Seeking Justice in Burma
Efforts to draft amendments to the military-drafted 2008 Constitution continued to draw opposition and support; Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of violence in Rakhine State; and freedom of expression continued to be stifled as media organizations received threats and defamation suits continued
The NLD’s efforts to draft amendments to the military-drafted 2008 Constitution continued to draw both support and opposition among different sectors of society in Burma. More than 2,000 civilians in Kachin State’s Hpakant Town rallied in support of making changes to the document, with many particularly opposed to the Burma military’s constitutionally guaranteed role in politics.
However, in Sagaing Region, the Kalay Township National Forces (KTNF)—backed by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the National Unity Party, Ma Ba Tha, and the Kalay Farmers Association—led a protest of approximately 1,000 people defending the current constitution.
Human Rights Watch released a statement welcoming the draft amendments as an opportunity to ensure the right to freedom of expression, media freedom, and access to information are included in the constitution. The statement was signed by a number of local and international NGOs/CBOs.
Despite the declaration of a four-month unilateral ceasefire by the Burma Army in the north and northeast of the country in December, multiple clashes between the Burma Army and EAOs continued to be reported through April. The Burma Army engaged in several clashes with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in Northern Shan State’s Muse and Namkham townships during the last week of April.
Two Burma Army soldiers shot and killed eight civilians, including three children, over a motorbike in Anan Kwin village, Kyainseikgyi Township, Karen State. The two are currently in the custody of the Burma Army, where Col. Maung Maung Latt from Southeast Regional Command stated action would be taken against the soldiers.
Clashes between the Burma Army and the Arakan Army (AA) have continued throughout April in Rakhine State. A Tatmadaw artillery campaign killed a 78-year-old woman in Ann Township, while non-stop barrages of gun and artillery fire have led to the displacement of many villagers in Mrauk-U and Buthidaung townships, with several elder villagers unable to walk being trapped, necessitating rescue by the Red Cross.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, approximately 33,000 people are currently displaced due to the armed conflict between the Burma Army and the AA in Rakhine and Chin states.
Nang Pu, a Kachin peace activist released from prison at the beginning of April, has vowed to continue her work on gender equality and peace after being charged with defaming the military and sentenced to six months in prison. A decorated peace activist, including being honoured with the US Embassy’s Women of Change award, Nang Pu was released two months’ early; however, two of her colleagues are serving their full six-month sentences.
More than 9,500 prisoners were released under the president’s New Year’s pardon, including two political prisoners. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, there were a total of 331 political prisoners at the end of April, including 48 serving prison sentences and 283 either detained or on bail awaiting trial. Although Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were not included in the annual pardon, they would later be released on May 7.
A new legal clinic has opened in Kachin State seeking to help individuals fight for justice against powerful individuals and organizations. The Legal Assistance Organization aims to represent those who cannot afford to hire a defense or those who feel they have been wrongfully charged.
The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) will reportedly investigate the death of U Kyaw Aye, who died while in police custody in Wakema Township, Irrawaddy Region. According to U Kyaw Aye’s sister, who filed the complaint with the MNHRC, he had been arrested after an altercation with the village administrator, and his body, which was returned six days later, showed signs of severe beating and torture.
Nicholas Koumjian was appointed as the Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar. Established in September 2018 by the UN Human Rights Council, the Mechanism’s mandate is to collect and analyze evidence of international crimes committed against Burma’s Rohingya population in Rakhine State and other minorities.
According to an American news outlet, a pair of bipartisan US lawmakers are preparing to table legislation that would provide more funding for organizations focused on justice for political prisoners in Burma.
Reuters’ staff, with special attention to contributions from jailed journalists (later released in May) Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the violence against the Rohingya population in Rakhine State.
Freedom of Expression
Independent media and news organisations in Burma have continued to be targets of threats. A slew of local independent and Burmese-language international outlets have received anonymous death threats online or via phone in relation to their coverage of the ongoing conflict in Rakhine State, with the warnings to only show positive coverage coming from both sides of the conflict.
The Irrawaddy was sued for defamation under Article 66(d) by the Burma Army for its coverage of the conflict in Rakhine State, with the case being charged against U Ye Ni, the Burmese-language edition editor, drawing rebuke from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Five members of a dance troupe were arrested and charged under Article 66(d) and Article 505(a) of the Penal Code for a satirical performance that criticized the military which was live-streamed over Facebook. In addition to the five, another four performers from a second group have also been charged under Article 505(a).
A 63-year-old woman was injured after stepping on a landmine while harvesting betel nut in Yebyu Township, Tenasserim Division. According to the Human Rights Foundation of Monland, this is the seventh documented landmine explosion in the area since October, leaving many local residents afraid to work on plantations during this year’s harvest season.
ND-Burma is a network that consists of 12 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 six Full Members and six Affiliate Members as follows:
- Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma
- Human Rights Foundation of Monland
- Kachin Women’s Association – Thailand
- Ta’ang Women’s Organization
- Ta’ang Students and Youth Union
- Tavoyan Women’s Union (TWU)