Summary Report: Ceasefires Backfire, Conflict Intensifies Amid COVID-19 Spike
At the beginning of the month, the Brotherhood Alliance of the Kokang (MNTJP/MNDAA), the Ta’ang (PSLF/TNLA), and the Arakan (ULA/AA) announced the extension of their unilateral ceasefire until 9 November 2020. As stated previously, if the Burma Army attacks, they intend to retaliate. However, they also said they are open to negotiation talks and engaging in preventive and protection measures related to COVID-19. The Burma Army also extended their unilateral nationwide truce until the end of October 2020. As previous agreements, this one also failed to include Rakhine state where fighting continues at an alarming rate.
The intensifying conflict between the Burma Army and Arakan Army has displaced thousands, killed and injured hundreds. The devastation has included a government-imposed Internet shutdown and unlikely access to polling stations in the upcoming 2020 national election. The spike in COVID-19 cases has also done little to reduce tensions and fears among innocent local people living in surrounding areas where relief groups are struggling to ensure access to life saving materials reaches the most vulnerable.
In justice news, during his address to the Human Rights Council, the head of the Independent Mechanism for Myanmar, Nicholas Koumjian, observed protection, security risks in Burma in need of attention, noting the progress the mission has made. These efforts are crucial in holding perpetrators of human rights violations accountable. The UN office in Burma reinforced calls for a global ceasefire as COVID-19 spreads quickly in conflict-torn Rakhine, where vulnerable groups remain at an increased risk of the virus and violence. Calls were also made for the full restoration of Internet access as the shutdown enters its 16 month. At the U.N. Security Council, several members also called for an immediate halt to fighting between the Burma Army and the Arakan Army. Eight of the 15 council nations said that conflict was taking a ‘heavy toll’ on local communities in Rakhine and Chin states. ND-Burma documentation from member organizations supports this.
More than 300 CSOs submitted a letter on the situation of human rights in Burma to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Burma, Mr. Thomas Andrews for his address to the Human Rights Council. The letter condemned the status of human rights in the country and noted significant challenges on the declining status of freedom of expression and voter suppression in conflict zones. UN Human Rights Chief, Michelle Bachelet also said the Burma Army’s brutal tactics in the 21-month long civil war in Rakhine ‘were producing possible war crimes’ and that ‘Naypyidaw had made no progress in resolving an earlier crisis sparked by the army’s explosion of the Rohingya.’
The rest of the month continued to show little progress for human rights reforms as students were jailed for their protest of the civil war, prompting many rights groups to continue lobbying for repeals to repressive laws that stifle freedom of expression.
Over 1000 Civilians Arrested in Rakhine | 3 September 2020
According to local residents, the Burma Army detained over 1000 civilians from Rakhine in an area where there were no clashes between them and Arakan Army. A villager that escaped shared testimony about the horrors experienced, including beatings and arrests.
Arakan Army Accuses Burma Army of Using Pandemic to Justify Military Pressure | 3 September 2020
The leader of the Arakan Army said he feels officials are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to justify the deployment of more troops in Rakhine as civilians are being detained, tortured and killed in conflict. According to Radio Free Asia, since hostilities between the Arakan Army and the Burma Army began in 2018, there have been 283 civilians killed and 627 injured. Over 200,000 have fled their homes amid the fighting and now live in official or makeshift displacement camps.
Villagers Forced Out of their Homes, Two Civilians Killed | 4 September 2020
The Burma Army forced villagers out of their homes in Kyauktaw township and killed two civilians. As their homes burnt, they were warned that if they tried to put out the fires they would be shot, making stay-at-home orders impossible with ongoing clashes.
Relief Needed After Homes Burnt by Burma Army | 8 September 2020
After 69 houses in Taungpauk village and 110 houses in Paya Paung village were destroyed by being burnt to the ground by the Burma Army, there were over 1500 villagers who are now in urgent need of emergency assistance for food and clothing. One villager said: “I wondered if it would be better if we just died.”
Four Killed in Artillery Strike in Myebon village | 9 September 2020
A devastating strike by the Burma Army killed four, including two children and injured ten others in Rakhine. Regional instability continues to cripple civilians as a grieving father said, ” I want to know if they are going to continue to kill like this.” Following the incident, calls for justice have been supported by local groups as well as UNICEF and Save the Children who urged an end to armed conflict in Rakhine, a ceasefire and investigation into the incident. According to groups that are advocating on behalf of children, forty-two children under the age of 18 have died and 135 have been injured since December 2018 by artillery shelling, gunshots, and landmine explosions.
The Burma Army Admits to Raping Rakhine Woman | 9 September 2020
The Burma Army admitted to raping a Rakhine woman, despite previous denials following her accusation at the end of June 2020. The survivor has been steadfast in her calls for justice and is being supported by a legal clinic working to pursue charges. The Burma Army has said they will take in house action against the soldiers.
One Killed, Two Injured in Rakhine State Shelling | 19 September 2020
One civilian was killed, two others were injured as artillery shells exploded just 20 miles away from the Rakhine capital city, Sittwe.
Two Brothers Shot by the Burma Army | 23 September 2020
Two brothers were shot in Mrauk-U, Rakhine state. Both survived, although one was taken into military custody. This pattern of systematic power abuse has resulted in many civilians detained and arrested without cause.
Detained Rakhine Civilians Speak of Abuse in Detention | 24 September 2020
Ten Rakhine civilians who were released after being detained overnight by the Burma Army spoke of the violent physical abuse they endured. A lawmaker, sadly called this a ‘common occurrence.’ Victims were fearful to speak out in case of repercussions.
Woman Killed by Landmine in Paletwa | 20 September 2020
A Rakhine woman who accidentally stepped on a landmine while searching for bamboo shoots was killed immediately after it exploded. Landmines have been an all too common occurrence for civilians foraging for food in the jungle.
Civilians in Paletwa Face Food Shortages from Fighting | 24 September 2020
As fighting continues between the Burma Army and the Arakan Army, locals in bordering Paletwa, Chin state are facing food shortages. A spokesperson for the Relief and Rehabilitation Committee for Chin IDPs says 60,000 residents in remote villages are cut off from food markets.
Civilians Flee Forced Recruitment by Shan Armed Groups | 4 September 2020
Over 200 civilians have fled forced recruitment by armed groups in northern Shan state and are seeking shelter at a monastery after reports of villagers being abducted and forced to join. Young men are the primary target, as are young children.
Separate Incidents Leaves Two Shan Civilians Dead | 9 September 2020
Two civilians in Shan state were shot in separate incidents by unknown perpetrators. Shootings are common, but very rarely are gunmen held accountable leading to an unsafe sense of security for local villagers.
Human Rights Violations Increasing in Northern Shan | 24 September 2020
Abuses against civilians in northern Shan are rising, according to the Humanitarian Strategic Team – northern Shan state. According to their data, between February and August 2020, 48 people were killed (25 shot, 23 by landmines) and an additional 26 were injured, with over 1000 displaced.
On International Peace Day, the same group released a statement calling for health and humanitarian support for civilians affected by conflict and the pandemic.
Update from ND-Burma member, the Ta’ang Students and Youths Union
One Villager Burnt and One Civilian Shot by the Burma Army
Mai Pann Zar, aged 20 years (parents- U Aik Kit and Daw Aye Htwan) and Mai Aik Aung 20 years (parents- U Kwan Kham and Daw Mar Kham) who live in Phar Hlaing village, Pan Ta Pyay village, Mong Yaw sub township, Lashio Township were victims of attacks by the Burma Army. On 30 August at 9:00 AM, They went to fix the fence and feed the buffalo. They had seen the Burma Army on their way and the soldiers shot at them four times. Mai Pann Zar had been shot by the Burma Army and Mai Aik Aung had escaped from them. The villagers found the burnt corpse of Pann Zar 30 minutes from that area.
On 30 August at 2:00PM, Mai Ah Tun, 37 years old, was living in Phar Hlaing village, Pan Ta Pyay village, Mong Yaw sub township, Lashio Township. He was shot and killed by the Burma Army when they went through Man Nar Saing village where villagers heard a gunshot 10 times. Mai Aik Tun was missing for a week from that day. His family and village went looking for him. On 7 September, near Man Pan Militia gate, there was a smell and they found Mai Aik Tun’s dead body. The dead body was wearing a MNDAA uniform, but his parents remember his son. It appeared that after killing him, the Burma Army changed his clothes.
On 12 September, the Burma Army released a statement that on 30 August there was fighting between the MNDAA and the Burma Army, 1000 meters away from Northern of Htan Khaung village. The two dead bodies were MNDAA soldiers and weren’t villagers. The Burma Army took the guns from the MNDAA. On 16 September, the MNDAA also released the statement saying these two dead bodies weren’t their soldiers. There was no fighting between MNDAA and Burma Army that day.
Calls for Peace by Karen Civil Society Organizations on International Peace Day Commemorated on 21 September 2020
The Karen Women’s Organization called for genuine and inclusive peace in Burma. Women have been unfairly sidelined from participating in the peace process and are seriously underrepresented in various social, political sectors.
The Karen Human Rights Group observed peace day with a shared hope that we will one day live in a world conflict that is resolved without resorting to violence. KHRG called on the Burma Army and all armed actors to observe this important event by participating in an international ceasefire.
The Burma Army blocked IDPs displaced by conflict in the town of Bhamo, from returning home to their villages. Confusion has emerged as a result of different promises from the government, the General Administrative Department and the military.
Freedom of Expression
Advocacy Group, ‘Justice for Myanmar,’ Website Shutdown | 1 September 2020
The website of advocacy group, Justice for Myanmar, was blocked by the government. The group represents different activists who are active in their exposing of the Burma Army’s business ventures, which are corrupt and lacking transparency. The group has since launched a mirror site.
Rakhine Journalist Still in Hiding 17- Months On | 10 September 2020
Burma Campaign UK called on the government of Burma to drop all charges against journalist, Aung Marm Oo, and to repeal all repressive laws. Aung Marm Oo has been in hiding after receiving threats and being charged under the Unlawful Associations Act 17(2) for his media group reporting on human rights abuses by the military.
Rakhine Based Political Parties Call for Lift to Internet Ban | 11 September 2020
Amid election campaigning in the lead up to the national vote, political parties based in Rakhine are rightly calling for full restoration of Internet services during the campaign period. The shutdown has had lasting consequences on civilians, Members of Parliament and aid workers.
Students Arrested for Protesting Ban | 11 September 2020
Three students have been arrested for protesting the Internet ban in Rakhine state after they called on the government to end the shutdown in eight townships. The policy has led to unprecedented levels of insecurity and critical info gaps, especially amid COVID19. The Burma Human Rights Network called for their immediate release – saying they were practicing their right to peacefully protest. ND-Burma member, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners also responded by releasing a statement on the arrest and prosecution of students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Human Rights Watch Calls for Protection of Protesters | 23 September 2020
Human Rights Watch called on the Burmese authorities to stop responding to criticism of the government and military with arrests. Charges against the over 20 students in Burma protesting should be dropped immediately.
On World Democracy Day, ND-Burma released a six-month human rights report showing how widespread impunity continues to take place, spotlighting injustices against innocent civilians in Burma. Read in English: http://ow.ly/TOkf50BqOY6 and Burmese: http://ow.ly/OiUe50BqOXR
Representatives from ND-Burma member organizations, the Ta’ang Students and Youth Union, and the Pa-O Youth Organization joined a panel to discuss the situation of IDPs and refugees in Shan State.
ND-Burma member, the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand released a new report titled, “Guarding Profits Not Lives,” which exposes the role of the Burma Army in the Gwihka mining landslide tragedy and the ownership of jade companies and calls for an immediate moratorium.
ND-Burma members and affiliate members, the Ta’ang Women’s Organization, thePa-O Youth Organization and Progressive Voice joined a statement calling for justice for three villagers who went missing after being detained by the Burma Army. They are demanding answers after their bodies were found in northern Shan state.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners released a new report, “Mapping Injustice in Myanmar,” which looks at human rights violations across Burma’s regions over a ten-year period of January 2010 to June 2020.
The Ta’ang Women’s Organization released a press release saying the Burma Army has intensified their offensive in Ta’ang regions since 2012 and details such in their latest report, “Peace Never Realized.” The main human rights violations documented include torture and beating by rifles, bamboo sticks and military equipment.
364 civil society organizations in Burma sent an open letter to the UN Human Rights Council on the deteriorating human rights situation during COVID-19 calling for an end to offensives and for the HRC to take measures to bring justice and accountability including an ICC referral. Several ND-Burma members and affiliate members endorsed the letter including All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress, Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters, Chin Human Rights Organization, Future Light Center, Kachin Women’s Association Thailand, Pa-O Youth Organization
Progressive Voice and the Ta’ang Women’s Organization.
To celebrate International Peace Day, ND-Burma member organization, the Tavoyan Women’s Union, joined a panel of women’s voices for peace and justice in the Asia region.
During a diplomatic briefing on the UPR, ND-Burma joined several NGOs on 29 September 2020. The meeting was attended by 14 embassies including delegates from EU, Australia and U.S embassies.
ND-Burma addressed key challenges in Burma based on our UPR submission on the Peace Process and Armed Conflict in Burma. Together with the ND-Burma member organisation, the All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress, we highlighted the failure of NCA as a key reason for the prolonged civil war and provided related recommendations.
Read our submission in full here.
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:
- All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress
- Assistance Association for Political Prisoners
- Association Human Rights Defenders and Promoters
- Future Light Center
- 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