Human Rights Situation in Burma (March 2011 to March 2012)

The periodic report of the Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma (ND–Burma) documents the human rights situation in Burma from March 2011 – March 2012 the period marking President Thein Sein and his government being in office. The ND-Burma periodic report provides up-to-date information on human rights violations (HRVs) and highlights pressing issues and trends within the country. The information gathered covers 16 categories of human rights violations (HRV’s), documented in all 14 states and regions across Burma.

During this reporting period, significant political events have taken place in Burma. President Thein Sein granted amnesties to a number of political prisoners; however list of 473 still remain in prison, 465 political prisoners whose whereabouts are currently under verification. A by-election was held on 1st April 2012, in which 45 seats in parliament were contested. The pro-democracy opposition party, the National League for Democracy, won 43 of those seats with leader Daw Aung Suu Kyi being elected into government for the first time in history. The elections were hailed by the international community as a success, and subsequently the European Union is set to approve a one- year suspension of sanctions while the United Kingdom, Norway, Australia and the United States have announced an easing of sanctions. However, the fundamental conditions for which the sanctions were initially imposed remain, and the steps taken by the government towards reform have been modest, ineffective and have yet to lead to any real change.

There is still a serious concern for the human rights situation in Burma. The ongoing civil war in ethnic areas has directly resulted in killings, land confiscation, forced labour, child soldiers, forced relocation, torture and ill treatment. Fighting in Karen State intensified after the 2010 election, until a ceasefire agreement was reached between the KNU and the government’s peace negotiation team in January 2012. The Burmese armed forces continue to launch offensives against the Shan State Army (south) and the Shan State Army (North) even though a ceasefire agreement was signed more than four months ago. Finally, a seventeen year ceasefire agreement between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burmese armed forces fell apart when the military attacked a strategic KIA post on June 9 2011, despite President Thein Sein ordering the army to halt offensives in Kachin State.

Western governments made the ending of conflict between the Burmese Army and ethnic groups a requirement for the lifting of sanctions, however as fighting is still occurring, many sanctions have been lifted prematurely. In spite of the civilian government working towards ceasefire agreements with organisations such as the Karen National Union, New Mon State Party, Chin National Front and Arakan Liberation Party, fighting still continues between the military and the Kachin Independence Organisation. The move to transform these bilateral ceasefire agreements into a nationwide ceasefire still remains unfulfilled.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur recently visited Burma and in his progress report to the Human Rights Council in March this year, he stated that “at this crucial moment in the country’s history, remaining human rights concerns and challenges should be addressed, and justice and accountability measures, as well as measures to ensure access to the truth, should be taken.” ND Burma supports the Special Rapporteur and believes a truth commission is the best solution for unity, peace and national reconciliation during the transition and rehabilitation period in Burma. The Commission should be composed of independent and respected individuals from different fields and should undertake action on truth-seeking, compensation and reparation, public apologies and the re- occurrence of human rights violations.

ND-Burma believes that seeking the truth does no harm and yet it will significantly contribute to establishing justice, liberty and equality in Burma. It will help to create an environment in which individuals, institutions and government entities can work together towards an open and free society, while decreasing the amount of human rights violations and the perpetual abuse of power. ND-Burma believes that ignoring past human rights violations will abet in the protection of perpetrators and embolden future violations. A truth and justice commission is necessary for reconciliation and the future unity of Burma and therefore is greatly required during this transitional period.