October 17, 2013

133 Ethnic Civil Society Organizations Express Concern and Reservation Regarding Foreign Military Engagement with the Burmese Military

Today, October 17, 2013, 133 civil society organizations, representing 15 of Burma’s ethnic nationalities, submitted a joint letter to President Barack Obama of the United States, Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott of the Commonwealth of Australia expressing great concern and reservation regarding their military engagement with the Burmese military. Along with details of human rights atrocities and ongoing conflict the Burmese military continues to perpetrate, the joint letter pens explicit preconditions that must be met prior to any military engagement and states the criteria for military engagement should it move forward.

The undersigned organizations describe in the letter the egregious abuses they have experienced at the hands of the Burmese military: “They have destroyed our villages, stolen our land, forced us to serve as their slave labor, to carry their equipment as they hunt down, torture, kill, and enslave our fellow ethnic brothers and sisters, and rape, gang-rape, and sexually assault our women and girls…We know the Burmese military intimately, like no one else could.  We speak of the past, and we speak of the present.  We do not want this to be our future.”

“The Burmese military’s lack of commitment to democratic reform is evident in its continuing attacks against ethnic minorities and its failure to work honestly toward genuine peace.” The military broke a 17-year-old ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in June 2011 and continues to ignore requests to stop the attacks, resulting in the displacement of 100,000 people.  The military has violated multiple signed ceasefires with the Karen, Mon, and Shan, and continues to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Economic reform, rather than democratic reform, along with global recognition and legitimacy, are the priorities of the Burmese military and government, and providing trainings via military engagement would prove anything but beneficial for the ethnic people of Burma. “The Burmese military does not commit human rights abuses accidentally, out of ignorance, because they do not know any better, or because they are not properly trained. Burmese military leadership orders their officers and soldiers to violate human rights in order to control property and resources.”

“Training junior officers and soldiers does not address the main problem: that soldiers are committing human rights abuses on the orders of their military and political leaders.”

The letter urges several preconditions and criteria prior to any military engagement. Examples of preconditions include but are not limited to the following:
– Require the Burmese military to demonstrate a genuine interest in reform by stopping all attacks throughout the country in both ceasefire and non-ceasefire areas, withdrawing from conflict zones;
– Require the Burmese government and the Burmese military to publicly acknowledge that human rights abuses have and continue to be committed by the Burmese military and commit to a zero tolerance policy;
– Require the Burmese military to establish, with international support, an independent military police force that will investigate allegations of human rights abuses by soldiers, and the creation of an open judiciary process where such soldiers are given fair trials and sentences.

“Allowing military engagement with the Burmese military without requiring the Burmese military to demonstrate an interest in genuine reform and to adhere with the established preconditions conveys an undeserved legitimacy on the Burmese military and will jeopardize any effort to persuade the Burmese military to agree to national reconciliation.”

The joint letter to President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron and Prime Minister Abbott was submitted on behalf of 133 ethnic nationality civil society organizations worldwide, the full list of signatories is included with the letter.

The full text of the joint letter is here.

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