IV. Protecting Internally Displaced Kachin in Burma
Plight of Displaced Persons
Since the conflict in Kachin State began in June 2011, at least 75,000 ethnic Kachin have fled their homes and villages to avoid the fighting between the KIA and the Burmese army, and Burmese army abuses. This figure includes approximately 20,000 internally displaced Kachin in Burmese government-controlled areas in towns such as Myitkyina, the state capital, and Bhamo; approximately 45,000 internally displaced who fled to KIA-controlled territory nearer to the Burma-China border; and approximately 10,000 who fled to China, where most live as unrecognized refugees in squalid, improvised town and jungle camps.
Humanitarian needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Burma include food and other necessities, such as medicine, blankets, warm clothing, firewood and fuel, and adequate shelter. Problems are particularly severe where population density is high, as in several camps visited by Human Rights Watch. In November, a local civilian aid worker told Human Rights Watch:
The immediate needs and long-term needs are food and food security. That is, the immediate provision of food to IDPs, and the provision of adequate food for a longer period of time.… Shelter is another big problem now, and medicine. In [the largest camp outside Laiza] there’s a huge camp but no hospital. We are trying to build a 15-bed hospital. It’s a small clinic. Doctors are not there. Only small-qualified nurses trained here. They can only provide basic medications. Also it is winter. It is very cold.
These needs have become more acute in recent months. On-site health care in the camps or in locations available to camp residents is insufficient, nutrition needs of children and pregnant women are not being met, and there is, at the time of writing, a need for better data about humanitarian conditions and needs.
Food security for the displaced Kachin population remains a priority concern. Since the conflict began, the KIO has provided approximately three cups of rice per person per day to the growing IDP populations, along with other food items, such as oil. In the KIO’s eastern division, Wunpawng Ninghtoi has been the primary donor of food aid. But many villagers report food shortages and are worried about what is to come.
A 38-year-old woman from Loi Kang village, now living in a remote camp along the Burma-China border, told Human Rights Watch she was concerned about the immediate provision of food aid in the IDP camps, as her family has no other source of sustenance. “We got rice and oil from Wunpawng Ninghtoi and also some warm clothes, but I worry that if the supplies for us stop coming and if there is not enough food.... I am very worried about that.”
Long-term food security is a concern due to the timing of the initial fighting between the Burmese army and KIA, which began in early June: planting season. Tens of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes and farms at the very time they were meant to plant their crops, which will have a serious impact on food security for large swathes of the population. The Kachin traditionally plant in June and harvest in November, before the cold winter months. Outside an IDP camp in Laiza, a local aid worker told Human Rights Watch, “When the people started farming in the rainy season they had to leave their village because the [Burmese] army attacked. Some of them left behind their farmland and ploughs.”
A 70-year-old displaced woman from Bum Seng village told Human Rights Watch in early August: “We couldn’t plant anything because the war started.” She said that only 3 of 38 families in her village were able to plant their rice before the fighting started. “This means we’ll have a serious problem.... We don’t know what to do. If we cannot go back, we will try our best to survive. Either way we won’t have rice.”
Other families were able to plant rice, in many cases at great personal risk, but they had to flee before the November harvest. A 28-year-old mother of two from Ja Kai village told Human Rights Watch that her family waited to flee until the fighting was immediately upon their village to ensure they could plant their crops: “When the fighting started in Bum Seng on June 9, we heard the bombs and gunfire. We didn’t run until two weeks later. We were planting our rice and we wanted to finish that.” This family, like thousands of others, is now living in an IDP camp near the China border, unable to return to their farm to harvest their crops.
In November, a woman from Loi Kang, Shan State, told Human Rights Watch, "I couldn’t harvest my paddy field before I fled, I just had to go. This is the same for the whole village. What will we do?" She was able to stay in her village until early November, when the fighting neared and she had to flee for safety.
Nevertheless, some people displaced by the conflict are attempting to return to their villages to harvest rice at great personal risk. A local civilian aid worker explained to Human Rights Watch:
Now is the harvesting time. Some planted their rice and paddies, and some dare to sneak back and collect their harvest, but it is not guaranteed they will be able to bring that harvest back to their families. Some [donors and officials] will say, “They are harvesting in their farmland, why should we provide them food?” Well, most aren’t able to go and harvest their paddies because they didn’t plant rice, and even those who return to their village to harvest, there are no guarantees they’ll be able to bring that back to the IDP camps, let alone survive the trip. That’s why we have to think about their food security.
The biggest protection issue currently faced by the growing internally displaced population in KIA-controlled Kachin State is their ability to access humanitarian aid, which reflects continuing barriers to delivery of aid by community-based organizations and national, international, and UN agencies.
When the conflict began, local, ad hoc Kachin-led organizations in KIA-held areas formed to provide aid to the growing numbers of displaced persons arriving sporadically in newly formed camps located outside Laiza and in remote areas of the KIO’s eastern division. In the camps outside Laiza, this included the Refugee Action Network for IDPs and Refugees (RANIR), which describes itself as a network of organizations committed to coordinate relief for the populations displaced by the conflict, with a non-exclusive membership including civil society organizations as well as KIO-affiliated organizations. Wunpawng Ninghtoi, an independent network of civil society and church groups, was formed in the KIO-controlled eastern division after fighting began to coordinate independently funded aid delivery to at least six IDP camps. The civil organizations Kachin Women’s Association and Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand, members of both RANIR and Wunpawng Ninghtoi, have also provided emergency aid coordination; both are located on the ground in Kachin State.
Financial and capacity support for these groups has been negligible. For instance, according to Wunpawng Ninghtoi, the only sustained support it received during the first six months of the conflict came from Norway-based Partners Relief and Development, with one-time grants from other Western organizations. Kachin churches and civilians in China, Burma, and abroad contributed generously and swiftly to the aid efforts along the Burma-China border, but these amounts were also inadequate relative to the needs. In Maijayang, private Chinese landowners donated housing that was formerly lived in by staff of a local Chinese-owned casino.
In government-controlled areas, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA), UNHCR, UNICEF, the World Food Program (WFP), several international and local nongovernmental organizations, local Kachin churches and other organizations have attended to the emergency needs of approximately 20,000 IDPs in 70 locations in five townships. These pockets of IDPs are located in areas within the administrative control of the central government, and OCHA and WFP have operated in these areas with the authorization of the Burmese authorities.
A September 2011 inter-agency rapid needs assessment conducted in government-controlled areas, entitled “Kachin Rapid Assessment/1: Humanitarian Partners in Kachin,” was coordinated by OCHA and implemented by local, national, and international partner organizations. The assessment explains the situation at the time of approximately 6,000 Kachin IDPs. It describes the living conditions of IDPs as “challenging,” the humanitarian needs as “urgent,” and that there are “major needs yet to be covered” in the relief effort, with respect to shelter, health, non-food items, food access and food security, water, and sanitation.
A December 2011 inter-agency assessment noted that due to greater humanitarian access in certain government-controlled areas, “IDPs in Myitkyina and Waingmaw have been receiving more assistance than those in other townships,” namely than those in KIA-controlled areas, but also including Bhamo and Mansi in government-controlled territory. The assessment noted the sharp increase in the number of IDPs, as well as the funding shortages of UN agencies, to say nothing of the funding shortages of local Kachin organizations operating in the conflict zones. According to the December report, “The UN’s advocacy efforts continue to deliver assistance to all IDPs including those in Laiza and in other locations along the border with China. The number of displaced and needs are rapidly increasing and partners have mobilized all existing stocks and funds available.”
UN agencies had long sought to ensure a sustained relief effort in KIA-controlled territory along the Burma-China border. In early December, after months of negotiations, the Burmese government granted a UN team humanitarian access to KIA-controlled areas. On December 12, a convoy of two trucks carrying basic household and shelter items on behalf of the UN reached camps for internally displaced persons near Laiza.
Prior to this access, from June to December, the Burmese authorities had in effect obstructed UN agencies from delivering aid to the tens of thousands of IDPs behind the front lines. Since December, no further access has been granted. OCHA notes, “the UN’s advocacy efforts continue.” According to humanitarian aid workers in Burma’s former capital Rangoon, humanitarian access has not been obstructed by outright government or military denials, but rather through stalled responses, requests that receive no reply, and in other indirect, subtle ways. To date, there has been no written agreement between the authorities and OCHA with respect to the delivery of aid in KIA-controlled Kachin territory.
The government’s longstanding unwillingness to allow domestic and international humanitarian agencies to provide assistance in KIA and other rebel-controlled areas has deterred some humanitarian groups from seeking formal approval from the Burmese authorities to access certain areas. These agencies, all with an interest in expanding humanitarian space, have expressed concern that even making such requests could result in government reprisals against their other officially approved projects in the country.
A foreign aid worker with a legally registered humanitarian organization operating in Burma told Human Rights Watch, “The way it works here is that no one [from the government] directly says ‘no,’ but if you go, you lose your MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] and authorization to work elsewhere.” Other aid workers confirmed that their inability to access certain areas is not part of an explicit, formal policy of the government, but it is well understood among aid groups. Currently, the government has not clarified the actual conditions under which it will grant or deny humanitarian access to conflict zones.
The KIO has also rejected the delivery of humanitarian aid. In early December, the KIO refused humanitarian aid packages including rice, clothing, and non-food items from the Kachin State Rescue and Resettlement Committee, a Kachin State member of the Burmese parliament, and the government Myanmar Red Cross Society.
The nascent National Human Rights Commission has had an uneven start in examining IDP issues in Kachin State. A four-person team from the commission visited camps, churches, and other locations in Myitkyina, Waingmaw, and Bhamo in Kachin State to assess the situation of IDPs, and issued a full-page statement of findings in the December 14 edition of The New Light of Myanmar. The commission highlighted humanitarian needs, including the psychological plight of displaced children and the fact that the displaced left their material possessions behind, as well as the dangers posed by landmines. At the same time, it failed to report on forced displacement or human rights abuses by the Burmese army that have been widely documented by others, such as forced labor and the pillaging of villages. Much of the statement praised the government’s humanitarian efforts.
Also in December, Kachin State Chief Minister U La John Ngan Seng told reporters that national and state governments would “thoroughly” investigate whether either side to the conflict has been responsible for murder, torture, rape, and other abuses in Kachin and northern Shan States. “We are going to carefully assess the veracity of the ‘evidence’ of these incidents, whether it is firm and definite,” he told the Myanmar Times. It is not known whether any investigations took place and no report has been issued.
In February 2012, Win Mra, the chairman of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission told journalists at a news conference in Bangkok that the newly created commission had decided it would not investigate allegations of abuses in the ethnic armed conflict areas. Win Mra claimed that such investigations were not appropriate at this point due to the government’s efforts to negotiate ceasefires.
 UNOCHA reported to Human Rights Watch in March 2012 that there were approximately 20,000 IDPs in government controlled areas; RANIR reported to Human Rights Watch in March 2012 that there were approximately 45,000 IDPs in KIO-controlled areas; and reliable sources in Yunnan report to Human Rights Watch that there are at least 10,000 Kachin refugees in China.
 Human Rights Watch interview F.A., Kachin State, Burma, November 12, 2011.
 Human Rights Watch interview H.A., Kachin State, Burma, November 15, 2011.
 Human Rights Watch interview F.A., Kachin State, Burma, November 12, 2011.
 Human Rights Watch interview D.Z., Kachin State, Burma, August 6, 2011.
 Human Rights Watch interview A.I., Kachin State, Burma, August, 2011.
 Human Rights Watch interview G.H., Kachin State, Burma, November 15, 2011.
 Human Rights Watch interview F.A., Kachin State, Burma, November 12, 2011.
 Wunpawng Ninghtoi is also a member of RANIR.
UNOCHA and humanitarian partners, “Kachin Rapid Assessment / 1: Humanitarian Partners in Kachin,” September 2011. The assessment was conducted by UNOCHA, MSS, KBC, KURM, MCC, MDM, Metta, Shalom, Swissaid, UNDP, WC, and WV (acronyms listed as printed). A data support team comprising MIMU, OXFAM, UNHCR, UNI, CEF, UNOCHA, and WFP provided training and technical support.
 UN-OCHA with Humanitarian Country Team Partners, “Myanmar: Displacement in Kachin State,” December 28, 2011, p.1.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Rangoon-based aid worker, September 13, 2011.
 “KIO Refuses Gov’t Relief Donations to Refugees,” Mizzima, December 14, 2011, http://www.mizzima.com/special/kachin-battle-report/6279-kio-refuses-govt-relief-donations-to-refugees.html (accessed March 4, 2012).
 “Myanmar National Human Rights Commission Issues Statement,” The New Light of Myanmar, December 14, 2011, p. 9.
 Soe Than Lynn, “Govt Pledges to Investigate Kachin HR Abuses,” Myanmar Times, December 19-25, 2011, http://www.mmtimes.com/2011/news/606/news3160605.html (accessed March 4, 2012).
 “’No Probe Into Ethnic Abuse:’ Rights Body” Agence France-Presse, February 15, 2012, http://www.dvb.no/news/no-probe-into-ethnic-abuse-burma-rights-body/20255(accessed March 4, 2012).