March Justice Newsletter (20202)

March Justice Newsletter

Summary Overview

A Global Pandemic Hits Burma: COVID19 & Human Rights
The Corona Virus, also known as COVID19, has been the cause of global fear as the world tries to grapple with the new realities of isolating during a pandemic. From a human rights perspective, fears of access to health providers and information remain the biggest concern. The UN General-Secretary Antonio Guterres issued an urgent statement calling for a ‘global ceasefire.’ Despite this, clashes remain active across Burma’s ethnic states indicating that COVID19 has not changed the rules of warfare.

Currently, Burma has over 15 confirmed cases of the virus although it is suspected that the actual number is much higher. Prior to the diagnoses of cases, the government spokesperson, Zaw Htay said the lack of reported infections was because of Burma’s “lifestyle and diet.” The speech was met with criticism from Human Rights Watch and other groups.

Constitutional Clashes

Hope for changes to the long-contested military drafted Constitution appear to still be a distant reality. Despite heated debates over abolishing section 338 and 339, 419 and 420 which would reduce the powers of the military significantly, proposals to do so were defeated in Parliament. In another striking, yet not all together unsurprising move, the military attempted to reduce the powers of State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The proposal to end constitutional impunity for members of the former junta also failed to pass. Exhausted NLD MPs anticipated a loss nonetheless the efforts were symbolic. Parliament also rejected a change that would allowed Daw Aung Suu Kyi to become President.

Ceasefires Questioned, Ceasefires Extended

This month the Three Brotherhood Alliance, which includes the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar New Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Arakan Army (AA) announced an extension of their ceasefire in a statement to last 25-days (from 1 March to 25 March).

A day later, the Burma Army accused the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) of violating the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) following increased clashes in Mine Kaing township, Shan State. The RCSS responded by blaming the military for the fighting and accused soldiers of firing at the RCSS on Lwetman mountain. Civilians were forced to flee and now the RCSS is considering its participating in the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee, as well as the Joint Monitoring Committee Meetings. This is of great significance as the involvement of the RCSS has been symbolic in the peace talks to date.

The ongoing clashes have compromised state stability with injuries and casualties on both sides as a result. The numbers of IDPs are rising with no regard being given to their livelihoods and security. Further, the situation has heightened by large-scale drug seizures which has been an area of concern fueling corruption and unrest.

Rakhine State

Frequent clashes in Burma’s war-torn Rakhine State continue to perpetuate an environment of fear. On 24 March, the Burma government declared the Arakan Army (AA) a terrorist organization. Just a few days before, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs committed to increasing relief aid for IDPs displaced by conflict between the Burma Army and the AA. As the number of IDPs grow so do their needs for shelter, food and health care.

Bodies found Amid Clashes, Civilian Deaths Rise | 2 March 2020

Radio Free Asia reported at the beginning of March the bodies of two ethnic Rakhine, and one Rohingya Muslim civilian were found in Mrauk-U township, following two days of intensive fighting between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Burma Army that left 11 local civilians dead. Denial continues to evade accountability with neither side taking responsibility.

Artillery Fire Damages 24 Homes | 3 March 2020

Artillery shelling in Rathedaung township forced civilians to flee. During the clashes, fires ignited resulting in 24-homes being burnt down. No causalities were reported but civilians expressed frustration and exhaustion at the circumstances. 

Arakan Army Captures 30 Government Troops | 11 March 2020

In a move likely to change the discourse of the conflict between the Burma Army and the Arakan Army, 30-government soldiers were captured near Paletwa township following heavy fighting.

Gunfire Kills Woman and Injures Man in Kyauktaw | 12 March 2020

While walking with her family, a woman was killed and man injured by a gunshot fired by the Burma Army. Civilians were scared to bring the injured man to the hospital with concerns that they may be shot at while transporting him. Supplies and access to food are running in low supply, but the instability in the region has kept local people from leaving the areas.

21 Villagers Die, 24 Injured Following Airstrike by the Burma Army | 16 March 2020

After fighter jets by the Burma Army opened fire on four villages in Paletwa Township, 21 villagers were killed, and two dozen were injured. Medical facilities are struggling to keep up with the influx of patients who are in desperate need of life-saving support.

16 Women Injured Die in Rakhine Hospital | 16 March 2020

Two women, aged 39 and 53, who were seriously wounded in clashes between the Burma Army and AA succumbed to their injuries shortly after and passed away. Lawmakers expressed concern for civilians impacted by the fighting.

Thousands Flee After Artillery Shells Land in Villages | 18 March 2020

More than 1000 people from Myauk Taung village and over 2000 people from Thazi village, sas well as more than 2000 from Shwe Pyi village have fled as ongoing shelling threatens their safety. Those displaced are staying with family members where they are worried about access to health care, education and their livelihoods.

Teenage-IDP Dies from Gunshot Wound | 17 March 2020

Several people at Tin Nyo camp were injured after the Burma Army began indiscriminately shooting at civilians, allegedly in retaliation for a landmine that struck a military vehicle nearby. A 13-year old girl was struck and was not able to recover from her injuries. Two other women from the Tin Nyo IDP camp also reportedly died of gunshot wounds.

Airstrike by Burma Army on Paletwa Village Kills 11 Civilians | 17 March 2020

An airstrike on Meik Sawa village in southern Chin State killed 11-civilians and injured six, including a seven-year old child. The jet fighter attacked the village with two missiles.

Families Fear Status of Loved Ones Arrested by the Burma Army | 17 March 2020

Following the arrest of eight civilians in Kyauktaw township, the whereabouts and conditions are unknown. According to villagers, A group of about ten soldiers gathered the men, women, children and elderly together under the tree. They ordered eight of the men to strip. They blindfolded them with their clothes, and then took them away.

500 Flee to Safer Locations | 18 March 2020

Sensing that their lives were threatened, 500 civilians fled fighting in their villages as shells landed on their homes. Aid has been facilitated by the Myanmar Red Cross but much more is needed to provide for those in need of food, clothing and healthcare.

Nine Civilians Injured in Kyauktaw | 18 March 2020

Nine innocent people were injured by gunshot wounds after fighting escalated between the Arakan Army and Burma Army.

Over 2000 Civilians Flee Clashes | 20 March 2020

Clashes that intensified in Paletwa forcibly displaced over 2000 local people seeking safety in Samee. Civilians remain in need of aid where local Chin organizations have attempted to distribute as much food as they can. The clashes have killed, injured and displaced hundreds. Crowded camps pose a high-risk of sickness transferred to groups in an already fragile situation regarding health status.

Civilians Flee Fighting in Ann | 24 March 2020

More than 100 civilians from Ann Township fled after the sounds of heavy fighting drew near. Fighting has become a regular occurrence and many remain fearful of their security and safety.

Nine-Year Old Killed by Burma Army Strike | 25 March 2020

An airstrike killed a nine-year old child and injured 15 civilians in a village in Minbya Township.  

The Burma Army refuted allegations that they were responsible.

Teenage Girl Struck by Stay Bullet | 26 March 2020

A grade 10 student was injured when struck by a stray bullet while having dinner with her family. The father of the young women said ‘bullets were flying’ as the Burma Army opened fire on their home. The Burma Army was accused of being responsible for the attack.

AA Raids Rice Shipment Intended for Chin IDPs | 30 March 2020

According to the Chin State government, the AA stole a part of a shipment of 100 sacks of rice that was meant to be distributed to 1,700 displaced Chin civilians in Paletwa Township. Food security remains dire in the region for all impacted by the regular clashes between the Burma Army and the AA.

In a recent statement, the Rakhine Ethnic Congress (REC) relief group said that fighting has displaced about 130,000 people in Rakhine and adjacent Chin state since early 2019, with more than 100 killed and 300 injured. According to the Arakan Students Union (Universities – Yangon), more than 130 civilians have been killed and over 360 injured due to the conflict in Arakan State. 

Shan State

Burma Army Soldiers Steal from Homes of IDPs | 5 March 2020

Disturbing reports from Shan Herald Agency for News revealed that while locals forced to flee conflict in southern Shan State to nearby monasteries, the Burma Army raided their homes and shops. When civilians tried to return home, the soldiers fired at them.

Burma Army Soldiers Block IDPs from Returning Home | 8 March 2020

Escalating clashes between the Burma Army and the RCSS saw villagers trying to return home turned away by the Burma Army. The IDPs were among the 500 people seeking refuge in monasteries in Ham Ngai village tract, where the clashes began on February 27.

Harsher Checkpoints Enforced on Shan State Highway | 9 March 2020

New checkpoints by the Burma Army have been set up along the Lashio-Hsipaw highway in northern Shan State. A woman traveling through noticed that only men are being checked, and if they were ethnic Shan they were inspected more closely (phones, bags and bodies checked). The move comes after heightened clashes between he Burma Army and RCSS.

The following cases are based on reports from ND-Burma member, the Ta’ang Students Youths Union.

Burma Army Steals Goods & Livestock from IDPs | 10 March 2020

On 10 March around 10 AM, the Burma Army stole property from IDPs who had fled to the camps and monasteries for safety in Shwe Nyaung Pin village track, Moemeik Township, Northern Shan State. Their property was stolen after clashes between the TNLA and the Burma Army that day. There were 125 communities (Shwe Nyaung Pin and Thae Line village) who had fled to other villages such as Lwel Sar village, Memeik Township. The soldiers took property totaling over 700,000 Kyat and took chickens and cows.

Civilian Injured by Landmine Explosion |14 March 2020

A villager, U Shwe Nyan, aged 45. lost his leg due after being struck by a landmine while tending to his cows on 14 March. The perpetrator responsible for laying the landmine is unknown. He received medical treatment for his left leg in Kyaukme public hospital.

Villagers Illegally Arrested & Detained by the Burma Army | 25 March 2020

On 25 March 2020, the Burma Army and TNLA clashed where seven Pan Tin villagers were arbitrarily arrested in Moemeik Township, Moemeik District, Northern Shan State. Those arrested were older and had been staying in the villages for a long time. They were accused of being TNLA soldiers. They still have not been released.

Civilians Killed & Injured After Burma Army Fires on Two Villages | 13 March 2020

Three residents of Tharsi village in Kyauktaw were killed in the attack, while around 30 people—including at least four children—were injured. Villagers reported indiscriminate fighting as soldiers fired randomly.

Burma Army, RCSS Agree to Mark Territory | 17 March 2020

In an effort to mitigate tensions between the Burma Army and the RCSS, territories will clearly be demarcated to avoid clashes.

Fighting between TNLA, Pansay Militia Results in Clashes | 18 March 2020

Two people were killed after fighting took place in northern Shan State between the TNLA and Pansay Militia Force, though it is unclear if the causalities were combatants or civilians. However, civilians still remain trapped in conflict areas.

Shan State Villagers Arrested Following Clashes with the RCSS | 31 March 2020

A village head and his son were arrested by the Burma Army after clashes with the RCSS in Mongton Township, eastern Shan State. The father remains in custody as RCSS spokesperson says he cannot say when clashes will occur again.

Human rights violations from 27 February were shared by the Shan Human Rights Foundation and can be downloaded in English, Shan and Burmese. Their latest update details the Burma Army’s violation of ceasefires and legitimized attacks despite the devastating tool it takes on civilians. Hundreds of villages have been forced to flee indiscriminate shelling. They were also faced with forced portering  and restricted movement.

Karen State

KNU General Secretary Addresses Peace-Keeping Efforts | 12 March 2020

Frontier Myanmar journalist, spoke with General-Secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), Saw Ta Doh Moo, about prospects for peace as clashes have recently caused unrest in Karen State. On the challenges moving forward, he compares the problems on the ground to that of looking at an iceberg: “many things are not visible.”

Forest Worker Killed by Burma Army | 13 March 2020

According to an update by Free Burma Rangers, a Karen forest ranger was shot and killed by the Burma Army as he and two other forest workers rode together on a motorbike nearby the Mae Wai LIB 338 post.  Conflict in Mutraw district has been active since the end of January as the Burma Army moves ahead with construction plans over a controversial road that has displaced thousands.

Mon State

Civilians Wounded by Landmines | 19 March 2020

An ethnic Mon man was killed in a landmine in an area that had fighting between Mon and Karen armed groups. Earlier this month, two Mon civilians also lost limbs in landmine explosions in Yebyu Township.

Freedom of Expression

Detained Journalists Faced Abuse in Custody | 6 March 2020

A journalist from the Myanmar Times and Frontier Myanmar, who were both abducted and detained by the Border Guard Force (BGF) in Myawaddy Township, Karen State faced abuses while in detention. The two were confronted by the BGF for taking photos of the heavy machinery and were shortly after taken into custody. During the interrogation, Myanmar Times journalist, Mar Naw, was hit and kicked in the face. Naw Betty Han, a journalist at Frontier, had guns pointed at her and was slapped in the face when trying to explain.

ND-Burma joined the many calls on Twitter of concern and appealed for their immediate release.

Burma Army File Lawsuit Against Reuters | 10 March 2020

Journalists internationally and regionally expressed concern over a lawsuit brought forward against Reuters news agency by the Burma Army. The military has fired back after Reuters reported the death of two Rohingya women as the result of artillery fire by their units. They maintain that it was the Arakan Army – who also deny responsibility. A local lawmaker has also been sued for criminal defamation. The lawsuit has since been dropped.

Justice Updates

UNSR, Yanghee Lee, Appeals for Accountability in Final Report

During the 43rd Human Rights Council session, the United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on Myanmar, Ms. Yanghee Lee, gave her final oral report on 10 March 2020. Ms. Lee made calls urging the authorities to cooperate with human rights mechanisms and for armed actors to cease fighting across the country. She noted that throughout her tenure, ‘devastation and tragedy transpired,’ and that Burma continues to stand ‘accused of the most serious crimes under international law.’ Her condemnation of the human rights abuses concluded with an appeal for Burma to be referred to the International Criminal Court. Her report in full can be found here. 

Members of the European Burma Network Release Statement

Members of the European Burma Network called on the European Network to ‘strengthen its commitment to human rights’ by prioritizing the release of political prisoners, and urging the Burmese government to reform repressive legislation in line with international standards.

Member Update

Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) Calls for Release of Prisoners During New Year

ND-Burma member, AAPP, is calling for the release of over 600 political prisoners in the upcoming presidential amnesty granted to celebrated the Burmese New Year in April. AAPP added that many of the political prisoners are in jail as a result of fighting against the suppression of free speech.

This month, AAPP, celebrated 20-years of advocacy and work for former and current political prisoners. In a statement, they urged the government to release all political prisoners as soon as possible.

As COVID-19 precautions for social distancing continue, AAPP Joint Secretary Ko Bo Gyi shared useful tips on how to cope with a life in isolation. His sentiments are welcomed and appreciated during these times.

AAPP also shared their monthly chronology noting 92 political prisoners serving sentences, 124 facing trial inside, and 399 facing trial outside. Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, according to AAPP, there are, ‘615 highly vulnerable political prisoners kept in outdated, unhygienic prisons and without adequate healthcare.’

The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) Calls for Immediate Ceasefire Between the Burma Army and Arakan Army

Affiliate ND-Burma member, CHRO, expressed deep concern ‘at the escalation of civilian deaths and causality as a result of indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling.’ The statement is available on their Facebook page.

CHRO shares regular on the ground updates about the situation in Chin State. Subscribe here. In the latest update, CHRO reported Burma Army airstrikes against villages in Paletwa township which killed 3 and injured 7 civilians.

Statement Calling for Ceasefire

CHRO also issued a statement calling for an unconditional ceasefire and urgent humanitarian intervention in Chin and Rakhine States.

Calls for Justice and Survivors of Genocide

In a joint statement by ND-Burma member, the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand and Affiliate member, Progressive Voice joined Forum Asia and the Action Committee for Democracy Development calling on the Member and Observer States to UN Human Rights Council to ensure an end to impunity and bring justice for victims of genocide and war crimes.

Restore Internet Access in Rakhine & Chin States

Progressive Voice also joined a statement calling for the restoration of Internet in Rakhine and Chin State with Forum Asia, Equality Myanmar and the Women’s League of Burma.

52 CSOs Call for End to Fighting in Ethnic Areas & Internet Restoration

Amid COVID-19 concerns, several CSOs including ND-Burma members and affiliate members called for an end to fighting in ethnic areas.

ND-Burma Releases New Report

 In ND-Burma’s recently released report on abuses from July to December 2019, ND-Burma members documented 174 human rights violations with an alarming number of clashes in Rakhine and northern Shan States, as well as a notable decline in basic rights and freedoms. ND-Burma has concluded that the delays to a successful transition to a free, fair and democratic Burma are compromised by the Burma Army’s reluctance to give up power.

The report is now available online in Burmese and English.