August 2012

 

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Continued Conflict Overshadows Karen Martyrs Day

Burma Partnership
 


The Rohingya community, a Muslim minority in predominantly
Buddhist Burma, are a people that no nation wants.
(Photo from http://muslimhands.org.uk)

While Karen people around the world celebrated the 62nd Karen Martyrs Day on Aug. 12 to honor those who have died for the Karen cause, the fragility of the ceasefires with various groups remains tenuous as the government of Burma continues to neglect the root causes of the conflicts. Denial and refusal to face up to human rights abuses while neglecting substantial political dialogue with the ethnic armed groups is not a sustainable solution to decades of conflict.

Even during peace talks between the government and the Karen National Union (KNU) in Myawaddy in eastern Karen State on Aug. 7, clashes between the government’s Border Guard Force and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) were occurring in other parts of the Karen region.

Present at the peace talks, as has often been the case, were business people acting as mediators. The focus on development activities by the Burmese government and some elements of the international community in place of establishing a political settlement is putting the peace process at risk. This was articulated at the Martyrs Day celebrations as a representative of the Klohtoobaw Karen Organization—the political wing of the Democratic Benevolent Buddhist Army—read out a statement written by KNU President Saw Tamla Baw: “The government is engaged only in superficial and apparent activities of peace-building with emphasis only on business matters and without any political essence.”

The ceasefires signed between the Burma army and ethnic armed groups, especially the KNU, are held up as examples by those in the international community who want to believe that the Thein Sein administration is truly reformist. The continued fighting and lack of political dialogue, however, reveals the flaws in this supposed peace process.

Meanwhile, human rights abuses in ethnic areas continue, such as the theft of church donations and the rape of a 14-year-old Shan girl by Burma army soldiers. The perpetrators, however, are not held accountable.

As the conflict in Kachin State continues, and more and more troops move into the region, the government-aligned Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) released a statement on Aug. 14 in which allegations of forced recruitment by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) were made, ignoring documented evidence that this is also a typical policy of the Burma army, while dodging allegations of torture inflicted by the Burma army for “security reasons.”

Similarly, in response to U.N. Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana’s call for an independent truth commission to investigate accusations of state-sponsored violence in Arakan State, Win Mra, chairman of the MNHRC, said that such a body would only “instigate problems.” Not only does this expose the impotence and bias of the MNHRC, but it reveals how unwilling the government is to address fundamental concerns and grievances of ethnic people while their soldiers remain above the law. Rather, the government has set up a 27-person commission to find out “the real cause of the incident,” yet not one Rohingya is on this commission.

The resentment towards the Rohingya community is being used by the government as a tool to foster criticism of the U.N. special rapporteur. As such, the call on Aug. 10 by 24 political parties to replace the U.N. special rapporteur seems misplaced when human rights abuses are continuing and are being denied, covered up or the blame shifted unfairly. Accountability is still conspicuously absent, and ethnic conflict and militarization in ethnic areas is increasing. It is because of these issues, both in Arakan State and other ethnic areas, that the U.N. special rapporteur is needed, and it is because of these issues that a truth commission should be supported. The reluctance of the government to engage in political dialogue or to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses accountable does not bode well for sustainable peace in Burma.


* Burma Partnership is a network of organizations throughout the Asia-Pacific region that advocate and work toward realizing a movement for democracy and human rights in Burma. Based in Thailand, it acts as a link between groups inside the country and solidarity organizations around the world.