By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – Human Rights Watch has expressed concern that despite Burmese attention to reform and cease-fires with ethnic insurgents, abuse by the military continue.
David Mathieson, Human Rights Watch senior researcher on Burma, recently visited Burma and learned that fighting in Kachin State has displaced approximately 70,000 people since last June.
In addition, there have also been reports of sexual violence, the use of weapons against unarmed civilians, destruction of property and forced labor.
Mathieson has also encountered rights abuses by ethnic armed groups who use child soldiers and execute Burmese prisoners of war.
Recently, the use of child soldiers has prompted the U.S. ambassador for human trafficking to demand that Burmese military officers be accountable for involvement in human trafficking.
A 2011 Human Rights Watch report alleged that the Burmese military was colluding with corrections Department officials to gain access to approximately 700 prisoners who the army used as porters who are often forced to risk their life by checking for landmines.
Mathieson further stated that “…with all the changes happening in central Burma, it’s quite alarming that the army is showing absolutely no compunction to change its behavior.”
The Burmese government has continuously denied journalists access to Kachin and other conflict zones which has made it impossible for independent reports to be made regarding the allegations of abuse said to be occurring at the hands of the military.
Under the dominance of the previously ruling military junta, individual freedom was severely restricted. Owning a computer or fax machine without being given prior permission was prohibited and internet access was severely controlled.
Since the civilian government assumed power from the military junta last year, restriction on freedom have been largely lifted and several prominent political prisoners have been released although some remain imprisoned.
Despite these initial reforms, some experts fear that they could be easily reversed considering that many of the laws that were formerly used to repress Burmese citizens have not been repealed.
Failure to repeal the repressive laws means that despite improvements made in individual freedoms, many of the ways in which these freedoms are exercised are still technically illegal and the government could decide to revert to the human rights policies that existed under the military junta.
Another positive sign of reform, however, is that President Thein sein and his administration are expected to allow the National League of Democracy leader Aung San Suu kyi to give a political broadcast. Prior to the broadcast, however, the National League of Democracy is required to produce the text of the broadcase to the censors at the Ministry of Information for their review.
For more information, please see:
The Guardian – Burma Awakes to Glasnost: A (Partly) Free Press and (Some) Freedom of Expression – 25 February 2012
Irrawaddy – HRW: Army Abuse Unabated Despite Burma Reforms – 24 February 2012
Radio Free Asia – Burma’s Military ‘As Abusive as Ever’ – 23 February 2012
Voice of America – U.S. Calls for Burma Military to Account for Human Trafficking – 12 January 2012