muslims who live in Burma as a stateless minority with virtually no rights, having been stripped of their citizenship in 1982.

Even those who have lived in the country for generations are denied citizenship and birth certificates, Uddin said. They need permission from the state to reproduce at more than the replacement rate, marry, or travel outside their villages. Illiteracy is incredibly high among Rohingya, and fewer than 1 percent of them graduate from high school. Uddin described land confiscation, arbitrary arrests, and forced labor as rampant, and incidents of armed child soldiers waiting outside mosques to ambush attendees. He also said that the police routinely engaged in a practice officially known as “population reduction monitoring,” illustrating the sinister-sounding policy with a photograph of an old man shot to death.

Uddin declared that the Burmese government’s “massive ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya, carried out with the help of the military, amounted to genocide and that full citizenship for the Rohingya was the only viable long-term solution. To this end, Uddin called on the audience to pressure the international community not only to supply aid but also to press Rangoon to repeal the 1982 citizenship law. He also urged the current Burmese government to grant the right to return to the estimated 1.5 million Rohingya who have fled to neighboring countries.

Elaine Pearson of Human Rights Watch said she recently visited Burma and did see some unexpectedly good changes in limited areas such as Rangoon, but that in Arakan the situation had only gotten worse. She expressed hope that Aung San Suu Kyi would take a more definite stand on the Rohingya issue during her tour of the United States.

Although Suu Kyi has shown concern over other Burmese social issues, such as the continued recruitment of child soldiers and prostitutes, she has remained silent regarding the treatment of the Rohingya minority in Burma. When asked during her June visit to Oslo, where she received the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded in 1991, whether she thought Rohingyas should be considered citizens, Suu Kyi replied, “I do not know.”

Pearson pointed out that President Thein Sein and the National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi’s party, agreed on the confinement of Rohingyas in refugee camps and warned listeners not to be misled by the romantic idea of “cease-fire capitalism,” borne of the highly publicized peace agreements, signed but not acted upon, between Rangoon and military forces representing ethnic minorities. She said it was dangerous that civil society had been left out of discussions about the distribution of limited natural resources, since ethnic minorities were likely to lose out as a result. Pearson also stated that military reform would be necessary for positive steps toward democracy and human rights, because the military was currently “not on board” with those goals.

T. Kumar, of Amnesty International USA, spoke in greater detail about the difficulties of attending school, finding a job (as opposed to forced labor), or seeking medical care without citizenship and the right to travel freely.

Amartya Sen, the best-known of the speakers, urged listeners to keep a sense of balance with regard to the plight of the Rohingya, to avoid being either too discouraged or complacent about acting to improve matters where possible. He characterized the issue as a modern problem not only of human rights but of citizenship, saying what was necessary was a non-sectarian approach that truly sought to understand the tensions between ethnicities, as the problem was a complex one, stretching across religious, ethnic, and linguistic boundaries, and could not be solved by what he called a kind of wishy-washy “secularism” that insists upon giving the same five minutes of recitation from various holy texts before every communal gathering.

Coda

In a speech at the Asia Society on Sept. 18 in Washington, DC, Suu Kyi touched upon the conflict in Rakhine state, though she limited her discussion to abstract principles rather than concrete policies, such as the granting of citizenship, framing them as the responsibility of the government, as opposed to that of her party, the NLD:

 

“The government has formed a commission to look into the situation in the Rakhine. The NLD [. . .] want to give the government all the opportunities it needs to diffuse the situation there and to bring about a peaceful settlement. We do not want to criticize the government just for the sake of making political capital. We want to help the government, in any way possible, to bring about peace and harmony in the Rakhine state. Whatever help is asked from us, we are prepared to give—if it is within our ability to do so. But it is not for us—we are not in a position to decide what we do and how we operate—because we are not the government. I think this has to be understood by those who wish the NLD to do more. What we can do is to declare our principles and our preparedness to help in every way we can. [. . .] But I am not going to talk about the Rakhine issue in greater detail now.”

Photo: Salem-news.com

By MARISSA GOLDFADEN

Today, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect released the fourth issue of their bimonthly bulletin, R2P Monitor. This issue features Syria, Sudan, and DR Congo, all in “Current Crisis,” and Libya, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Burma/Myanmar, South Sudan, Somalia and Central Africa, with situations of “Serious Concern.” Current crises are those where mass atrocity crimes are occurring and urgent action is needed; serious concern indicates that there is a significant risk of occurrence, or recurrence, of mass atrocity crimes within the foreseeable future if effective action is not taken.

In analyzing the violence in Syria, the Centre touches upon mounting sectarian divisions (which we wrote about here back in February), as well as divisions within the United Nations Security Council. While they call on the Syrian government to “immediately cease attacks on civilians and adhere to [Kofi Annan’s] six-point plan,” collective action must also be taken by the Security Council, General Assembly, and the whole of the international community.

Similar necessary action is laid out for Sudan, where the government “should allow immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to all areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, Abyei and Darfur should be thoroughly investigated by a credible and independent body authorized by the UN.” The Security Council is also urged to take steps beyond an investigation in order to better secure a long-term conflict resolution.

In the case of Congo, the brunt of the responsibility for addressing the threat of terrorist factions and militias falls on the government and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Other parties charged with acting in this instance are international donors and countries with whom DRC shares borders.

As one would anticipate given the name and nature of the Centre and its publication, the key recommendations appear to be structured parallel to the pillars of R2P:

1. The State carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
2. The international community has a responsibility to assist States in fulfilling this responsibility.
3. The international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State fails to protect its populations or is in fact the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.

Last month, the Global Action to Prevent War network sponsored an event at the United Nations, Integrating Gender Perspectives into the Third Pillar of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Within this context, they prepared a draft Background Concept Note on gender and RtoP to be utilized at policymaking workshops. In recent years, the UN has sought to address the problem of sexual violence committed against civilians in conflict zones but women are not a protected group under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. And while the term gendercide has gained more widespread use since its introduction in 1985, the fact remains that rape and sexual violence targeting females have long been tools of war and are often components of genocide itself. Though women can certainly be considered potential victims of mass violence, they also play an integral role in effecting stability and change. As such, the crux of the Background Concept Note lies in the following proposal:

1. At the international level, UN Member States should do more to highlight roles that women are already playing in the prevention of mass atrocities, and also do more to increase women’s direct participation in a wide range of peace and security initiatives, as set out in SCR 1325.

2. At the national level, RtoP strategic discussions relating to the general implementation of the norm should highlight the significance of women’s contributions (as leaders in conflict prevention, as aids to survivors and ex-combatants, as national focal points for RtoP discussion and strategic planning, etc) in such implementation strategies.

3. Member States should be encouraged to include RtoP language in the development of their National Action Plans (NAPs) on 1325 to help highlight the roles that women can and are already playing in calling attention and responding to the threat of mass atrocities.

This framework complements the Women Under Siege project, which was also launched in February 2012. Per its mission statement, the project has two main components:

1. A public education plan to demonstrate that rape is a tool of war (not only a crime of war, but also a strategic tool). This plan includes testimony from and partnership with survivors of modern wars from Bosnia to Darfur.

2. An action plan to push for the creation of legal, diplomatic, and public interventions to ensure the United Nations, international tribunals, and other agencies with power will understand the gender-based threats as a tool of genocide and will design protocols to intervene and halt gender-based genocide.

As of late, Women Under Siege has been particularly focused on systematic sexualized violence in Guatemala and Burma, especially as perpetrated by military members in both countries.

Image: letyourvoicebeheard-tb.blogspot.com

Earlier this week, Genocide Watch and the Genocide Prevention Advisory Network (GPAN) put out a list and map of countries at risk of genocide, politicide, or mass atrocities in 2012. Categorized as current massacres, potential massacres, or polarization, a majority of the countries are in the Middle East and Africa. Current massacres are taking place in DR Congo, Sudan, Eastern Congo, Uganda, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, Myanmar, and Ethiopia. According to GPAN, these countries are “at the mass killing stage. They have active genocides, recurring genocidal massacres, or ongoing politicides. They are erupting.” The groups and factions comprising the victims and killers include government supporters or protesters, militias, religious and ethnic groups, armies, and terrorist organizations. Which side they fall on varies by region.

On February 8, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) held an event in London to launch “Network Paper 72, Local to Global Protection in Myanmar, Sudan, South Sudan and Zimbabwe.” Per the ODI:

The Local to Global Protection Project (L2GP) is an initiative to document and promote local perspectives on protection in major humanitarian crises. Based on research in Myanmar, Sudan, South Sudan and Zimbabwe, L2GP explores how people living in areas affected by natural disaster and armed conflict understand ‘protection’ – what they value, and how they go about protecting themselves, their families and their communities. The research also examines how people view the roles of others, including the state, non-state actors, community-based organisations and national and international aid agencies.

Speaking at the event were Justin Corbett, author of the South Kordofan/Nuba, Sudan Study; Simon Harragin, author of the Jonglei, South Sudan Study; Ashley South, author of the two Myanmar (Burma) studies; and Nils Carstensen (ACT Alliance), L2GP manager and co-author of Network Paper 72. Also in attendance were Dr. Sara Pantuliano, head of the Humanitarian Policy Group at ODI, and Wendy Fenton, coordinator of the Humanitarian Practice Network.

The impetus behind the project was namely the disconnect between protection activities at the local and global levels. The findings were consistent with the rationale, as the majority of local communities considered their own actions to protect themselves as more important than anything done by outsiders. The most common first line of defense was for people to get out of the way, whether that meant fleeing into the jungle, mountains, refugee camps or crossing the border into another country. Another popular survival strategy component was allying oneself with political or religious leaders who have connections and negotiating power. However, the study found that self-protection strategies often had negative consequences for local populations.

The Zimbabwe case study stressed the importance of “capturing local cultural and religious phenomena in assessing protection threats…includ[ing] witchcraft, religious sects and cult beliefs.” Outside actors largely ignore such issues, but they represent real protection threats for local respondents. In the cases of Myanmar, respondents hardly distinguished between immediate protection concerns pertaining to physical safety and security, and longer-term livelihood security issues. National actors tended to rank assistance priorities differently than communities and aid, and how it was targeted, was sometimes in conflict with local values and realities. This “illustrated the challenge of identifying the local voice.” As such, it is important to be mindful of “the inevitable presence of prejudices in the analysis and presentation of local perceptions,” necessitating greater interaction between international humanitarian actors and local actors.

Research for the South Kordofan/Nuba case study was conducted from 2005 (the beginning of a ceasefire ending a 20-year civil war) to 2011 (when violence flared up again). In accordance with the other case studies, “attempting to separate physical safety, rights and livelihoods, as international agencies commonly do, was not relevant to local understandings of protection.” Over the past six months, efforts have been made to lessen these ideological and practical gaps. Initiatives included “setting up local protection teams in Nuba, consisting of young male and female volunteers, whose role is to share local knowledge of wild foods or medicinal plants which may exist in one particular village, with other villages… the teams also disseminate advice on what actions to take during bombing raids to protect physical safety based on lessons generated from the previous period of conflict.”

Ultimately, international actors should heed the “predictive capacity of local actors who know what the protection threats are, and can articulate when they will happen,” since the former lack the capacity to respond to these.

Photo: hic-mena.org

Last Thursday, the government of Myanmar and ethnic Karen rebels signed a cease-fire agreement, effectively ending their 60-year conflict. However, many members of the international community remain skeptical as just two months ago, Human Rights Watch reported,

Fighting in Karen State flared on election day on November 7, 2010. Conflict between government forces and ethnic Karen insurgents has displaced more than 10,000 civilians . . . All parties to the conflict make widespread use of anti-personnel landmines. Abuses by the Burmese army in Karen State since November 2010 include forced labor, targeting of civilians, attacks on livelihoods, and the longstanding practice of using convict porters . . . prisoners were used as “human shields” to trigger landmines, draw fire during ambushes, or protect soldiers. Injured porters were left to die, and many were summarily executed for failing to carry heavy loads of munitions and supplies. Many of these abuses are war crimes under international humanitarian law.

Because of these grave violations, and given the fact that this is the sixth such cease-fire agreement to be signed between these two groups, Karen Communities Worldwide is calling on the government to engage in dialogue beyond the cease-fire in order to solve the conflict’s underlying political problems. Specifically, they are requesting:

  • A nationwide cease-fire
  • Dialogue for a political solution that guarantees ethnic rights and culture.
  • Stop military actions in ethnic areas
  • Stop human rights violations
  • Free all political prisoners, including ethnic leader Mahn Nyein Maung
The government says it is negotiating peace pacts with the other major ethnic rebel groups — the Chin, the Mon, the Kachin and the Kayah — with a goal of achieving a lasting  peace with them in the next three to four years. Professor Kanbawza Win posits that these various ethnic groups are fighting for their individual rights while simultaneously being unified in their struggle for national democracy. A major hurdle in fulfilling this ambition is the issue of political prisoners; though 130 were released on Friday, according to Amnesty International and as indicated above, “more than a thousand political prisoners may remain behind bars, many of whom are prisoners of conscience.”
Photo: euronews.net

* Burma’s ruling military junta seems to be inching towards democratic reform. The contentious Myitsone dam project has been called off and the government recently released more than 6,000 political prisoners. One of them, chief opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has registered her National League for Democracy party to run in the upcoming elections. The party supports a constitutional amendment that would allow prisoners to vote. Additionally, bans on public protests and union strikes have been lifted.

But these positive developments are still far outweighed by the country’s persistent human rights violations. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana (pictured above), recently discussed the Burmese military’s use of children and forced labor, as well as discrimination against ethnic minorities. A National Human Rights Commission has been set up but lacks independence, and border conflicts remain unresolved. Lastly, despite the dam project not coming to fruition, exploitation of Burma’s natural resources, and the resultant displacement of people, continues to be an issue.

* Last Friday, 29 United States senators, Democrat and Republican alike, sent a letter to President Obama to express their “support for developing the necessary tools to successfully avert mass atrocities and prevent conditions that can lead to violence against innocent civilians.” The letter recapped the terms of Senate Concurrent Resolution 71, while also expressing appreciation for recent steps taken by the Obama administration to develop a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to genocide and mass atrocities prevention, such as the Presidential Study Directive 10 (PSD-10), a National Security Staff Director focused on the prevention of war crimes and atrocities, the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board, and the mandate for an interagency study to inform the board’s work.

Photo: irrawaddy.org

* Yesterday, a Kenyan court ordered the government to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, should he ever return to Kenya. Though al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on genocide and war crimes charges, he was not arrested when he attended a ceremony in Kenya last year. While the African Union does not want its members to enforce the arrest warrant, Kenya is obliged to cooperate as a signatory to the ICC. As such, the ICC reported Kenya to the United Nations Security Council. In response to the ruling, Sudan expelled Kenya’s ambassador and pulled its own envoy from Nairobi. The Kenyan ambassador was given 72 hours to leave the country.

* Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to visit Burma later this week. In advance of the trip, the U.S. Campaign for Burma, in conjunction with 11 other human rights organizations, wrote an open letter to Secretary Clinton, “urg[ing] her to prioritize securing an end to the egregious crimes against humanity the Burmese Army continues to commit against ethnic minority civilians.” The country’s military-backed government recently unveiled reforms but atrocities committed as recently as last month have been reported by aid groups. The ongoing fighting has led to approximately 1 million refugees and internally displaced persons.

Photo: thelondoneveningpost.com

On November 3 the Institute for the Study of Human Rights, at Columbia University in New York, hosted a roundtable discussion called “Peace and Justice in Burma: Serious International Crimes Continue Despite Talk of ‘Change.’ ”

The discussion featured a presentation by Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, outlining the current situation in Burma, specifically in Kachin State.

Stothard began with a brief history of the conflict in Kachin State. In 1994, after decades of fighting, the Burmese government signed a ceasefire agreement with the Kachin Independence Organization and its military wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Despite the ceasefire, the Kachin people did not see their pleas for a representative government realized. In 2009 the Burmese government demanded that all opposition forces, the KIA included, incorporate themselves into the Border Guard Forces of the Burma Army. In light of the KIA’s refusal, the Burmese government launched an offensive against the KIA in Kachin State and Northern Shan State in June 2011. This war has caused large-scale displacement and a dramatic increase in human rights violations committed by the Burmese army in conjunction with its “four cuts strategy.”

According to an October 7 report by Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT), these human rights violations include extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and rape (often gang rape), the use of child soldiers, enslavement and forced labor, and torture. The report says these violations are a direct policy of the Burmese government, both regularly and widely perpetrated impunity, which suggests they could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The conflict in Kachin State has created hundreds of thousands of refugees who are currently housed in six makeshift refugee camps, five of them on the China–Burma border. The Burmese government has blocked aid to these refugee camps, creating a humanitarian crisis that Stothard says is not being addressed by the international community because of a lack of political will.

KWAT is one of many organizations calling for a UN inquiry and a subsequent referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for an investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity. (Burmese organizations cannot request a referral to the ICC themselves, since Burma is not a signatory of the Rome Statute.)

Stothard told the audience that a referral to the Security Council was being blocked by Russia, a major arms dealer to the Burmese government, and China, which has multiple financial interests in Burma, including oil. So far there are 16 countries in favor of a UN inquiry into human rights violations in Burma, but Stothard says the initiative is also opposed by ASEAN, for fear of light being shed on human rights violations in most of its member states.

Photo: mizzima.com

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