Myanmar - ReliefWeb News
(New York) – US Secretary of State John Kerry should press the Burmese government during his upcoming visit to reverse Burma’s deteriorating rights situation, Human Rights Watch said today. Kerry is scheduled to visit Burma from August 8 to 10, 2014, to attend meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).
Many of the key indicators of human rights reform in Burma have stalled or are backsliding. During the past year the number of political prisoners has risen with increased arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters and prosecutions of journalists. Efforts to reform the justice system and enforce the rule of law have achieved little progress. And the military has been involved in widespread abuses linked to land grabbing and continued fighting in ethnic minority areas. Human Rights Watch highlighted these and other issues in a letter to President Barack Obama in July.
“While the United States continues to spin a positive story about reforms in Burma, the reality is that the reform process has not only stopped but is going into reverse,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Kerry should use his visit to deliver a clear and public message of deep concern about serious human rights problems, including continued persecution of the Rohingya, continued military abuses against ethnic groups, and the need for constitutional reform.”
The ASEAN meetings, which Burma chairs in 2014, precede the East Asia Summit in November in Naypyidaw, Burma’s capital. World leaders, including US President Barack Obama, are expected to attend.
Kerry should strongly raise concerns about the persecution of the largely stateless Rohingya in Arakan State, violence fomented by Buddhist extremists against the Muslim population, and new legislation infringing on the rights of religious minorities. No one has been held responsible for the “ethnic cleansing” and crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya in 2012, which caused more than 100,000 to flee the country and left another 140,000 displaced and living in dire conditions.
The government has not taken a public stand against Buddhist religious leaders whose statements and actions have fomented anti-Muslim violence and discrimination throughout the country. Instead of using the law to help protect vulnerable religious groups, the government has endorsed several draft laws on religious conversion and interfaith marriage that would further isolate, intimidate, and discriminate against Muslims and other religious minorities. Kerry should press the government to demonstrate genuine progress in ending the persecution of the Rohingya, preventing further sectarian violence, and abandoning discriminatory legislation.
“Optimism for Burma’s reforms has been dealt a blow by the government’s inaction in the face of rising violence against Muslims and its denial of basic rights to the long persecuted Rohingya,” Adams said. “Burma’s government is playing with fire by allowing Buddhist extremists to dictate the boundaries of religious practice in the country.”
Kerry should also denounce continuing rights abuses by the Burmese army and opposition armed groups in ethnic minority areas and press for prosecution of those responsible. Military abuses include killings, sexual violence, torture, and the use of child soldiers. The Burmese military’s business interests and those of its cronies have been responsible for land grabs resulting in mass displacement. The government and military have blocked access by international aid and development agencies to ethnic minority areas devastated by decades of armed conflict, which lack basic education and health care. Kerry should press for an end to war crimes in conflict areas, urge accountability for serious rights violations, call for the full participation of rights groups and women in all peace talks, and seek unfettered access by domestic and international aid agencies.
“The ongoing peace process with ethnic armed groups has not addressed the suffering of millions of ethnic minority people during decades of war,” Adams said. “While talks take place, the military still commits horrific abuses for which no one is held to account.”
Kerry should also raise concerns about faltering constitutional reforms. Burma’s constitution contains numerous provisions that are undemocratic and violate fundamental rights, and should be amended or revoked before, not after, expected parliamentary elections in 2015. Key provisions include the effective ban on a presidential candidacy by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the military’s quota of 25 percent of the seats in parliament, and its powers to dismiss parliament and overrule civilian legislation.
The military’s effective veto over constitutional amendments and behind the scenes oversight of the civilian government have ensured that reforms have stalled. Kerry should make clear to the Burmese government that reforms need to be in place so that the Burmese people will be able to freely and fairly elect their leaders in 2015.
“Kerry should work with other donors and friends of the Burmese people to deliver a clear message to the country’s leaders,” Adams said. “They need to be put on notice that Burma will lose US and international support if reforms do not continue.”
Friday’s release of 91 children and young people by the Myanmar military, all of whom had served as underage soldiers, is a welcome step: It demonstrates the Myanmar military’s commitment to release child soldiers present in its ranks. But at the same time, it shows that the problem of child recruitment remains ongoing and persistent. Children continue to be unlawfully recruited into the ranks of the Tatmadaw Kyi (Myanmar Army), with 340 cases of underage recruitment reported to the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2013 and 2014. Of these, 48 cases were actually recruited in 2013 and 2014.
Two years back, the Myanmar government made a commitment to the international community and its own citizens. Through a Joint Action Plan signed with the United Nations, it pledged to end the recruitment and use of children into its armed forces and the Border Guard Forces (BGFs). It also promised to take steps to ensure that children would be protected from recruitment in the future.
Since then, there have been some positive changes on the ground. Access by the UN Country Task Force to military sites has improved; release of some children from the army, though slow and still a small number, has taken place; a massive awareness raising campaign has been initiated; and some measures are being taken to improve recruitment practices.
However, there is no process yet to verify and release children from the BGFs, which are under the remit of the Joint Action Plan; children who escape from the Tatmadaw Kyi continue to be detained and treated as adult deserters; and accountability measures have so far failed to deter ongoing underage recruitment despite the fact that it is against the law.
Particularly concerning is the fact that the reasons which drove underage recruitment in the past have not been addressed: Continued pressure on the Myanmar military to increase troop numbers within an informal, incentive-based quota system drives demand for fresh recruitment. Battalion commanders, particularly in infantry battalions, are under constant pressure to recruit and failure to meet recruitment targets invites censure and penalties against battalion commanders. Recruitment processes lack effective monitoring and oversight, allowing underage recruits to “slip through the net” despite military directives to end this practice.
All this puts children at grave risk of unlawful recruitment. A majority of the cases of underage recruitment in 2014 have been coerced, with children being tricked or lured into the army through false promises. The practice of falsification of age documents, including Citizenship Scrutiny Cards (CSC) and household lists, by recruiters and civilian “brokers” continues unchecked and no measures have been adopted to establish accountability for this illegal practice.
Friday’s releases, which bring the total number of children released by the military under the Joint Action Plan to 364, are to be commended. But there is also a need for a renewed and demonstrable commitment to end and prevent child soldiers in Myanmar. For instance, ensuring that all children are registered at birth and all children possess an identity document that lays out clearly their ages, is a tangible way of providing protection to children against unlawful recruitment. Similarly, support by the international community to the Myanmar authorities to ensure that it strengthens recruitment procedures—implementing effective age verification measures that are monitored and hold violators accountable—is yet another way to bring in long-term prevention.
The responsibility to protect children from grave violations in conflict lies not just with the Myanmar military. Armed opposition groups active in various regions of Myanmar have also been known to recruit children and use them in hostilities, a practice which has seen them “listed” for several years in the UN secretary-general’s annual reports on children and armed conflict.
Current peace efforts in Myanmar offer a remarkable opportunity to prioritize the protection of children. The Myanmar government and all parties negotiating the nationwide ceasefire agreement need to ensure that child soldiers issues are not only fully incorporated in the peace process, but that mechanisms are established to verify and release children. The recruitment and use of children must be considered a violation of ceasefire agreements. All these steps are essential to fulfil the Myanmar government’s commitment to fully protecting children.
Charu Lata Hogg is the Asia program manager for Child Soldiers International, an NGO working to end underage recruitment across the globe.
Snapshot 30 July–5 August
OPt: As a 72-hour truce begins, 1,179 civilians have been reported killed since Operation Protective Edge started. A third of the population of the Gaza Strip – 485,000 people – have been displaced, an increase of 270,000 since last week. Most IDPs are staying in schools, which are severely overcrowded. The health system is overwhelmed.
Syria: Attacks on Douma and Kfar Bata, east of Damascus, have killed more than 50 people, while opposition forces have advanced in Hama. Deliveries of humanitarian aid to hard-to-reach areas dropped in July; only 49 of 287 such locations were reached.
Sudan: Further heavy rains and flooding have affected 6,100 households, half in River Nile and North Kordofan states. More than 3,000 homes are reported destroyed, and South Sudanese refugee camps flooded. Khartoum state has declared a high alert.
Updated: 05/08/2014. Next update: 12/08/2014
About 1,000 homes have been inundated in Hlegu, Rangoon Division, after heavy rains flooded the Ngamoeyeik creek and the Pegu River.
“The water is about waist-deep in some areas,” said Phyo Min Thu, a lower house parliamentarian representing Hlegu Township. He said that about 3,000 people were affected in five villages: Ngwenanthar, Malit, Sinhpon, Sitpinmyauk and Yaekyaw.
While seasonal floods are common in the low-lying region just north of Rangoon, Phyo Min Thu said that abnormally heavy rainfall in recent weeks has caused extreme, protracted flood levels, with excess water sometimes remaining stagnant for up to ten days.
Emergency response measures for the thousands affected remain unclear.
More flooding is expected to hit Arakan State, Irrawaddy, Pegu and Rangoon Divisions as the monsoon season nears its peak, according to Tun Lwin, head of Burma’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology.
Tun Lwin told DVB on Sunday that Bassein, Henzada, Maubin, Mingalardon, Pegu and Tharawaddy townships are likely to flood, as well as Kyaukphyu, on the Arakan coast; a prediction that he described as “alarming”.
Last year, about 50,000 people were displaced by flash floods in Pegu Division, according to the United Nations. In addition, some 60,000 acres of farmland were flooded, with about 15,000 severely damaged.
Undeveloped infrastructure, risk prevention and low capacity for efficient relief efforts remain a concern in many parts of the country. In a 2013 situation bulletin on Burma, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stressed the need to “strengthen disaster risk reduction and preparedness activities to mitigate the impact of natural disasters on vulnerable populations in the coming years”.
Burma is one the most disaster-prone countries in the Asia Pacific, vulnerable to a range of hazards including floods, cyclones, earthquakes, landslides and tsunamis.
The CFSI Annual Report for 2013 gives a sketch of CFSI’s accomplishments and ongoing efforts in rebuilding lives in the Philippines, Myanmar, and Viet Nam. Throughout the succession of emergencies in 2013, CFSI carried out relief, early recovery, and reconstruction, as well as capacity strengthening with local partners and policy advocacy at the regional and global levels.
By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY
RANGOON — Local authorities are preparing to resettle the first group of people in Meikhtila to be provided new homes after inter-communal violence ripped through the town in central Burma more than a year ago.
Thousands were displaced and at least 40 people were killed when the Mandalay Division town was engulfed by clashes between Buddhists and Muslims for three days in March 2013 before the government declared state of emergency. Some 7,845 people, mostly Muslims, remain homeless and living in camps around the town, of which 220 households will soon be resettled.
Khin Naing, a member of the town’s resettlement committee and the supervisor on the project to build new homes for the displaced, told The Irrawaddy that the first round of resettlement would begin next week.
“The authorities informed our construction committee that the resettlement program will begin between Aug. 4 and 5. This is the first round of resettlement and includes 220 houses,” Khin Naing said.
Families will be given 40-by-30-feet plots of land and a small house in Meikhtila’s Chan Aye Tharyar Quarter, he said. The area was the town’s Muslim quarter, and more than 1,500 houses there were razed to the ground during the violence, according to state media.
Khin Naing added that Mandalay Division Chief Minister San Aung had informed the committee about the start of resettlement on a recent visit.
Authorities have not provided detailed information to the displaced people about how they will be resettled, sparking rumors that a random ballot system will be employed. About 100 people have written to the divisional government with concerns that a ballot system could mean they are not resettled on the sites of their former homes.
“[The displaced people] strongly oppose the authorities using a ballot system because they are worried that they will not get their own land,” said Khin Naing.
Inter-communal violence in the past two years has affected a number of cities and towns in Burma, most notably in Arakan State, where about 140,000 people, mostly Rohingya Muslims, are living in camps following violence there. The Muslim and Buddhist communities in Mandalay clashed earlier this month during riots that led to the deaths of two people.
However, Win Htein, a National League for Democracy member of Parliament for Meikhtila, said he was not concerned that problems would arise again between the two communities in the town.
“It is peaceful already in the area. Both communities in the area can maintain a situation without violence, so there will be no problems,” said Win Htein.
By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY
RANGOON — Residents of a Shan village in Namkham Township, northern Shan State, have fled their homes after the Burma Army harshly interrogated several villagers about the recent assassination of two military officers on a nearby road, local sources said on Friday.
Sai Aom Mong, a Namkham resident, told The Irrawaddy that he had heard that Noung Madar village was abandoned on Thursday.
“The village has about 120 houses and about 400 people fled from the village,” he said. “They told me that they have to flee from their village as security forces threatened their lives. Almost all people in the village fled, including five community leaders who were detained briefly for interrogation and beaten by the army.”
He said soldiers from 16th Battalion, Infantry Division 88 entered the village to question residents about the murder of two officers on a quiet road near Noung Madar, a village located about 2 km north of Namkham. On Tuesday, a commanding officer and a warrant officer were gunned down by unknown assailants on their way back from Namkham market to their base.
Village leaders were warned during interrogation that “the life of one officer is worth the lives of 100 villagers,” Sai Aom Mong said. He added that some villagers had fled across the nearby border into China, while others went to stay with their relatives or in Buddhist monasteries.
Sai Kyaw Ohn, a Shan Nationalities Democratic Party parliamentarian from Namkham Township, said, “I heard the people fled from their village, but I do not know yet how many families.” He added that he felt sympathy for the villagers who were forced to abandon their homes and farms in the middle of the busy rice-growing season.
No one has claimed responsibility for the assassination with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) saying that the area of the attack is under control of the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North).
Namkham was reportedly the scene of another murder on July 23, when a young man was shot in the head in the town in the evening.
In recent months, northern Shan State has been the scene of frequent, deadly clashes between the TNLA, the SSA-North and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), as the ethnic conflict spills over from neighboring Kachin State.
Since April, fighting had been escalating in southern Kachin State, which borders Namkham Township, and several thousand civilians were displaced. Last week, some 800 Palaung minority villagers were newly displaced by fresh fighting in Namkham Township.
Increasing Israeli-Palestinian tensions culminated in Israel launching "Operation Protective Edge" in Gaza in early July (see our latest report and commentary). The assault, which started as an aerial campaign and was later extended to include ground operations, reportedly killed more than 1,400 Palestinians throughout the month while 64 Israelis were killed in clashes inside the Gaza Strip and by Hamas rocket fire. Several attempts at reaching a ceasefire agreement failed in July. Israel backed proposals demanding a cessation of hostilities as a prerequisite for negotiating a long-term truce, while Hamas insisted that ceasefire modalities not agreed to during the fighting would never be addressed. As CrisisWatch goes to press there are reports that a three-day humanitarian ceasefire announced 1 August has already collapsed.
Iraq’s army and political leadership has made no tangible progress in responding to June’s territorial gains by jihadi and other rebel groups across the country’s north-west. A poorly-planned 15 July assault to recapture Tikrit failed while the jihadis leading the takeover, the Islamic State (formerly ISIL), moved to consolidate control in captured areas, eliminate Sunni rivals and destroy religious sites. Politicians in Baghdad continued jockeying for positions following April’s parliamentary elections, with Prime Minister Maliki showing no sign of wavering in his demand to retain his post. Unprecedented tensions also arose between Maliki and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over Kurdish territorial gains, boycotts of cabinet sessions and increasing calls for independence. (See our latest report and commentary.)
Syria’s northern armed opposition looks increasingly precarious. In the past month, opposition fighters were defeated by rival rebels from the jihadi group the Islamic State (formerly ISIL) in the eastern province Deir al-Zour while regime forces made progress in encircling rebels in Aleppo. Setbacks faced by the increasingly disorganised and poorly armed moderate opposition factions in Aleppo could provide an opportunity for IS to push further west (see our latest commentary). Meanwhile, IS and regime forces were increasingly drawn into direct confrontation as a consequence of their respective gains. IS reportedly seized a gas field east of Homs in mid-July and later took control of regime bases in Raqqa and Hassakeh provinces.
In Libya security units affiliated with Islamist-leaning Libya Revolutionaries’ Operation Room (LROR) clashed with Zintan militias over control of Tripoli airport, leaving scores dead. Many were also reported killed in ongoing violence between various government forces and militias in Benghazi during the second half of the month. The UN and most embassies evacuated their staff throughout the month citing security concerns. A newly-elected parliament faces challenges convening due to the ongoing violence: even if it does convene, its ability to find consensus on a way to tackle the country's escalating insecurity is uncertain.
South Sudan’s conflict escalated further as fighting broke out in new areas of Greater Bahr el Ghazal and both the government and SPLM in Opposition (SPLM-IO) launched offensives that displaced thousands, including a government attack on a World Food Programme distribution site. Tensions grew in the three Equatorian states, taking the form of demands for a federal government structure and frustrations over the perceived Dinka monopoly on state power. The EU imposed its first sanctions and renewed its arms embargo amid calls for the UN Security Council to follow suit. (See our recent Conflict Alert and commentary on civil society.)
Al-Shabaab stepped up its attacks across Somalia during the holy month of Ramadan, killing dozens of government and security officials. The Somali Federal Government fired its police and intelligence chiefs after an attack on the presidential palace in early July. Tribal violence and tensions over the creation of a new federal state continued in south central.
In Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, one of the two candidates in the presidential run-off elections, rejected preliminary results of the second round of voting showing his opponent, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, to be in the lead (see our latest commentary). With tensions rising and Abdullah’s supporters urging him to declare a parallel government, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry intervened in mid-July and brokered an agreement between the candidates requiring an audit of all ballot boxes. The audit began on 17 July but was quickly complicated by delays and procedural disagreements between the two camps, ultimately leading to its postponement until early August. Meanwhile, violence across the country continued to increase, with numerous attacks reported including in the capital Kabul.
Army operations against tribal militants in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region caused mass displacement and left residents without adequate humanitarian assistance. The FATA Disaster Management Authority registered nearly one million IDPs fleeing operations by 22 July. The military restricted the work of foreign aid organisations and local NGOs, leaving people to rely on the charity fronts of jihadi organisations.