Burmese Army Accused of Torture as Kachin Conflict Enters Fourth Year

An activist holds markers for people to sign a T-shirt at an event to mark the third anniversary of the Kachin conflict in Rangoon on Monday. (Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Burma’s military is responsible for “systematically” torturing ethnic Kachin civilians in what may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, a human rights group said on Monday, the three-year anniversary of renewed fighting between the Burmese Army and Kachin rebels in northern Burma.

Bangkok-based Fortify Rights said such practices are ongoing in Kachin and northern Shan states, where fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burmese Army has flared on and off since June 9, 2011. In a 71-page report, the rights group said civilians suspected of having ties to the KIA were targeted by the army, police and military intelligence officers.

The report, titled “I Thought They Would Kill Me,” describes a variety of torture tactics employed, including beatings, sensory deprivation, and forcing victims to dig what they were told would be their own graves. Others were allegedly sexually assaulted, burned or forced to lick their own blood off the ground after being beaten, according to the report.

“The authorities have tortured Kachin civilians with brutal and inhuman tactics, and those responsible for these crimes have acted with complete impunity for three years,” Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, was quoted as saying in a press release. “The government must fulfill its duty to put a stop to these serious crimes and ensure accountability for abuses.”

Fortify Rights said the report was based on 78 interviews with victims of torture and their family members, witnesses, aid workers and KIA officials, from June 2011 to April 2014. The group said it collected evidence that more than 60 civilians were tortured over the period.

Torture tactics were frequently tinged with an element of ethnic or religious discrimination against the majority-Christian Kachin, the report said, adding that several victims told of threats made to destroy the Kachin ethnic identity.

The report said that while it had uncovered no use of torture tactics by the KIA, Fortify Rights “shares concerns expressed by UN officials and others regarding allegations of the KIA’s ongoing use of child soldiers, forced labor, and antipersonnel landmines.”

The report’s release on Monday coincided with the three-year anniversary of a breakdown in the ceasefire between the KIA and the government. More than 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting since then, with casualties unknown but estimated in the thousands.

The KIA remains one of two major ethnic armed groups in Burma that does not have a ceasefire with the government, despite several rounds of peace talks since fighting broke out three years ago.

Also on Monday, the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand said in a statement that recent fighting—which the group claimed was motivated by a Burmese Army campaign to secure economic gains in the region—“throw[s] strong doubt on the government’s sincerity towards the peace process.”

The association added that at least 70 instances of sexual violence had been documented since 2011, with half of those victims killed as a result.

“We deplore these continuing incidents of rape, and urge that the issue of military sexual violence be addressed as a matter of priority during peace negotiations,” the association said.

Fifty-five organizations worldwide, including Fortify Rights, on Monday issued a nine-point call for action, urging both sides in the conflict to cease hostilities, ensure access for humanitarian aid groups and grant women a voice in peace talks.

Over the weekend, activists around Burma gathered to commemorate the grim three-year milestone, calling on the Burmese military to drop its guns.

“If the army wants peace, [they] should not be fighting up until today. Looking back at the three years of battles, the ethnic army [KIA] has never initiated fighting with the Burmese Army. It is the Burmese Army that has occupied the ethnic army’s posts one by one,” Khon Ja, an activist with the Kachin Peace Network, told The Irrawaddy on Saturday.

In April, presidential spokesman Ye Htut rejected such characterizations, telling The Irrawaddy that “the Tatmadaw [military] only fights to defend itself, and they have been instructed not to attack first.”

Events to mark the third anniversary were held in Rangoon beginning on Saturday. Youth groups in the former capital held signs reading “stop civil war now” amid the singing of songs urging peace, traditional dance performances and testimonies from civilians affected by the conflict.

The anniversary was also marked in Mandalay and Myitkyina, the Kachin State capital, where activists marched 10 miles from the city center to Jaw Pone mountain. Kachin exile communities in countries including Malaysia, the United States, Japan and Australia also planned events.

“Even though the president [Thein Sein] gave an order to stop the war in Kachin, the war is still happening, probably because the commander-in-chief has given the order [to fight],” Phyu Ei Thein, an aid worker who has been fundraising for displaced Kachin civilians over the past two and a half years, said in Rangoon. She added that soldiers on both sides did not necessarily want to fight, citing stories of Burmese Army and KIA soldiers communicating on friendly terms across the jungle streams that sometimes serve as battle lines.

Despite those accounts, Phyu Ei Thein said a far less fraternal dynamic was beginning to set in at the camps for internally displaced people (IDPs), some of whom have been without a permanent home since 2011.

“All we can do is to urge them [the IDPs] not to nurture so much hatred toward the Burmese,” she said, pointing out that two of the Burman Buddhist-dominated military’s largest offensives coincided with the Christmas and Easter holidays.

Ja Seng Pan, a Kachin woman who was involved in a performance on Saturday in Rangoon, said her participation was an expression of solidarity.

“We couldn’t help the IDPs financially, but we want to encourage them by showing our support,” she said.

With additional reporting from Nyein Nyein.

4 Responses to Burmese Army Accused of Torture as Kachin Conflict Enters Fourth Year

  1. >>live and let live>>

    >>put a little love in your heart>>

    >>war is a symbol of barbarism>>

  2. Puppet thein sein and child soldier Ming sung hlaing are actually in same group to play the game wih all ethnics. Some naive Karens are already divided and ruled by fox. Most DSA and OTS guys are opportunitic soldiers to hold the guns how to get power for their selfish manner. Those thugs will never give up their power to win us unfairly. Those thugs are lowborn mostly and they are not good in education in general. Most are connected with low standard of bama military to get in DSA and OTS. If all ethnics sign with those bama military thugs in peace , the ethnics are cheated again and again. Idiot yet grit said and says bama army is fighting for selfdefence. How it is low ogley statement. Invade other homes and kill the family members for self-defense. Do you all believe it ? All ethnics should sign peace with real democratcally elected Burmese Government, not sign with anybody. So, Kachins are brave and wise. The worse, Kachine should sell their lands to China for 50years. At least, China soldiers will not rape Kachin women. Gun mawGeneral should talk and visit China. Never trust lowborn bama generals. Late uwin tin already warnyou all. DASSK is cheated by puppet thein sein now in the aspect of releasing sanction. UN ispaper tigerfor being able totake action against bama rapist soldiers. Only Freddy China can help all ethnics. Be China before ethnics cleansing occurs in. Burma. Never never trust bama low born generals.

    • All ethnics should sign with greedy China for protectoin instead of bama rapist soldiers. Burma was invaded by British and Japan, never by China aggresively. China never occupied Burma. Burma has no threat after WW2, saved by Kachin army and Chinese Nationalist army, logistically supported by allied force. Burma does not need soldiers. China and Brave Kachin can and
      will protect any invasion now. Bama army should be abolished, like Japanese and Germy army after WW2. Bama army was and is very bad reputation in history and now. Yet htut is brainless puppet soldier. His wife is pay to criticise DASSK form her pseudoBuddhism.

  3. Absolute Crimes against humanity. It has been too much, over enough to take action by the International Community. All highlighting that this Government is not a genuine one, but a Bogus Democratic guise military government with clear determine of ethnic cleansing. This bogus government has distorted all to get the supports from the west just to commit the Crimes against humanity in the broad day light.

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