Burma Campaign UK today called on the British government and United States to adopt a much more robust approach with the government of Burma in order to persuade President Thein Sein to halt Burmese Army attacks against the ethnic Kachin minority in Burma.
Three civilians were killed, including one child, and four others were injured, including two children, by a mortar bomb fired today into the largely civilian town of Laiza by the Burmese Army. Although Laiza is the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organisation, the majority of the population are civilian. It is not possible to fire mortar bombs into Laiza without risking killing or injuring civilians. The deliberate targeting of civilians in this way is in breach of the Geneva Conventions and is classified as a war crime. There are thousands of civilians, including many internally displaced people, living in and around Laiza.
Since the Burmese government broke the ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Organisation in June 2011, the Burmese Army has been committing horrific human rights abuses against ethnic Kachin civilians, forcing around 100,000 people to flee their homes.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Burma has highlighted multiple human rights abuses committed by the Burmese Army which could be classified as war crimes and crimes against humanity. In his Report to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2012 he stated:
‘The Special Rapporteur is particularly concerned at continuing serious human rights violations in conflict-affected ethnic border areas, which include attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, internal displacement, land confiscations, the recruitment of child soldiers, forced labour and portering, and the use of landmines.’
In addition, in violation of international humanitarian law, President Thein Sein has been blocking international aid to the tens of thousands of internally displaced people sheltering in areas under the control of the Kachin Independence Organisation.
The argument that President Thein Sein has tried and failed to stop the Burmese Army attacks in Kachin State is simply not credible. While tensions undoubtedly exist within and between the government and the Burmese Army, it is very hard to believe that President Thein Sein could not stop the attacks if he really wanted to. He was a General who was a lifelong soldier, was on the ruling council of the previous dictatorship since 1997, and was trusted and hand-picked by Than Shwe to take over when he stood down. Thein Sein has been defending the Burmese Army and in his first speech as President stated that building military might was one of his priorities.
Britain and the United States of America have led the relaxation of sanctions and other international pressure since President Thein Sein became President and started introducing some reforms. However, human rights abuses have increased and internal displacement has tripled during this period.
“Britain and the USA have argued that their policy of effectively befriending the Burmese government will give them more influence, but what we see on the ground is continuing violations of international law,” said Zoya Phan, Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK. “There has been a consistent pattern over many years of downplaying human rights abuses committed against ethnic minorities. If the Burmese Army were firing mortar bombs at civilians in Rangoon rather than in Kachin State, would the British government still be bringing trade missions and would the USA still be inviting the Burmese Army to military exercises?”