Friday, October 21, 2011

Burma: Army Committing Abuses in Kachin State

The ethnic group, Kachin, is the second largest group in Burma (technically-Myanmar). The Kachin state is located in the northernmost part of Burma. Since more than five months ago, the Burmese armed forces have been fighting against the Kachin Independence Army and have been killing and attacking many civilians through forced labor, which resulted in the displacement of an estimated 30,000 Kachin civilians. The cause of the hostility between the Burmese government and the Kachin Independence Organization is the suspension of US$3.6 billion hydropower dam project on the Irrawaddy River in Kachin State. So far, tens of thousands of people have fled through the mountains and jungle during the peak of the rainy season.
Human Rights Watch is sending people on fact-finding missions to investigate the situation. HRW documented three Kachin killings by Burmese soldiers in June. Villagers told HRW that a Burmese soldier shot and killed a 52-year-old woman and her 4-year-old grandson in their home as they tried to flee. Soldiers shot and killed a farmer as he stood unarmed with a group of friends at a cemetery. 18 women and girls have been gang-raped by army soldiers and four were killed.
Most people are shot as they try to flee. Below is the story of a 62-year old woman and her four young grandchildren.

“In the morning when we were cooking rice, we heard gunfire and we left our food and went to the field, looking into the village the whole day before we fled. When we ran the soldiers shot at us. We were really afraid. We just ran and hid.” She said that after two days in the jungle without basic provisions, they decided to return home to get food, at which point they were fired upon a second time. “We had already left the house and were on our way out of the village … and the soldiers opened fire on us [again],” she said. “No one was hit. When the soldier opened fire it made me shake and I didn’t know what to do. We just ran.”

More personal stories:

A 51-year-old Kachin farmer from Sang Gang told Human Rights Watch that a government soldier opened fire on him on June 12, despite it being clear he was unarmed: “The soldier and I were around 50 meters apart, and between us was a small stream. The soldier said nicely, ‘Brother, come, come,’ and I pretended to come and then suddenly ran, and the soldier shot at me two times. I hid for one hour near where I escaped. After one hour it was getting dark and I ran. I was afraid of the Burmese.”

A 33-year-old woman told Human Rights Watch that before the current fighting she was forced to carry provisions up a two-mile road to a Burmese army outpost while she was six-months pregnant. She said, “I had to do forced labor for the Burmese soldiers many times… [Before the fighting began] we carried rice and other things to [the Burmese army] post and walked back. It took three hours. The path is very steep, we had to climb the mountain and it was difficult to reach. From morning to evening we had to do it twice. The food we brought ourselves and we ate. They didn’t feed us.”

A villager from Sin Lum described fleeing to the jungle: “We were afraid to live in the village so we went to hide in the jungle one mile from the village. It was 11 households, 58 people. We lived there for a month ... and when we needed food and rice we secretly went back to the village and then came back. We lived [in the jungle] with plastic bags as shelter. When we were going back and forth secretly, the Burmese soldiers saw us and told us next time they saw us they were going to shoot us. After that, no one went back.”

Technically, “under the laws of war applicable in conflict areas in Burma, all sides are prohibited from mistreating persons in their custody, targeting civilians, or pillaging homes and other civilian property.” But when do we follow these laws, anyway?

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