Serious Abuses Still Rife in Burma: UK Govt

By Lawi Weng 12 July 2012

While welcoming positive political developments in Burma, a new report from the UK government has raised serious concerns regarding ongoing human right abuses in ethnic areas where armed conflicts continue to rage.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office published “Human Rights and Democracy 2011” on Tuesday which highlights entrenched humanitarian crises in Burma just as local sources in Kachin State accuse the Burmese government of arbitrarily detaining and torturing civilians suspected of links to rebel groups.

“2011 was marked by some unexpected and positive political developments in Burma, although significant long-term challenges remained,” said the report, detailing the case of 30,000 houses from seven villages in Shan State which were razed to the ground in March last year by government troops.

And many serious human rights violations were also documented in northernmost Kachin State where a 17-year ceasefire broke down in June last year. The report detailed accusations of civilians being tortured, raped and killed by government troops while the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA) also allegedly used forced porters, child soldiers and land mines.

After Burma began a program of political reform, Conservative MP William Hague became the first UK foreign secretary to visit the military-dominated nation in 57 years to signify a new level of engagement between the two countries. This was followed by the European Union suspending economic sanctions in May.

“We acknowledge that there is more work to be done to address the serious human rights concerns that remain. In 2012, our human rights objectives will build on the progress in 2011,” said the report, adding that many of Burma’s existing laws are outdated, contradictory and in need of amendment.

Rebel peace brokers told The Irrawaddy that ongoing human right abuses in Kachin State remain serious, with suspected KIA supporters detained at Myitkyina refugee camps by the local authorities. This is despite article 17/1 of the Unlawful Associations Act, which states that it is illegal for anyone to have contact with an outlawed organization, apparently being suspended on June 21.

The constitutional law, which dates back to British colonial times, has been used for decades to justify the arbitrary arrest of anyone suspected of supporting anti-government organizations or ethnic armed groups.

And despite apparently being repealed, San Aung, a peace broker in the Kachin capital, said that 49 ethnic Kachins were detained for being KIA supporters or sympathizers last month, of which 29 are currently being prosecuted.

Instead of finding a political solution through peace talks, the government continues to use its armed forces to attack the KIA, claims another peace broker Lamai Gum Ja, adding that an end to hostilities remains far out of reach in the war-torn state.

Lamai Gum Ja told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that three more people were reportedly detained in northern Shan State on July 3 for suspected links to the Kachin rebels.

More than 1,500 Kachin people took part in a protest in Myitkyina Township on July 6 that demanded the release of Lahtaw Brang Shawng who was detained and faces trial in Myitkyina for being member of the KIA.

He was beaten and tortured during interrogation by the authorities and forced to confess to the allegations, according to his supporters.

KIA spokesman La Nan said that Railways Minister Aung Min, Naypyidaw’s chief peace negotiator, is not a man who can be trusted as many people are still being detained and tortured under article 17/1 despite his assurance that it was dropped.

Even though several rounds of negotiations have taken place between the Burmese government and KIA, no settlement has so far been reached. More than 70,000 civilians, including many women and children, have been forced to flee to temporary camps by the Chinese border due to the year-long conflict, according to humanitarian groups.