New Amnesty Report Says Myanmar Military, EAOs Committing War Crimes in Shan

By SKYLAR LINDSAY 29 October 2019

A new report by Amnesty International published Thursday alleges that the Myanmar military and ethnic armed groups are both committing what amount to war crimes amid the active conflict in northern Shan State.

The report gathers evidence of what Amnesty says are cases of arbitrary detention, torture, forced labor and targeting of civilian areas by the Myanmar military. It also includes evidence of similar abuses by ethnic armed groups, including “taxation” and extortion.

In the report, Amnesty calls for the UN Security Council to refer the conflict in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court in order to hold perpetrators in the Myanmar military accountable for past crimes and to prevent ongoing human rights violations from continuing.

“Those responsible for war crimes should face justice, all the way up to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the Myanmar military’s Commander-in-Chief,” said Amnesty International Director for East and Southeast Asia Nicholas Bequelin. “Fighters and commanders in ethnic armed groups should also be investigated and held accountable for war crimes.”

One 35-year-old ethnic Kachin fisherman told researchers about an incident in March when Myanmar military soldiers accused him of being a member of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and forced him to squat semi-naked while holding a grenade in his mouth. The soldiers asked if he was with the KIA and when he said no, “They started punching and kicking me. They forced me to take off my clothes [and] held a knife to my neck… They put a grenade in my mouth. I was afraid if I moved it would explode.”

A previous report from Amnesty in 2018 documented incriminating evidence of crimes against humanity that implicated 13 individuals in the Myanmar military, including senior leadership and generals.

The report is based on research trips to the area in March and August, including 88 interviews, and documents crimes against civilians from ethnic groups including Kachin Lisu, Shan and Ta’ang civilians.

Military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun refused to comment on the specific allegations of rights abuses.

“They are always accusing us. We have no comment in particular about this,” Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy. “We comply with rules of engagement in conducting operations.”

The brigadier general also said the report failed to acknowledge the military’s efforts to address human rights issues.

“We are educating military units on a large scale to comply with the laws of armed conflict and avoid human rights violations,” said Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun. “We don’t forgive human rights violations. We take action and announce what actions are taken. They released [this report] one-sidedly, neglecting these facts. They are not impartial.”

Most of the alleged war crimes documented in the Amnesty report occurred while the military’s unilateral ceasefire, declared in December 2018, was still in place.

According to the report, “while there may have been a reduction of the number of clashes involving the military, Myanmar soldiers have continued to commit serious violations against ethnic minority civilians.”

The evidence in the report implicates the military’s Light Infantry Battalion 99 in war crimes, the same group that Amnesty and other groups have said is responsible for human rights violations in Shan, Kachin and Rakhine states. The UN Fact-Finding Mission and others have collected evidence implicating the battalion in crimes against the Rohingya.

In response to the new report, Brigadier General Tar Phone Kyaw of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), one of the ethnic armed groups implicated in the report, told the Irrawaddy that the Myanmar army has committed many human rights abuses in the Ta’ang area, including civilian killings, torture and forced portering.

“The Myanmar army has targeted civilians when they fire artillery. Their actions are war crimes,” he told The Irrawaddy. The brigadier general expressed support for the organization’s work to document rights abuses.

“Amnesty International should collect data on rights abuses in more detail in our area so they could have a complete report. There were a lot of human rights abuses in our region,” he said. “They also should talk to Arakanese people too to know about how the Myanmar army has violated human right in the Arakan region.”

The report also claims to document arbitrary detentions and torture committed by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) and the TNLA.

Local residents told Amnesty researchers that ethnic armed groups extorted food and money from them and threatened them.

“From our side, some of our ground troops may have violated some human rights as during periods of fighting they have been worried for their security,” Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw told The Irrawaddy. “We tried as best we could and told our ground forces not to violate human rights. We have a military code of conduct and all our soldiers have to respect it. We even told our soldiers not to ask for food from local people as we provide them with food.”

Amnesty reportedly reached out to the Myanmar government, the military and four ethnic armed groups for comment but none responded.

Additional reporting by Lawi Weng and Htet Naing Zaw