Ethnic minorities suffer rights abuses in Myanmar's north

Myanmar army has 'committed egregious violations against civilians, sometimes amounting to war crimes'
Ethnic minorities suffer rights abuses in Myanmar's north

An ethnic Kachin woman and her elderly mother in Karuna-run St. Paul IDP camp in Jai Maing Kaung, on the outskirts of Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, in April. (ucanews.com photo)

Myanmar's military have committed appalling rights violations against ethnic minorities in Kachin and northern Shan, says rights group Amnesty International.

The Myanmar army has committed egregious violations against civilians, sometimes amounting to war crimes, says the London-based rights group in a report released June 14. As part of that, the report detailed a massacre of 18 young men from a village allegedly committed by government forces.

"The international community is familiar with the appalling abuses suffered by the Rohingya minority in Myanmar's Rakhine State, but in Kachin and northern Shan states we found a similarly shocking pattern in the army's targeting of other ethnic minorities," said Matthew Wells, senior crisis response advisor at AI.

In both Kachin and northern Shan states, civilians are being subjected to rights abuses such as torture and extrajudicial executions, says Amnesty. The report details how civilian villages have been indiscriminately shelled by government forces and how civilians have had punitive restrictions placed upon their movement.

In Shan State in particular, Myanmar's military is failing to distinguish between civilians and combatants, said the report.

 

Ethnic armed groups

The Myanmar military are fighting various ethnic armed groups in the area, including the Kachin Independence Army, the Ta'ang National Liberation Army, the Arakan Army, and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army.

Amnesty said that some ethnic armed groups at times abduct civilians seen to support an opposing party, forcibly recruit men, women and children into their fighting forces and impose ‘taxes' on impoverished villagers trapped in the conflict.

Humanitarian access has also been denied to civilians affected by the conflict.

"All sides must protect civilians amid the conflict and the Myanmar authorities need to immediately end the humanitarian access restrictions that have further harmed this already-vulnerable population," said Wells.

Amnesty's report is based on three field visits to affected areas from March to May. The rights group interviewed more than 140 people including victims and witnesses to violations of the laws of war, local and international humanitarian officials and community leaders.

Kachin State is 90 percent Christian and the mountainous region has seen civil war on and off since independence from Britain in 1948. In Shan State, Christians — mostly Kachins — are a minority group with the majority being Buddhist. The ethnic makeup of the state includes Shans, Palaung, Kokang and Kachins.

 

Church efforts

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More than 100,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and taken refuge at 167 IDP camps in Kachin and northern Shan States.

Karuna (Caritas) Myanmar — the Catholic Church's social arm — has taken a leading role in providing aid to internally displaced people (IDP) in the government-controlled and armed groups controlled areas in both states.

Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam, head of the Karuna Myanmar, said it is yet to have the exact statistics of Catholic IDPs but he estimates that among the 100,000 displaced about 32,000 are Catholics.

Hkawng Lum, a Baptist woman from a Karuna-run IDP camp in southern Kachin State said she fled her village after fighting erupted in 2011.

Among those that the military killed was her mother. When they can return to the village, the mother of three children has no idea.

"We feel insecure here but we can't go out freely as there is fighting near the camp," Hkawng Lum told ucanews.com.

Elisabeth Moon Nang, a long-time resident of another Karuna-run camp outside of Kachin's capital of Myitkyina, said she and her family members hid behind a Marian grotto when the military fired into her village.

"In fear, we fled the village and the military burnt down our homes," Moon Nang, a Catholic woman, told ucanews.com.

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