Wednesday April 16th 2014

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International community must act to end atrocities by Thein Sein’s government

 First use of airstrikes in twenty years brings fears of increased civilian fatalities and human rights abuses

In a camp for internally displaced people, Laiza, Kachin State, a child plays beside a line of shallow holes that refugees have dug to hide from shelling. The Burmese army had launched aerial attacks on areas near Laiza, where Kachin Independence Army’s headquarters are, and where there are over 10,000 civilians seeking refuge. December 2012.

Chiang Mai, Thailand – The international community should act immediately to ensure that Thein Sein’s government stops military attacks and human rights abuses in Kachin State, the Women’s League of Burma said today. The international community should also provide humanitarian aid and impose an arms embargo on Thein Sein’s government.

In June 2011, the Burma Army broke a ceasefire agreement to attack the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). Since then, over 100,000 people have been displaced. On 2 January 2013, the Burma Army admitted that it had launched an aerial attack on Laijayang, an area where 25,000 refugees are sheltering. Laijayang is about 11 kilometres from Laiza, where the KIO headquarters is situated, and where there are a further 10,000 internally displaced people seeking refuge.

“There has not been a single airstrike for 20 years, but now government forces are using jet fighters and helicopters to launch attacks near civilian areas,” WLB General Secretary Tin Tin Nyo said.

“It is as clear as day: the situation is worse than ever. We ask the international community to take action against Thein Sein’s government to stop fighting, and for the refugees,” said Tin Tin Nyo.

Since June 2011, Thein Sein has given orders on three occasions for the fighting to stop, but to no avail.

In December 2012, the government troops has resorted to the extensive use of artillery, including 84mm Carl Gustaf rocket launchers, 105mm howitzers, 120mm mortars and Russian-made Mi-35 helicopters. Since 2011, KIA has been reporting that the Burma Army is using chemical weapons. There has been heavy artillery shelling near civilians and civilian objectives; shells have even crossed into Chinese territory.

“Not only has Thein Sein’s government failed to protect civilians, but it has been issuing denials of the air assaults and human rights abuses,” said Moon Nay Li, presidium board member of WLB.

Thein Sein’s office initially denied using airstrikes but later admitted to it, claiming they were “air support” in response to KIA’s attacks on military supply lines.

The Burma Army has had a long record of appalling human rights abuses, especially in the conflict zones of ethnic states.

Rape, committed rampantly in and around Kachin State, is recognised as a systemic and calculated war tactic, rather than a random act of violence. Moon Nay Li, who has documented gang rapes in Kachin State, highlighted that victims are as young as nine years old, and half of the victims in cases she documented in 2011 were killed after being raped.

“Not only is the government not protecting civilians or stopping the Burmese troops, U Thein Sein and U Aung Min are denying human rights abuses. Now that the fighting has increased, the government troops will use this pretext to continue raping, torturing and killing.” Said Moon Nay Li.

Internally displaced populations are in a dire situation, as the Burmese government has restricted humanitarian aid from reaching those in KIA-controlled areas. As recently as 7 December, the United Nations urged the regime to allow the UN to provide “badly-needed” humanitarian aid in KIA-held areas of Kachin State. According to the Relief Action Network for IDPs and Refugees (RANIR), which has been coordinating relief on the ground, a third of the displaced young children in Laiza suffer from malnutrition. KWAT reported in October 2012 that it was mainly local communities struggling to assist the refugees, with international donors supporting only four percent of the humanitarian needs.

Moon Nay Li said, “International donors say they cannot support unregistered CBOs that have access to the IDPs and are the only ones on the ground. Children are starving, people are dying. We know of maternal deaths where women could have survived with proper nutrition and medical care. This is no time to talk about registration.”

WLB urges the international community to intervene, through:

  • Providing humanitarian support to those affected by the conflict, especially to the community based organisations who are the only ones on the ground
  • Imposing an international arms embargo to prevent the Burmese army from accessing more weaponry that could be used against civilians
  • Taking all necessary steps to press  Thein Sein’s government to cease fighting
  • Ensuring that Thein Sein’s government is held accountable for stopping all human rights abuses by the Burma Army
  • Reminding the regime to “take measures needed to end impunity, and address the ongoing armed conflict in Kachin State”, as stated in the UN General Assembly’s 24 December resolution
  • To push for the establishment of a UN-led Commission of Inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity and war crimes taking place in Kachin State and throughout Burma

WLB also calls for immediate steps that should be taken by Thein Sein and his government to demonstrate their sincerity in wanting peace.

Additionally, WLB calls on the National League for Democracy and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to reaffirm their commitment to ending all human rights abuses, including those in Kachin State, and to mediate for an end to the conflict in Kachin State.