Burma’s Armed Forces Accused of Abuses Against Kachin Civilians

Burma’s Armed Forces Accused of Abuses Against Kachin Civilians

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Burma – Burma’s military has been accused of killing, attacking and exploiting Kachin civilians since hostilities between the Burmese military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) began five months ago.

Displaced Kachin civilians at an internally displaced persons camp (Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch).

Abuses by Burmese soldiers have caused an estimated 30,000 Kachin civilians to become displaced after being forced to flee their homes in fear of the army.

One farmer described his ordeal by explaining that they “…were afraid to live in the village so we went to hide in the jungle…we lived there for one month…” Another villager reported that Burmese soldiers are now living in the homes of those who were forced to flee after their village was invaded by the army.

Among the abuses causing citizens to flee their homes is the unnecessary killing of civilians.  In one case, Burmese soldiers entered Hang Htak village in search of KIA members and killed a fifty-two year old woman and her four year old grandson in their home as they tried to leave. There have also been reports of military forces entering villages and aimlessly firing their weapons at civilians.

Other civilians stated that they were held and aggressively interrogated by Burmese soldiers who threatened to kill them. One villager stated, “I was very afraid when they [soldiers] came and asked questions. I was afraid they would kill us.”

Some civilians have also reported being raped or witnessing a rape by soldiers. According to the September 2011 report to the United Nations by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, at least eighteen women and young girls have been “gang- raped” by the Burmese military and at least four of those victims were killed.

Those who survive encounters with the army have often reported being forced to work for the military without compensation. One woman reported that the army forced her to carry provisions up a steep two mile road despite the fact that she was six months pregnant. She stated that they were forced to make the strenuous three hour trek twice a day and were forced to eat their own food because they were not fed by the army.

Violence by the Burmese army has caused many Kachin civilians to attempt to flee into China. In response, the Chinese government has deployed 2,000 troops to the border to prevent refugees from entering the country and has also prevented the transfer of food and medical supplies to areas where over  20, 000 displaced Kachin are taking shelter.

Fighting between the Burmese army and the KIA erupted on June 9th after a seventeen year ceasefire between the ethnic Kachin and the Burmese government forces. The KIA has stated that they will not stop fighting until Burma agrees to allow the ethnic group full political power and other rights.

For more information, please see:

Chinland Guardian – Churces Attacked, Women Raped and Civilians Killed in Kachin State – 22 October 2011

Radio Free Asia – Renewed Clashes Near Chinese Border – 20 October 2011

Asian Correspondent – Burma’s Civil War: Who is Really Pulling the Strings? – 19 October 2011

Human Rights Watch – Burma: Army Committing Abuses in Kachin State – 18 October 2011

Atmosphere of Impunity Surrounds Disabled People, Says Commissioner of Human Rights

By Alexandra Halsey-Storch
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France – Earlier this week, Thomas Hammarberg, the Commissioner for the Council of Europe for Human Rights submitted a statement to the European Court of Human Rights, in which he urged the Court to hear a case concerning the maltreatment of a disabled person in Romania. “There is an atmosphere of impunity,” Hammarberg said, “surrounding abuses committed against people with disabilities.”

Malnourished child tied to his crib in a Serbian Institution (Photo Curtesy of Disability Rights International)

This case has been filed by the Center for Legal Resources on behalf of Valentin Campeanu, a young man who suffered from a severe learning disability and was infected with the HIV Virus, which in Romania is considered a handicap.  He died at the age of eighteen at the Poiana Mare Psychiatric Hospital, just one of the institutions where he spent his entire life.

Under Article 34 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a petitioner “should claim to be a victim of a violation of one of the rights set forth in the Convention.” As such, the person who was “directly affected by the violation” is the ideal petitioner to bring the lawsuit; however, the Court has not strictly enforced this provision and has, in some circumstances, allowed a close relative or legal representative of a deceased victim to commence an action for violating ones “right to life.” The case at issue differs from typical cases that the Court has heard in the past in that the named-plaintiff is deceased, and he is not survived by an heir or close relative, nor did he have a legal representative prior to death. Should this case be heard, it will be the first of its kind to be brought by a third party. Thus arises the question of whether or not the Center for Legal Resources, as a third, unrelated party may sue on behalf of Campeanu.

There are at least two bodies of international law that are intended to protect the lives and rights of persons like Campeanu but have been, in many instances, ineffectual in deterring human rights abuses. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights–adopted by the United Nations in 1948—speaks generally on the issue, stating that, “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and one’s family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care.” More specifically, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was designed “to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.”

As a policy measure, the Council of Europe 2006-2015 Action Plan to Promote the Rights and Full Participation of People with Disabilities in Society is a plan aimed at bettering the welfare of disabled people.

Despite the laws that are in place and the policy initiatives at work, the abuse of disabled people remains prevalent around the world. The abuse can be visible, while in other instances it is more subtle and clandestine. The spectrum of types of abuses runs the gamut from being denied employment opportunities, to being the subject of hate crimes; from receiving substandard education in segregated classrooms to physical and psychological abuse in the home.

Throughout Europe, “thousands of people with disabilities are still kept in large, segregated and often remote institutions” often living in “substandard conditions, suffering neglect and human rights abuses.” Adults and children alike that have been institutionalized are often denied basic mental health and medical services and are physically and sexually abused by health care professionals. Children are chained to cribs, while adults are chained to their beds; children and adults alike can be severely underfed and malnourished. In some instances, there are “premature deaths” that go uninvestigated or even unreported.

While all of these violations of basic human rights occur, disabled people are often unable to reach the very place that could give them relief from their misery: the court system. A study by Inclusion Europe, a non-governmental organization, found that “access to justice for people with intellectual disabilities is by no means guaranteed in many European countries.” The problem is widespread and deeply embedded in society. As such, Commissioner Hammarberg argues that the Center for Legal Resources—even though a third, unrelated party– should in-fact be permitted to bring a lawsuit on behalf of Campeanu. He states: “in exceptional circumstances [non-governmental organizations] should be allowed to lodge applications with the Court on behalf of victims, even in the absence of specific authorization.” Such organizations are necessary in order to expose “human rights violations experienced by vulnerable persons and in facilitating their access to justice…”

For more information please visit:

Council of Europe – Access to Justice for Persons with Disabilities – 18 Oct. 2011

Council of Europe – Third Party Intervention – 14 Oct. 2011

Cornell University ILR School – Justice, Rights and Inclusion for People with Intellectual Disability – 1 Jan. 2007

Council of Europe – Improving the Quality of Life for People with Disabilities – 5 April 2006

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights – Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – 13 Dec. 2006

India Repels Parts of Armed Forces Act

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

NEW DEHLI, India – Chief Minister Omar Abdullah announced on Friday that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) will be removed in some of the areas of Jammu and Kashmir in the following days.

Women protest the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in January of 2008 (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Abdullah explained that many of the areas in the state have become peaceful enough to permit the change. The law has been despised for years and has been the subject of much protest.

The AFSPA was enacted in 1958 as an emergency measure to protect the country from a small rebellion in the northeast part of the country. Since the AFSPA’s enactment many have called for its repel claiming it results in the military committing major human rights violations.

After a woman died in military custody in 2004, a violent protest broke out demanding the AFSPA be revoked. The Prime Minister set up a judicial committee to review the law but no change was made to it even though the committee recommended the AFSPA be exchanged for a more “humane law.”

The AFSPA grants the military the ability to shoot to kill in law enforcement situations, to arrest without a warrant, and to detain people without time limits.

Security officers cannot be prosecuted without special approval from the central government. Even in cases of alleged rape or murder it is rare for governmental approval to be given to prosecute an officer.

Critics of the law claim that this blanket authority given to the military has resulted in torture and poor treatment to citizens throughout the country. This summer thousands of unidentified bodies were discovered in mass graves in Jammu and Kashmir lending support to critic’s claims.

The Khaleej Times quotes an “official” who explained that as AFSPA is removed from part of the state (Jammu and Kashmir) the practice will be gradually continued to other parts of the country, pending the security situation.

While most of the country is thrilled at the prospect of the AFSPA being phased out, the Army and the Defense Ministry are not. Military officials have already declared that the areas the minister has assigned as “peaceful” could be reclassified as “disturbed” if violence occurs which would led to the revival of the AFSPA in those areas.

The Military claims that terrorist threats still exist in those regions, however, defense ministry officials have declared the decision of Chief Minister Abdullah will be respected and followed.


For more information, please see:

Khaleej Times – Anti-Terror Laws to be Relaxed in J&K: Omar – 22 October 2011

Times of India – Army Still Opposed to Withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act from J&K – 22 October 2011

New York Times – Kashmir to Lift Reviled Security Law – 21 October 2011

Human Rights Watch – India: Repeal Armed Forces Special Powers Act – 19 October 2011

Is the FBI Using Racial Profiling to Target Certain Communities? The ACLU Thinks So.

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – The American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) has accused the FBI of using racial profiling techniques in their investigations.  The ACLU says that because the government expanded the FBI’s power since terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, the FBI has taken advantage of its newfound power.  The FBI denies that it uses racial profiling and joins the ACLU in condemning the action.

The ACLU believes the FBI's racial profiling techniques are unconstitutional and impinge on civil liberties. (Image Courtesy of Reuters)

The ACLU has reached this conclusion after reviewing documents it requested under the Freedom of Information Act.  According to Reuters, the FBI is associating certain crimes with certain races and ethnicities then using 2010 Census data to profile entire communities.  Not only is this illegal but it poses a threat to civil liberties across the United States.

Some of the demographics affected are Arab Americans and Hispanics in Michigan, blacks in Georgia, and Chinese and Russian-American groups in California, according to the Associated Press.  The documents were heavily redacted, resulting in large gaps of information.

One of the memos obtained however, was posted on the ACLU website.  The memo came from Detroit’s field office saying, “Because Michigan has a large Middle-Eastern and Muslim population, it is prime territory for attempted radicalization and recruitment by these terrorist groups,” reported the Associated Press.  The FBI defended their position by saying “Often, though, certain terrorist and criminal groups are comprised of persons primarily from a particular ethnic or geographic community, which must be taken into account when trying to determine if there are threats to the United States.

A major expansion to the FBI’s guidelines has contributed to the problem.  In 2008, the guidelines changed to allow the FBI to do new investigations called ‘assessments,’ which require no factual basis, according to Salon.com.

Hina Shamsi is the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project.  He told reporters that the memos received under the Freedom of Information Act have “confirm[ed] some of our worst fears” about FBI surveillance, reported The Washington Post.  “The FBI has targeted American communities for investigation based not on suspicion of wrongdoing but on the crudest stereotypes.”

The FBI continues to defend its position, reminding people that these mapping techniques are used widely in law enforcement and are essential to protecting the nation from further terrorist attacks, reports The Washington Post.  “To fulfill its national security mission the FBI cannot simply wait for people to report threats,” the FBI told The Associated Press.

The ACLU vows to continue its investigation and exposure of the FBI and its profiling tactics, suggesting that the FBI has stepped out of bounds and surpassed its power.

For more information, please visit:

Salon.com — Racial Profiling on an “Industrial Scale” — 22 Oct. 2011

The Associated Press — ACLU in NY Accuses FBI of Racial Profiling — 21 Oct. 2011

Reuters — U.S. Rights Watchdog Accuses FBI of Racial Profiling — 20 Oct. 2011

The Washington Post — ACLU Says FBI Uses Racial Profiling Against Muslims, Other Minorities — 20 Oct. 2011

Libya Exults with Death of Gaddafi, but Challenges Lie Ahead

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TRIPOLI, Libya – Libya rejoiced after reports of former dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi’s death were confirmed Thursday, marking the end of an unpredictable 42-year reign of terror.  Shouts praising God, celebratory gunfire, and other noisemakers pervaded the streets of Tripoli, the capital.  Saturday will confirm the beginning of a new era in Libya when the National Transitional Council (NTC) will declare the country free and start the process of transitioning into a democracy, but many challenges remain as it begins.

NTC fighters celebrate their victory after taking control of former dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

NTC forces captured Gaddafi near his hometown of Sirte after a U.S. Predator drone and a French fighter jet fired on a convoy leaving the city in order to stop its progress.  From then, the Libyan fighters made their attack and found the onetime despot.  The nature of his death is unclear.  Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, who has promised to resign after liberation, said that Gaddafi died in crossfire between his supporters and the NTC and died en route to a hospital.  But others, including Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, are uncertain as to whether this is true.  Recently available video footage suggests that he was alive when he was captured, but was later executed.  Pillay wants an investigation into the matter.

For Libyans, it was a chance to celebrate.

“It is a historic moment,” said NTC spokesman Abdel Hafez Ghoga. “It is the end of tyranny and dictatorship. Gaddafi has met his fate.”

Omar Abulqasim Alkikli, a writer and a former political prisoner, saw the celebration first hand as he traveled the streets of Tripoli.

“Cars passed us, carrying passengers who themselves were carried on the waves of a powerful joy,” he wrote for the New York Times.

Those passengers waved the independence flag outside their windows, while heavy traffic, with almost all of the cars running their blinkers, blocked the roads.  Others on the street sprayed the passing vehicles with orange blossom water, which Alkikli said was “a custom traditionally reserved for weddings,” adding that “[o]ne of the young men shouted as he showered us: ‘A new life! A new life!’”

Twitter also blazed with comments.  Many of them suggested that similar fates awaited President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who had also tried to crush protests against their regime.  One notable tweet, also referring to the former Tunisian and Egyptian leaders, read: “Ben Ali escaped, Mubarak is in jail, Gaddafi was killed. Which fate do you prefer, Ali Abdullah Saleh? You can consult with Bashar.” Another simply said: “Bashar al-Assad, how do you feel today?”

The international community generally stated its approval of the liberation.

“We can definitely say that the Gaddafi regime has come to an end,” said U.S. President Barack Obama. “The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted, and with this enormous promise the Libyan people now have a great responsibility to build an inclusive and tolerant and democratic Libya that stands as the ultimate rebuke to Gaddafi’s dictatorship.”

The Sun, Great Britain’s most popular newspaper, bore the headline: “That’s for Lockerbie!”,a reference to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people.  An agent of Gaddafi’s was convicted for conducting the attack.

NATO, which had run a bombing campaign in Libya since March, will be terminated.  Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that “the people of Libya can truly decide their own future.”

That future is still uncertain.  Libya now faces the challenges of building a new government almost from scratch and finding a common goal to keep its people united.  Lisa Anderson, president of American University in Cairo and a political scientist who studies the country, feared the worst.

“Libya is going to have a terrible time.  For a long time, what knit them together was a kind of morbid fascination with Qaddafi, and until now everybody felt that until they saw his body that he almost might come back, like a vampire,” she said.  But “they don’t have a credible institution in the entire country.  They don’t have anything that knits them together.”

Arguably, the first step the new nation must take is one of reconciliation, as the country seeks to turn itself into a democracy.  The disparate groups that formed the provisional government were locked in a power struggle for positions within it before Gaddafi’s death, but agreed to put that off until his capture.  Those issues will need to be resolved, and a new constitution will have to be written.  The NTC has scheduled elections for 2013, which will prove difficult because Libya, even before Gaddafi, has never used an electoral system before.

Providing security and developing a national army is also a top priority.  During the revolution towns relied on small brigades, some of which became rivals, to maintain order.  But more than anything, reducing the stockpiles of guns will be critical.

While forming the government will be a major issue going forward, Libyans are able to celebrate right now.  Younis Fenadi, a climate researcher at the Libyan National Meteorological Center, was happy to learn of the news, saying that Gaddafi’s death brings a degree of closure to the country.  Over time, he believes, they will receive answers to questions about Gaddafi’s behavior during his regime.  But more than anything, he is enjoying the potential for a brighter day.

“I am glad that I get a chance, I am 52 years old now, to speak freely in my country,” Fenadi said.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Libyans Celebrate Gaddafi’s Death — 21 October 2011

Al Jazeera — Muammar Gaddafi Killed as Sirte Falls — 21 October 2011

BBC — After Gaddafi: Libyan Revolution ‘Still Has Far to Go’ — 21 October 2011

BBC — Libya: The Challenges Ahead — 21 October 2011

Libya TV — Gaddafi Killed in Hometown Sirte as Libyans Look Toward Future — 21 October 2011

Tripoli Post — NATO Chief Calls on Libyans to Work Together to Build a Brighter Future — 21 October 2011

Tripoli Post — NTC to Proclaim Libya Free Saturday — 21 October 2011

New York Times — In Tripoli, Blaring Horns and Shouts of Joy — 20 October 2011

New York Times — Qaddafi’s Death Places Focus on Arab Spring’s ‘Hard Times’ — 20 October 2011

New York Times — Violent End to an Era as Qaddafi Dies in Libya — 20 October 2011