All But Forgotten

By Lawi Weng 4 May 2018

United Nations Security Council delegates wrapped up a four-day visit to Bangladesh and Myanmar on Tuesday. They met Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar military, and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on their last day.

Members of the country’s many ethnic minority communities, perhaps the Kachin most of all, hoped the UN delegation would condemn the military for its many human rights abuses against them. But as most expected, the team focused exclusively on the Rohingya crisis.

Fighting in northern Kachin State has recently flared up between the military and Kachin Independence Army (KIA), driving nearly 10,000 civilians from their homes. Some, including international rights groups and local media outlets, were left disappointed that the UN delegation failed to speak out about it.

The military largely ended its offensive in Rakhine State — which has driven some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh since August — after the international community started applying pressure, possibly scared by the prospect of new UN sanctions. Instead, the military turned its attention to the ethnic armed groups in the north, launching a major new offensive on April 11.

Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, many of whom are Christian, rarely invoke their religion in their struggle for equal rights. But since the UN delegation’s failure to address their plight, some have begun emphasizing their religious minority status in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar in hopes of attracting more attention from the international community.

At a protest in the Kachin capital of Myitkyina earlier this week, participants urged the military and government to let them rescue some 3,000 civilians trapped by the latest clashes and to bring the fighting to an end. Similar protests were also held recently in Yangon and overseas in Canada, Japan and the US, where participants also asked for donations to help the displaced families, now spread over at least 10 townships across Kachin.

The military and KIA have been fighting in Kachin off and on since a 17-year ceasefire broke down in 2011, displacing more than 150,000 civilians over the past seven years.

The US Embassy in Myanmar and Yanghee Lee, the UN’s special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, have issued statements expressing concern for the displaced families. They urged the military and government to let humanitarian aid into the conflict zone and to protect civilians from the fighting.

The military has racked up a long list of human rights abuses in the country’s ethnic minority areas over the past several decades, from forced labor to extrajudicial killings. Now in Kachin, those displaced by the latest fighting have no idea when they will feel safe enough to return home, or if they will even have homes to return to.

It is high time for the UN Security Council to speak up about their plight and press the military, or Tatmadaw, for their protection.

“The failure of the [UN Security Council] to express concern for Kachin civilians trapped in conflict gave the green light to the Tatmadaw to continue their abuses,” said David Mathieson, an independent analyst of conflict and peace issues.

“It was inexcusably callous to come all this way and only discuss the Rakhine crisis,” he said. “If the people of Kachin and northern Shan State and other conflict areas think the world has forgotten them in their obsession with the terrible Rohingya crisis, it’s because the UN Security Council just proved it.”