Rights Group Finds Myanmar Makes No Headway Curbing Abuses by Military

Myanmar’s military continued to carry out serious human rights violations in 2019, while the government made no progress addressing the pervasive impunity of soldiers who committed abuses, London-based Amnesty International said Thursday in a new report on repression in Asia.

The military’s violations included war crimes in Kachin, Rakhine, and Shan states where government forces have been engaged in armed conflict with ethnic armed groups, the rights organization said.

Civilians, state lawmakers, and local officials have reported soldiers detaining and sometimes torturing villagers suspected of aiding the enemy or of being rebel fighters themselves in the conflict zones, especially in northern Rakhine state.

The military committed serious violations against civilians, including unlawful attacks, arbitrary arrests, torture and other illtreatment, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and forced labor in Rakhine state, where government forces have fought the rebel Arakan Army (AA) in heightened hostilities over the past year, the report said.

Many of them constituted war crimes, it said.

But Amnesty noted that the AA was also responsible for abuses, including the arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and threats to and intimidation of civilians.

Civilians also bore the brunt of ongoing conflict in northern Shan state, where the government military committed war crimes and other serious violations, including arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detention on military bases, torture, other ill treatment, and unlawful attacks, the report said.

Ethnic armed groups were also responsible for committing serious abuses against civilians, including abductions, torture, ill-treatment, forced labor, and extortion, it said.

The government made no progress in creating conditions conducive to the safe, dignified, and voluntary return of more than 740,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled to Bangladesh beginning in August 2017 during a military-led crackdown targeting their communities, the report added.

2019 was another awful year for human rights in Myanmar, despite all of the international attention that came with the expulsion of the Rohingya from Rakhine state in 2017 and all the abuses against them before, Laura Haigh, Amnesty’s Myanmar researcher, told RFA’s Myanmar Service after the release of the report.

What was particularly shocking was the military � not only did they continue to enjoy impunity for their past violations, but actually they continued to commit new violations in Rakhine state, in Shan state, and in Kachin state, she said.

Shrinking space

Myanmar authorities are continuing to arbitrarily arrest and detain human rights defenders and other peaceful activists, Amnesty’s report noted.

Haigh said Amnesty was very concerned by the shrinking space of civil society, ongoing restrictions on freedom of expressions, freedom of association, peaceful assembly.

While the civilian government doesn’t have control of the military and the military’s actions, they do have power over legal reform, the arrest and imprisonment of activists, and for us it’s very disappointing that where the civilian government does have power, they are not taking action to improve the human rights situation, she said.

Aung Myo Kyaw of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a human rights group, noted a trend in 2019 of an uptick in the number of arrests and charges violating guarantees of freedom of expression.

Charging and sentencing people who perform in Thingyan satirical performances or give speeches at literacy workshops are direct violations of freedom of expression, he said.

Seven students were arrested in 2019 and charged with defaming the military during public satirical shows that mocked the army during Thingyan, the Myanmar New Year festival that usually occurs in mid-April.

Though the Amnesty report pointed out that impunity persists for those who perpetrate human rights violations and crimes under international law, Myanmar and those who ordered or carried out violence against the Rohingya are being held to account on genocide charges in three international courts.

Amnesty’s report also noted the situation of civilians displaced by conflict and natural disasters.

What we find particularly concerning is that both the government and the military have been restricting humanitarian access, Haigh said. Actually, it has been restricted for several years now since 2016. This is preventing women, men, and children who are displaced from their homes from accessing services they need for their survival.

Rakhine civil society groups have said that more than 100 civilians have died, over 250 were injured, and more than 100,000 had fled their homes due to the yearlong escalation of armed conflict between Myanmar forces and the AA in northern Rakhine state.

Myat Tun, director of the Rakhine State Human Rights Defender’s Association, said most of the rights violations in Rakhine state in 2019 entailed arbitrary arrests, killings, and the prosecution and sentencing of civilians, with no end in sight for the current year.

In this year, 2020, these violations continue to occur, he told RFA, citing the Jan. 7 arrest of two young men from Thinbonechauk village in Minbya township by Myanmar soldiers.

The two have been tortured during interrogations by members of Light Infantry Battalion No. 379 and are still being held, he said.

Rights violations elsewhere

Government soldiers have carried out similar rights violations in conflict zones in northern Shan and Kachin states, Myanmar rights activists say.

We found in 2019, there were increased rights violations in northern Shan state year-round, Ta’ang activist Lue Pu Ngae said.

There were threats to civilians and increased cases of mass arrests of local villagers and torture during investigations, she said. We found that these rights violations keep occurring.

Although the NLD party’s civilian government is in place, these rights violations cannot be stopped, she added referring to the ruling civilian-led National League for Democracy government.

Kachin Youth activist Seng Nupan said the same kinds of violations were still occurring in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state.

There is no clear definition of human rights, he said. I have worked for the rights of IDPs [internally displaced persons] in Kachin state and was given prison sentences. These kinds of violations are still happening in Kachin state.

Deadly military action continued in northern Shan state when mortar shell blasts from the armed conflict between government forces and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) on Tuesday killed two women and injured children in Kyaukme township, a local lawmaker said.

The deaths occurred during fighting near Nyaung Maung and Kyaukphyu villages in Kyaukme township, said Seng Tun Win, a lawmaker from the towship who is a member of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy party.

Military troops entered Nyaung Maung village and started shooting indiscriminately, he said. A shell fell on the house of Khin Sein. The blast killed her and her daughter, Neng Kham Aung.

Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier Gen Zaw Min Tun confirmed the fighting in the area, but said the shell that killed the civilians could have been fired by either side and that Myanmar forces alone should not be blamed for the deaths.

He also said soldiers from both sides were injured during the hostilities.

The government military, TNLA, and another ethnic armed group, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), are all present in the area of Kyaukme township where the clash occurred.

There have been frequent civilian deaths and injuries due to the fighting between the groups, sources say.

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