HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Abuses Linked to the Fall of Manerplaw
March 1995, Vol. 7. No. 5 (C)
SUMMARY | TABLE OF CONTENTS
On March 8,1995, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights passed a strongly worded resolution condemning human rights violations in Burma. The action followed closely on a similar resolution passed in December 1994 in the U.N. General Assembly, as well as numerous multilateral and bilateral expressions of concern before that.
But the human rights situation in Burma has not improved with the passing of each new resolution; if anything, it has become worse. In response to international pressure, nearly one hundred prisoners were released during a visit to Burma of representatives of the U.N. Secretary-General in January, and a further thirty-one people were released on March 14. These positive developments, however, must be seen in the light of continued abuses across the country. The detention order against Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose unconditional release has been demanded in every U.N. resolution since 1990, was renewed in January; a military offensive was launched against the rebel Karen National Union (KNU) in January, in the course of which forced portering, forced labor, reprisals against civilian populations and communal tension spread by a state media campaign have been used in violation of human rights and humanitarian law. The Burmese military in conjunction with a breakaway faction of the KNU, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Organization (DKBO), have also been responsible for attacks on refugee populations in Thailand.
This report documents the gross violation of human rights of the civilian population during the Burmese offensive against the KNU from November 1994 to February 1995. It is based on data collected by Human Rights Watch/Asia during a research mission to the Thai-Burmese border in January and February 1995. We interviewed over fifty men who had been forcibly taken as porters by the Burmese military to carry heavy artillery and other supplies to mountain tops near Manerplaw, the KNU headquarters on the Moei River between Thailand and Burma. The men were taken from their places of work, from cinemas, trains and even their own homes from October onwards. From the moment of capture, the men were subject to physical abuse and inhumane treatment. Many had been severely beaten by the soldiers when they slipped or fell from exhaustion, and all had witnessed the deaths of fellow porters.
We also spoke to villagers who had been the victims of reprisals by the Burmese military following ambushes by the KNU. In one case, many Christians from a single congregation were beaten as they arrived for Sunday service; in another, the women and children of one village were forced to sit all day in the sun and all night in the cold while eight men suspected of being KNU supporters were hung by their ankles from trees. The following day, the whole village was ordered to move close to a Burmese army camp, a tactic frequently used by the Burmese military to cut off any possible support for rebel groups.
Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, Secretary-1 of the State Law and Order Restoration Council, Burmas military government, has said that the military did not plan the attack on the KNU but had only assisted the DKBO. While the exact relationship between the SLORC and the DKBO is not yet clear, and the SLORC has acknowledged the murder of a Karen civilian by the DKBO, there many incidents which suggest that the relationship is more than just one of incidental collaboration. For example, soon after its formation on December 21, the DKBO launched a campaign of fear and intimidation in Karen communities inside Burma and within Karen refugee camps in Thailand; that campaign has been supported in the Burmese state-controlled media. Within Burma, Karen villages have received leaflets signed by the DKBO ordering them to move to Myaing Gyi Ngu, the DKBO headquarters across the river from the Burmese armys tactical command base at Kamamaung. The leaflets warn that villagers who fail to do so will be considered KNU supporters and attacked. The campaign has spread to refugee camps in Thailand, where over 9,000 people fled following the fall of Manerplaw. The threats were carried out on February 23, when twenty DKBO and SLORC soldiers opened fire in Thailands Mae Sam Leb district on a truck transporting refugees from one camp to another. Two Karen women and the Thai truck driver were killed, and eleven others were wounded.
These abuses have occurred at a time when Burma has been condemned repeatedly for its violation of international human rights norms in a series of U.N. resolutions. Without concerted follow-up action by the countries which passed these resolutions, however, there will be no meaningful change in Burma. International pressure has been shown to be effective in bringing about some, albeit cosmetic improvements. In this report, Human Rights Watch/Asia calls on the international community to establish a contact group to coordinate a clear program of action aimed at ensuring compliance with international human rights standards, as specified in the U.N. resolution. Those governments which have sent envoys to Burma should suspend sending further high-level representatives until there is substantial progress by SLORC towards respect for the fundamental human rights of all citizens. Failing such improvements, they should be prepared to take punitive measures. For instance, there should be a freeze on all corporate investment until there are verifiable guarantees that the forced labor and forced portering described in this report have ceased. Those guarantees would include regular access by international human rights organizations.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
III. INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW AND THE CONFLICT IN BURMA
IV. FORCED PORTERING
V. FORCED LABOR FOR THE MILITARY
VI. MISTREATMENT OF THE CIVILIAN POPULATION
VII. A CAMPAIGN OF FEAR AND INTIMIDATION
VIII. ATTACKS ON REFUGEES
Human Rights Watch March 1995 Vol. 7. No. 5 (C)
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