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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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Zimbabwe: New Calls for Prosecution of Killings

The International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) is holding its ninth biennial conference this week in Buenos Aires, and in addition to the deteriorating situation in Sudan, members will reportedly be focusing heavily on seeking justice for the victims of the Gukurahundi massacre of the 1980s.

Gukurahundi was genocide,” said Dr. Gregory Stanton, president of the IAGS and founder and president of the NGO Genocide Watch. The Gukurahundi massacre occurred between 1983 and 1987 in Zimbabwe. Stanton considers it one of the “worst of our generation.”

In 1983, as President Robert Mugabe’s government began to face increased political and potential military opposition from the rival Zimbawean African People’s Union (ZAPU), the Gukurahundi, an elite government military unit answerable directly to Mugabe, entered the ZAPU stronghold of Matabeleland. In an attempt to squash the opposition, government forces executed and arrested suspected members of ZAPU and indiscriminately targeted ethnic Matabele civilians—the lion’s share of ZAPU’s base of support. An estimated 20,000 people were killed. The violence only came to a halt when ZAPU signed a peace treaty proposed by the government. Mugabe denies that crimes were committed during the operation, calling it instead a counterinsurgency effort.

Stanton claims there is evidence to prove not only that the actions taken were authorized by the president and high-ranking members of the government, but that they were tantamount to genocide. He hopes to gain support from participants at the IAGS conference to press the matter with the United Nations and the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Burma: Renewed Fighting

According to the International Crisis Group, Burma is very likely slipping back into civil war as peace agreements between the government and ethnic rebel militias have broken down. Fighting is currently taking place in multiple states, the most ferocious occurring in Northern Shan. Multiple sources have reported that in this particular offensive, the government has authorized the use of rape and murder of civilians to crush the rebellion.

The Shan Human Rights Foundation claims the Burmese army has been using rape as a weapon of war since the start of the May offensive against the rebel stronghold of Wan Hai. Claiming the orders originate from the highest level of government, the foundation has recorded at least a dozen reported rapes since late May. According to the Shan Herald, the government has also authorized the indiscriminate targeting of civilians by soldiers.

Such actions would not be out of place for the military junta that runs the Burmese state. In earlier conflicts, including the “Four Cuts” campaign, the government used similar tactics that resulted in the starvation, rape, and death of many villagers.

Photo: ZimEye.org

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