Justice Newsletter (October 2020)

Summary Overview

Election campaigning was in full swing this month. As political parties campaigned despite constraints including the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts continued to reach different communities and regions. Meanwhile, conflict in Rakhine and northern Shan states increased, leading to more civilian casualties, injuries and arbitrary arrests. For those campaigning in areas where conflict and the pandemic threatened civilian security, the decision by the Union Election Commission to cancel the election is 56 townships has resulted in ‘shock and anger’ among regional political parties in a move that strips voting rights of over 1 million people. The shortcomings have led to disappointment to hopes that the election would be fair, and what political commentator San Wansai called, a ‘strangulation of political space.’

Of additional concern following suit with worrying practises amid the campaign period was the detainment of three National League for Democracy (NLD) candidates who were abducted by the Arakan Army (AA) and accused of ‘collaborating and covering up war crimes committed by the Myanmar Army.’ The AA added that the prisoners would only be released if and when the government released all innocent people who have been arrested and wrongfully detained for demanding peace. The NLD has said they are unable to meet these demands and in response, the AA said the candidates would not be released anytime soon.

The integrity of the general election is at stake. There cannot be transparency when over one million voters are disenfranchised in the process. There cannot be accountability when there is mass discrimination, denial and dismissals of ethnic candidates on the basis of religion, gender and politics.

Meanwhile, cases of COVID-19 continue to rise steadily. In a recent report by OCHA Myanmar, as of 23 October, there was a reported a total of 41,008 cases, including 1,005 fatalities and 21,144 recoveries, have been confirmed across the country. On 10 October, there were 2,158 COVID-19 confirmed cases – the highest number reported in a single day so far.


Rakhine State

Villagers Arrested, Detained on Suspicion of AA Ties | 5 October 2020

Two more villagers of Padar village in Taungup Township were arrested by the Burma Army for the suspected affiliation with the Arakan Army. The number of people detained by the Burma Army on suspicion of having links to the Arakan Army from July to Sept 2020 increased by at least 40, according to a Development Media Group tally.

Rakhine State IDPs Exceeds 36,000 | 5 October 2020

According to the Rakhine Ethnic Congress, nearly 40 000 people have been displaced by fighting since August. Villages have been sent ablaze, and civilians have been killed and injured in shelling in a situation that continues to destabilize.

Woman Struck by Shrapnel as Conflict Wages in Rakhine | 5 October 2020

Fighting between the Burma Army and the Arakan Army continues unabated with COVID-19 cases rising in conflict torn Rakhine. One woman, 53, received treatment after being struck by shrapnel as locals live in anxiety and fear of the virus and warfare.

Five Rohingya Killed, Including Two Children | 6 October 2020

A devastating shooting incident in Buthidaung township killed 5 Rohingya, including two children. The casualties are the latest in a conflict that has killed nearly 300 and injured 657 since December 2018, according to a Radio Free Asia tally.

Evidence by Amnesty International Shows Attacks on Civilians | 12 October 2020

Evidence by Amnesty International shows indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Rakhine State, including children who have been killed and injured in a series of human rights violations as the suffering of innocent people continues. Fighting between the Arakan Army and the Burma Army shows no signs of abating. According to the UN Country Taskforce on Monitoring and Reporting on Grave Violations against Children in Myanmar, over 100 children have been killed in conflict from January to March 2020 – more than half of total number in 2019 and more than all child casualties in 2018.


Shan State

Shan Civilians Seek Shelter After Fighting | 7 October 2020

Over 700 IDPs are taking refuge at a monastery in northern Shan state following an outbreak of fighting between the Burma Army and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS). A lack of space and food has been difficult for villagers forced to flee who remain incredibly fearful for their future.

Civil Society Organizations Call for Ceasefire | 9 October 2020

Human rights organizations and civilians are calling for a ceasefire in northern Shan state following an increase in frequent clashes. They are concerned for their safety amid the election and global pandemic. They’re calling for an immediate end to the ongoing war in Shan State, as over 1000 IDPs are in need of aid. There were five clashes between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Burma Army, despite the extension of the unilateral ceasefire in September. Civilians were not put at ease with the Burma Army sending reinforcements by helicopters with military equipment and troops to northern Shan state.

Villager Homes Looted in Kyaukme Township | 19 October 2020

Civilians who fled their homes after fighting between the RCSS and the Burma Army returned to their villages to see belongings and livestock looted. Over 3500 villagers were displaced in October. They’re staying at seven monasteries in the area, as they are forced to put their livelihoods on hold. More updates from the Shan Human Rights Foundation show the extent of the war’s impacts on Shan civilians.


Chin State

Women Killed by Landmine Near Paletwa | 8 October 2020

The latest human rights violation documented by ND-Burma affiliate member, the Chin Human Rights Organization, was an incident where a woman on her way to the hospital was killed by a landmine near Paletwa: “I had hoped her life could be saved if she was transported immediately after the incident.”

Central Chin Youth Organization Calls for Release for Civilian | 7 October 2020

CCYO is calling for the release of a civilian, Salai Aung Soe, who has been detained by the Arakan Army since June 2020. They’re demanding his release and calling on armed groups to not detain Chin people or Chin youth in the future.

Civilians Forced to Meet Demands of Arakan Army | 20 October 2020

Community members from two village tracts in Paletwa are experiencing ongoing arbitrary demands from the Arakan Army. The Chin Human Rights Organization says local people are struggling to meet the requests under lockdown, without secure livelihoods.


Karen State

Villagers Panic as Burma Army Establishes Presence | 2 October 2020

An increase in soldiers in Burma Army camps near their village has locals worried it could increase tensions with armed organisations in the area and spark conflict.


Freedom of Expression

Activists Unfairly Arrested, Targeted | 7 October 2020

Important documentation coming from freedom of expression organization, Athan, showing that among the activists who campaigned against the internet shutdown in Rakhine and Chin states, 58 were prosecuted in 28 incidents violating freedom of expression. These alarming numbers which have forced many other activists into hiding.

Over Thirty University Students Go into Hiding for Activism

Over 30 university students have gone into hiding and another 14 were arrested for protesting the civil war in Rakhine state. Students have been particularly active in their calls for an end to the fighting where thousands have been impacted. They should be released immediately.

In an act of solidarity, over 180 civil society organisations issued a joint statement condemning the arrests of the students for protesting against the civil war in Rakhine and Chin States, and called for an immediate and unconditional release of the students.


Member update:

The Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) joined a panel discussion hosted by the US Campaign for Burma to discuss how IDPs in Mon State have been disenfranchised by the 2020 election.

HURFOM also released a new report on the electoral challenges facing remote communities, people with disabilities, first-time youth voters, and those living in armed controlled areas in southern Burma amid the 2020 election.

Affiliate member, Progressive Voice (PV), published a joint report with civil society organizations including ND-Burma members the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand and the Ta’ang Women’s Organization on tackling hate speech in the lead up to Burma’s 2020 general election.

PV also released a new briefer called “A Vote with No Confidence: Myanmar’s 2020 General Elections and the Rights of Ethnic and Religious Minorities.”

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) has been documenting cases in relation to the pandemic. In September a total of 1902 people were charged/convicted due to COVID-19 conditions.

AAPP also called for the immediate and safe release of the three NLD candidates arrested by the Arakan Army and urged a dialogue to take place between the government, the military and ethnic armed organizations for an immediate end to the ongoing fighting in Rakhine.

The Ta’ang Women’s Organization (TWO) was quoted in Network Media Group on the challenges civil society organizations are facing when documenting human rights violations in the middle of a pandemic and conflict. Lway Poe Kamae Cho, joint secretary-one of TWO said that civilians face the threat of the virus, as well as human rights violations during the fighting. But under the current travel restrictions, civilians don’t have freedom of movement, while soldiers can travel wherever they want.

ND-Burma is a network that consists of 13-member organisations who represent a range of ethnic nationalities, women and former political prisoners. ND-Burma member organisations have been documenting human rights abuses and fighting for justice for victims since 2004. The network consists of nine Full Members and four Affiliate Members as follows:

Full Members:

  1. All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress 
    2.     Assistance Association for Political Prisoners
    3.     Association Human Rights Defenders and Promoters 
    4.     Future Light Center 
    5.     Human Rights Foundation of Monland
    6.     Kachin Women’s Association – Thailand
    7.     Ta’ang Women’s Organization
    8.     Ta’ang Students and Youth Union
    9.     Tavoyan Women’s Union 

 Affiliate Members:

  1. Chin Human Rights Organization
    2.     East Bago – Former Political Prisoners Network
    3.     Pa-O Youth Organization
    4.     Progressive Voice