8. Rights of Ethnic Minorities
Burma is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, with over 135 different ethnic groups, and its population speaking over 100 different languages and dialects. Ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples are believed to represent approximately one-third of the state’s 52 million inhabitants, which includes an estimated population of 2 million Chinese and Indian. The major ethnic groups include Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni (or Kayah), Mon, Rakhine (or Arakan), and Shan. These major ethnic groups are predominately located in the border areas. Because of Burma’s location, it has acted as a historic buffer between the neighboring powers of China, India, and Siam (Thailand). Over the past 2,000 years, many ethnic groups have migrated across Burma. The impressive and unique diversity found in Burma has been a source of conflict throughout Burma’s history and in the more recent attempts to create a democratic nation state. Throughout its entire existence as an independent state, Burma has experienced a complex set of conflicts between the central government and ethnic minority groups. More than half a century of civil war has caused immense suffering and devastation for Burma and its people. A series of ceasefires between the SPDC and armed ethnic opposition groups since the late 1980s have brought relief in some areas but no real solutions and fighting continues. The Government’s determination to preserve a unified state remains the main justification for military rule, and armed conflict is a root cause of ongoing human rights abuses and a deepening humanitarian crisis in ethnic minority areas. (Source: Myanmar Backgrounder: Ethnic Minority Politics, ICG, 7 May 2003)
Before the British annexed the territory of Burma, as a province of British India, the people inhabiting the land were ruled by various separate kingdoms and local tribal leaders. The kingdoms in the central Irrawaddy plains made successive attempts at pushing the boundaries of their territories further into the hills but the geography of the land served to isolate those in the hills from those in the plains. Before Burma achieved independence in 1948, there had been no political integration of the minority national territories with the Burman areas. The non-Burman indigenous nationalities in Burma were politically autonomous before and during the time of British colonial rule. Under colonial rule, ethnic differences became further amplified through the system of government under which Burma was administered as two separate territories: ‘Ministerial Burma’, areas predominately Burman, and the ‘Frontier Areas’, where ethnic minorities lived.
In Ministerial Burma, the traditional monarchy was abolished and a form of parliamentary home rule was introduced. For the most part, the frontier areas were left under the local authority of their traditional headmen and chiefs. Ethnic minorities, principally the Chin, Kachin, and Karen, were preferred for recruitment into the colonial army and the natural resources of minority areas were the most heavily exploited with little investment in return. This divide and conquer strategy not only created divisions and resentments which carry on until this day, but it ultimately set the peoples of Burma on different paths of political and economic development (source: Smith, Martin, Time For Change, Minority Rights Group International, May 2002).
The Burman majority has always held the roots of anti-colonial sentiment, while after early resistance, many of the hill peoples were more welcoming to the British than the Burmans. Like the Burmans, plains or valley-dwelling minority groups, notably the Mon and Shan, have languages with long and rich written traditions. With British annexation, Christian missionaries promoted education and the transcription of minority languages into writing for the hill peoples, galvanizing a sense of modern ethnic or national identity among peoples that previously had been scattered or politically disparate. Cultural and political organizations swiftly followed, the most important of which, the Karen National Association (KNA), was formed in 1881. Such new influences and institutions, however, created a sense of unease among many Burman nationalists who regarded Christianity, like Indian and Chinese immigration, as a divisive element in the British arsenal of ‘three Ms’: missionaries, merchants and military (source: Smith, Martin, Burma(Myanmar): The Time For Change, Minority Rights Group International, May 2002).
During the Second World War, Burman nationalist forces aligned with the Japanese Imperial Army and were involved in a series of bloody clashes with ethnic minority groups who stayed loyal to the British. They later turned against the Japanese and cooperated with the returning British army. However, atrocities committed during the early months of the Japanese campaign, particularly in Karen communities in the delta, left deep-seated enmity among many ethnic nationalists that remain today (source: Myanmar Backgrounder: Ethnic Minority Report, ICG, 7 May 2002).
From 1945 to 1948, a new state structure had to be developed in order for Burma to become independent. General Aung San, the Burman independence leader, stated: "In my opinion it will not be feasible to set up a unitary state. We must set up a Union with properly regulated provisions to safeguard the rights of the national minorities." Independent Burma was created on the understanding that it would be a federal union. The separate political rights of the minority national areas were recognized in the January 1947 agreement between General Aung San and the British Prime Minister Attlee. The rights of the ethnic national groups were also recognized in the February 1947 Panglong Agreement between Burman leaders and other national groups, in the commission of inquiry on the frontier areas, and in the independence constitution of 1948. Each of these fundamental political and legal documents recognized rights of self-determination of the indigenous nationalities. The 1948 constitution gave each nationality representation in a Chamber of Nationalities at the national level. The constitution specifically only recognized four states for the Karen, Karenni, Shan, and Kachin. Only the Shan and Karenni were granted the right to separate after 10 years. For other groups, territory was not provided for in the constitution. Many groups felt that the constitution did not grant equal rights and representation to the ethnic groups, which led to increased tensions and numerous armed resistances. In the case of the Karen, these began as early as 1949. The present constitution of Burma, enacted in 1974 under General Ne Win, gives no autonomy to the ethnic nationalities. Under the SPDC, there is no respect for minority languages, cultures, or political aspirations. The Government’s response to the minority nationalities is purely militarized. In spite of this reality, Burma still claims to be a "union", and the anniversary of the Panglong Agreement has been celebrated every year since 1962 as "Union Day. (Source: Smith, Martin, Time for Change, Minority Rights Group International, May 2002)
The Panglong Agreement, between General Aung San and Chin, Kachin, and Shan leaders, is the closest that the minority ethnic groups and the majority Burmans have ever come to having a successful and peaceful union and is often considered the starting point for future negotiations. The challenge to create a sense and structure of national unity in the new Union from peoples that had formerly been administered separately, while still respecting their rights to ethnic autonomy, was first attempted here. However, the Karen – which constituted one of the largest minorities – boycotted these negotiations, believing that the British would grant them an independent state, and there were strong critics also among other ethnic groups. The agreement is also important because it, in many respects, is what led to independence a year later. Respected Shan resistance member and scholar, Dr. Chao Tzang Yawngwe, has noted, "The Panglong Accord and its principles or the Panglong spirit is at the very heart of our past, present, and future. The Panglong vision, shared by all non-Burman leaders and by General Aung San, was to establish a democratic, federal Union, based on federalism, the equality of states, and their self-determination. In the final agreement of 12 February 1947, ‘full autonomy in internal administration’ (Article 5) and the enjoyment of democratic ‘rights and privileges’ (Article 7) were guaranteed for the Frontier Areas, and hence some ethnic minority peoples. No one state was envisioned as being the mother-state (Pyi-Ma), superior to or above other states. The Panglong spirit is critical to future attempts at building the nation because it provides a solid and historical basis for democracy, peace, and real people’s power" (source: "An Evening with Dr Chao Tzang Yawngwe," Kao Wao, 16-20 February 2002).
8.2 Ethnic Politics, Nationalism, Armed Resistance, and Ceasefire Groups
Ethnic minorities or non-Burman people make up one third of the population of Burma and occupy approximately half the land area of the country. The population of Burma is estimated to be 50 million people, therefore there are nearly 20 million ethnic minorities living on 55% of the land area or 371,000 sq. km Burmans make up 60% of the population. Ethnic minorities are thought of as such because they are disenfranchised from full citizenship. The term "ethnic nationalities" is often used to refer to non-Burmans because of the varied and strong ethnic identities within the country.
The ruling military regime regards the ethnic minority groups with intense suspicion because of their lack of unity throughout the history of Burma. The ethnic minority groups have felt the loss of political and economic power even more acutely than the majority population as both the SPDC government and military are overwhelmingly Burman in make-up and are widely perceived as a foreign force in ethnic minority areas. Ethnic minority groups are economically marginalized while their social, cultural, and religious rights are suppressed. Ethnic minorities consider themselves discriminated against and have openly accused the SPDC of a deliberate policy of "Burmanization". While many ethnic groups originally fought for independence, today almost all have accepted the Union of Myanmar as a fact and merely seek increased local authority and equality within a new federal state structure. The military government, however, still suspects them of scheming to split the country and sees this as justification for its repressive, often brutal policies in minority areas. (Source: Myanmar Backgrounder: Ethnic Minority Politics, ICG, 7 May 2003)
Non-Burman armed ethnic groups have been fighting the military government and their army, called the Tatmadaw, to varying degrees for more than 50 years. Scores of opposition groups have formed, split, reunited, and dissolved at various times over the years. While most ethnic minority armies have been fighting the SPDC army, some have at times cooperated with it against other groups, or they have fought each other over territory or other resources. In 1976 minority nationalists formed an alliance called the National Democratic Front (NDF). The NDF continues to seek a political solution to the national question in Burma, and seeks a federal union with equality and self-representation for the nationalities. As stated at their 1987 congress, the political goal of a federal union is envisioned as, "Each republic government is to have full power of self-government, while the central government shall exercise the power defense, foreign affairs, finance and monetary affairs, post and telecommunications, airways, waterways, railway communication, and federal judiciary," (source: Center for World Indigenous Studies, 2002).
The group originally called for a ceasefire in Burma only if all ethnic armies agreed to it, but since its formation, groups—including the New Mon State Party (NMDP) and the Kachin Independent Organization (KIO)—have brokered ceasefire deals with the ruling military junta. Although the military junta has signed cease-fires with individual ethnic groups, at the beginning of the year, seven ethnic groups, who remain members of the NDF, had not agreed to ceasefire deals and continued to fight against the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). NDF members include: The Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), Chin National Front (CNF), Karen National Union (KNU), the Lahu Democratic Front (LDF), the Palaung Liberation Front (PLF), Pa-O Liberation Organization (PLO), and Wa National Organization (WNO). Since 1989, the NDF has formed the nucleus of a new grouping, the Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB), which includes majority Burman opposition groups as well. The NDF has called on the SPDC to hold a tripartite dialogue and to declare a nationwide ceasefire, but the SPDC has so far refused. The military government has continued to refuse to negotiate with joint ethnic fronts, including the NDF, stating it will only negotiate with ethnic groups individually (source: Irrawaddy, 2002).
The armed struggle underwent a brief revival in the aftermath of the 1988 uprising and 1990 election when thousands of Burman activists fled to the jungle bases of ethnic armed opposition groups, raising expectations for the emergence of a more powerful, truly national alliance. By then, however, the ceasefire movement was already underway, which was soon to include most of the major ethnic nationalist armies and undercut any prospects of a serious armed challenge to the central government. The ceasefire policy, initiated by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) secretary-one, Lt-General Khin Nyunt, has had profound affects on the armed opposition’s resistance struggle. Ceasefires have included agreements to end fighting, but with no political details. Under truces reached, ceasefire forces are allowed to maintain their weapons and territories – and join political discussions– until a new constitution is introduced. Originally many ethnic leaders were encouraged by the 1990 elections and the ceasefires spread to include even more parties, including the Kachin, Mon, Palaung, Pa-o and Shan members of the NDF. By 2003, over 17 ethnic forces had peace, though not political-agreements, around the country. (Source: Smith, Martin, Burma (Myanmar): The Time for Change, Minority Rights Group International, May 2002)
During 2003, armed clashes and intensive government sponsored operations continued in non-ceasefire areas, especially in the Chin, Karen, Karenni and Shan borderlands. From the mid-1990s, the situation of the armed resistance groups was steadily undermined, as a series of splinter groups broke away to make their own cease-fires. The 1995 defections of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and Shan State National Army (SSNA) were particular blows to Karen and Shan forces. The ceasefire movement and the decline of its individual members seriously diminished the NDF’s military strength. At the beginning of 2003, the only groups with significant military strength included the KNU, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and the Shan State Army (SSA). These three groups have formed a new military alliance, including also some smaller groups, but their aims are largely defensive. Throughout the year the KNU, KNPP and Shan State Army (SSA) remained active along the Thai-Burma border, the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) along the Western border, and Chin National Front (CNF) along the India-Burma border. (Source: “Ethnic Groups Warm to Thaksin’s Offer,” Irrawaddy, February 2003)
Some of the largest armed clashes in 2003 occurred between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) - the armed wing of the KNU - and joint SPDC and DKBA troops in Maepalae region of Myawaddy Township, Karen State after a KNU base was attacked in August. Local villagers and prisoners were forced to act as landmine sweepers and military porters for the SPDC. According to a KNU representative, those that were wounded were either shot or bayoneted to death (source: “Clashes between KNU and SPDC troops," DVB, 16 October 2003). The ensuing fighting continued until mid-October and resulted in the displacement of approximately 1,500 people. A few hundred were able to cross the Thai-Burma border (source: “Myanmar Troops Take Karen Rebel Base, Hundreds Displaced," AP-World Stream, 17 October 2003). In December, the SPDC’s offensive resumed again when a KNU base was shelled by the SPDC and DKBA in Kyauk Khep, opposite Tak Province. In addition, armed clashes occurred within Karenni State (source: “Karens Retire to Fight another Day," SHAN, 1 December 2003). (See SPDC Campaigns of Abuse against Minority Villagers for further information.)
The SPDC military government has responded to any ethnic group’s demands of self-determination with counter-insurgency military operations. All demands for political autonomy have been rejected as illegitimate. The special councils and ministries that existed during the parliamentary era for the ethnic states were abolished. The SPDC military has engaged in relentless counter-insurgency operations in areas controlled by the ethnic nationalist armies since the mid-1960s. Borrowing from American military tactics during the Vietnam War, a strategy known as the "Four Cuts" has been employed. It aims at cutting off the rebels from the four main links of food, funds, intelligence, and recruits between them and local villagers. While the program has been extremely effective in paralyzing the various insurgency groups, the general population in ethnic areas has suffered gravely because of it. Millions of people have lost their homes and livelihood as numerous villages were forcibly relocated and food and crops destroyed. Scores of other civilians have been killed. Since 1996 alone, more than one million people have reportedly been displaced by the forced relocation program launched by the SPDC in Karen, Karenni (Kayah) and Shan states. While hundreds of thousands have fled to neighboring countries such as Thailand, some are living in hiding within their own country. A human rights group working with British Parliament, Jubilee Campaign stated, "Altogether over 648,000 Karen, Karenni and Shan people have been internally displaced inside Burma by the Burmese military. Many of them are hiding in the jungle with no food or medicine and are killed on sight by Burmese troops." (Source: SHAN, 2002)
Since 1988, most ethnic minority organizations have expressed support for democracy, seeing it as chance to gain a voice in national politics and press for a redress of their long-standing grievances. But few leaders of the dominant ethnic militant groups regard democracy as an end in itself. Their main concern is to secure local political and administrative authority, further development of their regions, and enjoy the right to maintain and practice their language, culture and religion without constraints. The strength of ethnic minority organizations traditionally has been measured in military terms. The shift in national politics since 1988 and subsequent ceasefires, however, has transferred the main struggle from the battlefield to the political and administrative arena. The primary challenge for ethnic minority organizations today is to build political and organizational capacity – individually, and collectively – to ensure that they are not left out of negotiations about the future of Burma and can continue to represent the interests of their communities. They also need to help rebuild their war-torn communities and economies, in order to reestablish a sense of normalcy and confidence in the future (source: Myanmar Backgrounder: Ethnic Minority Politics, ICG, 7 May 2003).
8.3 Need for Tripartite Political Dialogue
In October 2000, national reconciliation talks commenced seemingly working towards democracy in Burma. The talks were held between democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), excluding ethnic minority groups. In 2002, while there were hopes that the talks would move from "confidence building" to the more substantial issue of democratic reform, ethnic minorities insisted that their voices be heard as well. International rights groups called on the SPDC and the democratic opposition to broaden their dialogue to include at a minimum the concerns of ethnic minorities. Pro-democracy parties representing eight major ethnic groups assembled an informal coalition known as the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), with the objective of forming an alliance to prepare for eventual tripartite talks. The UNA regularly meets to discuss issues like: participation in bipartite dialogue between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Rangoon military junta, the needs of the ethnic nationalities, how to solve political problems, literature and culture of the various nationalities, and the right to map their own destinies. Of the eight member groups, seven parties won seats at the Multiparty General Elections held in 1990 (source: "Ethnic Groups Form a Political Alliance," DVB, 5 August 2002).
In 2003, relations between the military junta and the NLD dissolved when NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Vice Chairman U Tin Oo, NLD members and supporters were attacked near Kyi village, Depayin Township, Sagaing Division on 30 May. According to the SPDC, 50 people were injured and 4 people were killed. Yet, numerous other unofficial sources and eyewitness accounts indicate that the numbers of dead wounded and missing are significantly higher. The incident and following reprisals have been described by ALTSEAN, a Thai based NGO, as the “most ruthless and bloodiest attack on the democracy movement in Burma since the 1988 massacre” (source: Briefing: Black Friday and the Crackdown on the NLD, ALTSEAN, 24 July 2003). Whilst the SPDC claims that the perpetrators of the attack were genuine anti-NLD protestors, it has been widely acknowledged that the SPDC orchestrated what some have described as a “massacre”. Following the attack, Aung Sun Suu Kyi and the NLD leadership were placed under house arrest, NLD offices were closed, and NLD members and political activists were jailed (source: The Second Preliminary Report, The Ad hoc Commission on Depayin Massacre (Burma), May 2004). (Please see chapter on assembly, association, and movement for more information about the incident at Depayin.)
Both ethnic groups in Burma and members of the International Community condemned the attacks on the NLD. Furthermore, both the US and the European Union imposed new sanctions upon the military regime. In the wake of growing international pressure, the SPDC reshuffled on 25 August, replacing General Khin Nyunt with Lt-General Soe Win as Secretary One of the SPDC. Lt-General Soe Win is believed to be responsible for organizing the attack on the NLD on 30 May. General Khin Nyunt, who is often perceived as a moderate and open to dialogue with the NLD, was moved to the newly created position of Prime Minister. The reshuffle was believed to be an attempt by the SPDC to appear more moderate to avert the growing international criticism. Concurrently, on 30 August 2003, the newly appointed Prime Minister Khin Nyunt announced that the SPDC was to implement a seven-point roadmap to democracy. The first step in this process was the resumption of the National Convention, which was suspended in 1996. According to the military junta, the National Convention would be followed by a national referendum and then free and fair elections (source: Special Report: On the Road to Democracy, ALTSEAN, May 2004).
Prime Minister Khin Nyunt’s announcement of the seven-point road map failed to mention anything relating to the participation of ethnic groups in the National Convention. There was no mention of ethnic autonomy or a halt in the military operations perpetrated against non-cease fire ethnic groups (source: “Ethnic Agendas: The PM’s Road Map To Nowhere” The Irrawaddy, 6 September 2003). By December however, the military junta was placing greater emphasis upon the participation of ethnic groups in the national reconciliation process. Pressure was placed upon non-ceasefire groups to sign ceasefire agreements, and on ceasefire groups to participate in the National Convention (source: Special Report: On the Road to Democracy, ALTSEAN, May 2004).
Some ethnic groups declared conditional support for the National Convention. The conditions included the implementation of ceasefire agreements, the participation of political and non-ceasefire groups in negotiations, and the release of political prisoners (source: Special Report: On the Road to Democracy, ALTSEAN, May 2004). By the end of the year a number of ethnic groups had agreed to send delegates, including the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), Shan State Army North, Shan State Army (SSA), New Democratic Army – Kachin (NDA-K), Kayan New Land Party, Karenni State Nationalities Peoples’ Liberation Front (KNPLF), and Shan State Nationalities Peoples’ Liberation Organisation.
In November 2003, the KNU agreed to enter discussions with the military junta, despite repeated clashes throughout the year (source: “KNU Meets Junta,” Irrawaddy, 24 November 2003). The SPDC agreed to non-conditional negotiations, and between 3-8 December a KNU delegation met with the Burmese Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt to discuss his seven-point roadmap to democracy in Rangoon (source: “KNU to Determine Credibility of Road Map,” Irrawaddy, 4 December 2003). As a result, the KNU and military junta made a verbal agreement to cease hostilities, which was to be effective from 10 December 2003 (source: “Myanmar Junta, Karen Rebels Agree to Ceasefire during Peace Talks," AFP, 10 December 2003). These negotiations have been described as a “landmark” in SPDC-KNU relations as the KNU has been fighting for independence for over 50 years (source: “KNU and SPDC Agreed on Provisional Ceasefire," DVB, 22 January 2004). However, in late 2003 there were serious doubts about the legitimacy of the negotiations after SPDC troops attacked Karen New Years Day Celebrations. In addition, SPDC military attacks continued against civilians, seriously undermining the agreement. (See the Obstruction and Interference of Holidays and Other Cultural Events / Denial of Cultural Expression and Identity section of this chapter for further information.)
The implications that the verbal ceasefire will have upon the remaining non-ceasefire groups and the NLD are still unknown. Although, there is speculation that the remaining groups will be compelled to sign ceasefires as they will be unable to contend with both internal and external pressures without the support of the KNU. There is also speculation that the agreement could potentially sideline the NLD and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and bring legitimacy to the regime at a time when members of the international community are imposing sanctions on the government (source: “KNU Ceasefire: A Bargaining Ideal?” Mizzima, 11 December 2003). At the time of writing, the National Convention had not been completed and no progress had been made within Burma towards a tripartite political dialogue. It is yet be to be seen whether this will occur in the near future.
8.4 SPDC Campaigns of Abuse against Minority Villagers
The economic ruin faced by Burma is reflected in the armed forces. 50% of the national budget is spent on the military. Even though there is no foreign threat, the government commonly does not provide sufficient wages or supplies to its inflated personnel. The SPDC military, or Tatmadaw forces, often reside in ethnic areas and demand support from the poor civilian population. When civilians simply cannot afford to give provisions of food or livestock, even after threats and intimidation, they are robbed of everything they own by the armed forces. Food, livestock, and personal possessions are all taken. Rape and the use of villagers for forced labor as porters for the military troops without compensation are widespread. People who are taken for forced labor are also used as human mine sweepers in ethnic areas. Members of various ethnic groups are subject to theft, re-location, forced labor, rape, torture, and murder at the hands of the Tatmadaw forces. This strategy makes it easy for the SPDC to maintain so many troops, while also effectively terrorizing many citizens at the same time. These highly vulnerable citizens are left caught in the crossfire between the armed insurgent groups and the military, with nowhere to hide.
The worst human rights abuses in 2003 occurred within ethnic minority areas. The U.S. Department of State’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices - 2003 cited incidences of rape of Karen, Karenni, Mon, and Tavoyan women perpetrated with the aim of intimidating the ethnic populations. Extra-judicial killings, beatings and torture, forced labor, land confiscation, forced re-location and forced military training in ethnic minority areas were also reported. Ethnic leaders were subject to restrictions upon their freedom of movement and were required to gain permission from the government prior to making domestic travel (source: Country Report on Human Rights Practices- 2003, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, Labor, U.S. Department of State, 25 February 2004). In December, ethnic minority villages and crops were destroyed by SPDC troops along the Thai-Burma border (source: “KNU accuses SPDC of breaking verbal ceasefire agreement," DVB, 26 December 2003). (For more information on specific abuses see relevant chapters.)
In Shan State SPDC troops committed repeated human rights abuses, including rape and extra-judicial killings. In many of these cases, the SPDC claimed that the victims were sympathetic to Shan resistance members. For example, in March 2003, 2 farmers were killed in Nam-Zarng Township, Shan State after being accused of assisting or being Shan soldiers (source: Country Report on Human Rights Practices- 2003, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, Labor, U.S. Department of State, 25 February 2004). In May, 17 women were abducted and repeatedly raped after being accused of being married or related to Shan soldiers in Murng Lung Township (source: SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, May 2003). In April, a man was forced to act as a guide for SPDC troops in Murng-Ton Township. After witnessing his thorough knowledge of the area he was accused of acting as a guide for Shan soldiers and was consequently executed by SPDC soldiers (source: SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, April 2003). In both the south and center of Shan State, ethnic minority villagers continued to be forcibly relocated to “deprive armed ethnic groups of civilian bases of support” (source: Country Report on Human Rights Practices- 2003, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, Labor, U.S. Department of State, 25 February 2004).
In May 2003, the Amnesty International report entitled Myanmar: The Rohingya Minority: Fundamental Rights Denied outlined the continued perpetration of human rights abuses against the Muslim Rohingya population in Arakan State, in western Burma. The military junta denies citizenship status to most Rohingya on the grounds that their ancestors allegedly did not reside in the country at the start of British colonial rule, as required by the country’s highly restrictive Citizenship Law. According to the report, “Rohingyas are believed to be subjected to the most harsh restrictions and reprisals in Myanmar.” In 2003 these restrictions and reprisals included land confiscation, forced labor, restrictions on freedom of movement, forced evictions, and arbitrary taxes (source: Myanmar: The Rohingya Minority: Fundamental Rights Denied, Amnesty International, May 2004). (See the chapter on freedom of religion for more information)
8.5 Abuse of Ethnic Minorities by Ceasefire Groups
Although the ceasefire deals reached between the SPDC and several ethnic armed resistance groups during the last decade are claimed by the ruling Burmese military junta to be one of their major achievements in their ‘peace’ efforts, in reality many local ethnic communities in the ceasefire areas are faced with even more difficult living conditions than before. In order to promote their own ethnic culture in ceasefire areas, some ceasefire groups have committed actions that have infringed on the cultural rights of other local ethnic peoples. This ethnic nationalism is creating further divisions and resentment among various ethnic groups, and destroying any possibility of harmonious co-existence within the communities. (Source: SHRF, 2002)
In late 1994, complaints by Buddhist soldiers over discrimina-tion by the predominantly Christian Karen National Union (KNU) leadership erupted into open conflict, and a few hundred soldiers broke away to form the Democra-tic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA). The armed splinter organization subsequently surrend ered to the SPDC military regime and accepted material support and control over parts of Karen State in return for help fighting against KNU strongholds. This divide and conquer strategy led to the fall of Manerplaw, the KNU’s General Headquarters, in January 1995 and of all remaining KNU base areas along the Thai border in a second major offensive in 1997. The DKBA’s main bases are located in Pa-an Township, with other bases in townships in both Karen and Mon States, such as Kawkareik, Kya-inn-seikyi, Three-Pagoda-Pass, and Kyaikmayaw. As demonstrated previously, sporadic fighting continued between KNU and DKBA troops in 2003. After the SPDC occupied KNU strongholds, they ceased to provide monetary or food assistance to the DKBA.
Without financial support the DKBA was unable to feed its soldiers or obtain more recruits. The SPDC encouraged them to do their own business, and as former KNU members their familiarity with border areas has enabled them to conduct sizeable trade via the Myawaddy-Mae Sot border in eastern Burma. Some of this trade includes the trafficking of drugs, as the SPDC gives members of the DKBA ‘special privileges’, making them free from punishment of crimes. Other privileges accorded to DKBA members include freedom from forced labor and tax payment to the SPDC. As the DKBA does not currently have any major military operations against the KNU, the soldiers are used primarily to protect the organization’s businesses. As an armed organization, the DKBA has mimicked many of the human rights abuses committed by the Burmese Army against both Mon and Karen villagers.
The DKBA has also undertaken various contracts from the SPDC for the implementation of development projects, especially road construction, in Karen State. In most of such development projects, the DKBA conscripts forced labor, using hundreds of civilians to contribute unpaid labor. Additionally, like the Burma Army, they have conscripted forced labor in order to construct military barracks and to work on the DKBA’s rice-farms and fruit and rubber plantations. For example, in June 2003, DKBA troops threatened to shoot and kill 21 villagers in Pa-an district, Karen State if the village head did not comply with their demands for forced labour (source: US State Department, 25 February 2004). The DKBA also collects taxes from civilians, is involved in gambling and robbery activities, and the general abuse of power and discrimination against civilians (source: HURFOM).
In late 2001, there were religious clashes between Muslims and Buddhist monks in Pegu, Prome, and some townships in Rangoon, the capital of Burma. The clashes originated from anti-Muslim sentiment among some Buddhist monks after the 11 September attacks in the USA. This sentiment has also infected members of the DKBA, as the organization is based on Buddhism. Many of the DKBA’s members have anti-Muslim sentiment and have accused Muslim civilians of being members of political groups, religious extremists, and terrorists. When DKBA soldiers come upon Muslims in villages, farms, or the jungle it is common practice for the soldiers to beat or torture them.
In early 2003, 70 Muslim homes were destroyed by the DKBA to make way for road construction in Kaman Kashu village, Karen State. The residents were asked to leave their properties, and when they complained, the DKBA burnt down their homes, preventing them from collecting their belongings (source: “All Roads Lead to DKBA," Irrawaddy, June 2003). After the incident, the villagers could not return to their land, as Burmese soldiers were guarding the village. Muslim villagers were reported to have previously been forced from their homes in Ta Kwet Po, Yinbaing, Keylarta and Kamawle. DKBA soldiers now reside in these villages, preventing return (source: “Muslim Village Torched in Karen State," Irrawaddy, 30 April 2003).
The DKBA claims that they are representing the Buddhist Karen people and that their activities should only benefit their own ethnic people. As a result, members of the DKBA are widely involved in discrimination, especially against ethnic Mon people. In the conscription of forced labour, DKBA commanders select Mon villages and order the village headmen to send villagers to contribute unpaid labour, while at the same time not requiring Karen villagers to contribute labour. It is also widely believed that the DKBA has been involved in human trafficking to Thailand for many years. In their plans to monopolize the trade in human trafficking into Thailand, they intimidated, threatened and oppressed their competition of Mon traffickers. When they could not abuse traffickers, they made problems for the parents and relatives of the human traffickers instead (source: HURFOM, 2002).
In rural areas where DKBA troops took bases, the Mon, Karen and other ethnic people faced not only oppression by SPDC authorities and military, but they also suffered from violations of human rights committed by the DKBA. The SPDC’s support of the DKBA is an attempt to create further divisions among ethnic people; reasoning that if there are many conflicts within the ethnic nationality groups, any attempts to gain rights of self-determination by the various ethnic nationalities will fail. Whenever the international community asks the regime for national reconciliation, with the inclusion of ethnic representatives in tri-partite negotiations, the regime can refuse by pointing to the divisions among ethnic peoples. The DKBA is therefore being used as a tool for the political policies of the SPDC (source: HURFOM, 2002).
Cultural persecution of Shan by the Pa-O ceasefire group in Tawng-gi (Taunggyi)
Since the ceasefire deal between the SPDC and a Pa-O armed group a few years ago, local Shan communities in the area under the Pa-O ceasefire group’s control have been complaining about cultural persecution, especially concerning the ancient Buddhist holy site "Kaad Ku," in Tawng-gi Township. "Kaad Ku" is a famous historical site where thousands of pagodas have been built over the past two thousand years. It is one of the main tourist attractions in Southern Shan State, where tourists and pilgrims from all over Burma and abroad come to visit every year. Local Shan communities have complained that the inscriptions in Shan script on many of the ancient structures at the holy site are being removed and destroyed by members of the Pa-O ceasefire group in the area, with tacit approval from the SPDC authorities. The Shan inscriptions are being replaced with ones in Pa-O script. Those who have tried to put up new Shan inscriptions or signs have been intimidated. The Shan see this as an attempt to destroy the cultural evidence which points to the fact that Shan people, since ancient times, have been living in the area and have been involved in the building and maintaining of the holy site.
In December 2001, when a monk from Singapore, who was invited by the Pa-O ceasefire group, donated 72 million kyat for the repair and maintenance of "Kaad Ku", the event was marked by the construction of 4 stone-pillar monuments at the 4 corners of the site. The pillars each had 4 sides with inscriptions in Chinese, Pa-O, Burmese, and English, without a line in Shan. The justification was given by the Pa-O ceasefire group that only those who had donated hundreds of thousands of kyat in a single installment would be honored with an inscription in their language. Thus, 1 side went to the main donor, the Chinese monk from Singapore, the second to the leader of the Pa-O ceasefire group who donated 3,000,000 kyat, the third was taken by the 1st Secretary of SPDC, Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, who donated 2,000,000 kyat, and the last side was in English script was for the expected foreign tourists. Since the stone-pillar monuments will serve as proof for the future generations as to whom the major donors of the holy site were, all the credit will go only to those recorded on the pillars. The Shan’s effort at maintaining the site, though they have long been regular donors, will not be recognized, thus threatening their legitimacy in the area.
Furthermore, Shan villagers from the Shan villages in the surrounding areas of "Kaad Ku" holy site are often banned from wearing Shan attire and advertising in the Shan language. The Shan members of the committee that looks after the holy site are required to wear Pa-O dress. The feelings of the local Shan are clearly expressed with 1 Shan villager’s statement: "The fact that we do not have rich people among us who could donate hundreds of thousands in one single installment is because we have been continuously donating what we have earned during our life times. Our ancestors had been doing that since ancient times, generation after generation, down to our time. I feel as if all our efforts have been ignored and our cultural heritage destroyed," (source: SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, May 2002).
8.6 Obstruction and Interference of Holidays and Other Cultural Events/ Denial of Cultural Expression and Identity
The SPDC views all forms of expression that have not been co-opted or otherwise controlled by the State to be threatening. As a result, the SPDC ruthlessly suppresses the freedom of ethnic minorities to celebrate their cultural identity. In addition to facing the hardships that all Burmese citizens have been subjected to under military rule, ethnic minorities in Burma are also victims of a system of discrimination that threatens the survival of their cultures. In many cases it has only been an incredible act of collective will that has allowed these unique cultures to survive. This partial list below demonstrates incidents that occurred during 2003.
On 17 February, 2 drunk SPDC police officers stabbed 2 people causing serious head and stomach injuries during Mon National Day celebrations in En-du village, Pa-an Township after they provoked an argument with the victims. The police officers attempted to stop traditional Mon dancing during the celebrations claiming that the participants “did not understand the meaning of Mon songs.” They then threatened to throw a grenade into the crowd. Following the incident the crowd dispersed and the celebrations were consequently cancelled. The participants were permitted to celebrate Mon National Day in February. (Source: “SPDC’s Police Officers Disturbed Mon National Day Celebration," The Mon Forum, HURFOM, 28 February 2003)
In February, the military junta requested that the annual Chin National Day celebrations be re-named “Chin State Day”. According to the Chinland Guardian, this request was consistent with the regime’s policy of ethnic assimilation, and was implemented to discourage Chin nationalism. (Source: “Chin around the World Celebrate National Day," Chinland Guardian, 21 February 2003)
In October, HURFOM reported that restrictions had been imposed upon magazines translated from Burmese and printed in the Mon language for the past 2 to 3 years in Rangoon. Mon magazines with religious content relating to well known monks are published once a year, however books in the Mon language are only permitted to be printed occasionally. These restrictions are implemented by the Censorship Board, and are reported to be harsher than the previous government, the Burmese Socialist Programme Party (BSPP). (Source: "Printing of books in Mon language barred," The Mon Forum, HURFOM, 31 October 2003)
On 22 December, the SPDC launched an attack against Karen New Years Eve celebrations in Waw Dan village, Kawkareik Township, Karen state. Artillery shells were fired at the celebration area during a Karen New Years Eve ceremony marking the harvesting of a new crop, where 2 schools were in attendance. Non-one was injured, but later celebrations planned to be held at the same location and attended by 40,000 people were cancelled. This was in breach of the KNU/SPDC verbal ceasefire negotiated to begin on 10 December. (Source: “KNU Accuses SPDC of Breaking Verbal Ceasefire Agreement," DVB, 24 December 2003)
8.7 Discrimination in Education
Children belonging to ethnic minorities living in rural areas are especially at risk of being denied access to adequate education. They are relegated to substandard educational facilities, poorer quality of instruction, fewer teaching materials, and fewer opportunities for higher education than the rest of the population. According to Gathering Strength: Women from Burma on Their Rights, a 2002 report released by Images Asia, "Of the 750,000 children who drop out of primary school each year, 630,000 are rural students. Government figures show that 84% of the annual drop-outs from primary school are in rural areas, with the lowest enrollment for the primary level age group in eastern Shan, Karen, and Arakan States," (source: Belak, Brenda, Gathering Strength: Women from Burma on Their Rights, Images Asia, January 2002). In rural ethnic areas, where a large percentage of the people are mobile because of poverty or internal displacement, most children miss out on opportunities of education. Nationwide school coverage is low in general, but especially in rural and ethnic areas. Many villages have never had a school, and others that have a primary school do not go beyond the 4th standard.
Political unrest has profoundly affected access to education in Burma. In areas of armed conflict, primary, middle, and high schools closed repeatedly because of fighting or forced relocation. Karen and Karenni children in particular, both in past and present, have been denied education because of civil war in their areas. In some areas close to borders that have seen fighting for decades, instability prevents government schools from opening at all. Some opposition groups have opened their own schools, but they are critically under-resourced. Often they have no books and are staffed by volunteer teachers who have not even passed the tenth standard themselves. In Karen State there are several hundred schools maintained by the KNU, but the teachers are often paid no salary at all and sometimes the villagers cannot even afford to supply them with rice because of their own dire economic circumstances. Some other ethnic opposition groups continue to operate schools in remote rural areas under ceasefires, but they are still plagued by problems arising from the lack of funding and resources.
Schools, besides lacking the basic teaching materials and supplies, are often used as a place to enculturate students who are forced to undergo the process of "Burmaization" at school. Not only are students forced to learn and speak in Burmese, but they are also often forced to perform Buddhist worship. One teacher has said, "There are various religions among the students. Before the class begins, the authorities force all the children to worship in the Buddhist way. It is difficult for Muslim students. They don’t want to do it, but they are forced to," (source: Belak, Brenda, Gathering Strength: Women from Burma on Their Rights, Images Asia, January 2002). In 2003, there were incidences of Naga and Chin Christian children being educated in Buddhist monasteries without the consent or knowledge of their parents. The children were taken from their families on the pretense that they would receive a free, secular education, but instead were converted to Buddhism (source: Country Report on Human Rights Practices- 2003, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, Labor, U.S. Department of State, 25 February 2004). (See chapters on health and education and freedom of religion for more information.)
The discrimination suffered by the Rohingya population in Northern Rakhine State, western Burma, is severe and widespread. The Rohingya are not regarded as one of the country's 135 races, and most do not qualify for citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Act. As a consequence, Rohingya children are unable to attend state-run secondary school, as attendance is only permitted for citizens. (Source: Country Report on Human Rights Practices- 2003, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, Labor, U.S. Department of State, 25 February 2004) (See The Freedom of Belief and Expression chapter for further information.)
Though ethnic groups have their own primary languages, Burmese language is the sole language of instruction in all state schools. Even in ethnic areas, primary and secondary state schools do not offer any instruction in the local ethnic minority language, even as a second language. The New State Mon Party (NMSP) has built Mon National Schools in various parts of Mon State, in order to provide instruction in the Mon language. The curriculum has been provided by the Mon National Education Committee and is sponsored by the NMSP. The Mon Education Department has established schools in most of the villages in Ye Township over the past 25 years. After losses in NMSP territory to the SPDC, the regime has gradually taken over such schools, forcing the teachers to instruct only in the Burmese language, and further implementing the SPDC’s assimilation policy.
8.8 Land Confiscation and Burman Resettlement
Confiscation of land in northern Arakan State for Burmese junta’s model villages with special VIP privileges for residents
The SPDC has established ‘model villages’ in the northern part of Arakan State for the rehabilitation of ethnic Burmans. There are now more than 30 such model villages in the 3 townships, which are occupied by settlers brought in from Burma proper. The land provided for the new settlers has usually come from areas confiscated from the original village inhabitants. The residents of the villages are released hardcore criminals, HIV patients, drug addicts, homeless people, and retired armed forces personnel. Most of the settlers have been brought to the area with enticements of a better life, while some have been forcibly brought. Shortly after the settlement programs were initiated a few years ago, many of the new settlers were given land, cattle, 1 year’s foodstuff, homes and other necessary amenities such as generators and television sets. Though the Burmese junta has given all of the necessary land and homes to the Burman settlers, many find life harsh and boring compared to Burma proper and have returned to their original homes.
In order to resettle ethnic Burmans in so-called ‘model villages’, the State Peace and Development Council has been confiscating privately owned land from Rakhine and Rohingya residents in the border townships of Maungdaw, Rathedaung, and Buthidaung of Arakan (Rakhine) State, in the western part of Burma. Furthermore, residents are forced to provide free labour and building materials for the construction of the villages. Below, a Rohingya man from Rathedaung explains the impact of the establishment of model villages near him:
“Five years ago, they established a NaTaLa village near [a village]. Last year, they set up another one close to [another village]. It has about 100 houses and I had to work on that. It is about seven kilometres from my village. The Chairman instructed us that the people from our village had to build seven houses and we did it. If 10 people work together, it takes five days to build one house. I built one house and other villagers built the other houses. I also had to make fences around the houses. The new settlers arrived during the last rainy season [mid-2003]. They were Burmese, not [Rakhine],” (source: Myanmar; The Rohingya Minority: Fundamental Rights Denied, Amnesty International, May 2004, pg. 23).
Residents of the model villages are given special advantages and privileges including food rations, TVs, health clinics, and government-run schools, which differs significantly from the conditions in the traditional non-Burma villages nearby. Besides teaching materials in the schools, students are given free books and school uniforms. As SPDC officials regularly pay visits to these model villages, the township authority is always careful to meet the needs of the model village residents, who enjoy special VIP treatment in comparison to their poor neighbors. The differential treatment of citizens has caused growing resentment among the original inhabitants of the township. The establishment of Na-a-fa model villages in the area has also raised concern because of the consequential rise in both crime rates and the spread of HIV among the local population. This resettlement of the Burman population is seen as a threat to the ethnic balance of the area (source: "Confiscation of Land for Burmese Junta’s Model Villages," Narinjara, 16 April 2002).
Since 1996, more than a million people have been displaced by the forced relocation program launched by Rangoon in Karen, Karenni (Kayah) and Shan states. Hundreds of thousands have also fled to neighboring Thailand. However, whereas there are refugee camps for those coming from Karen and Karenni states, there are no facilities for the Shan. This has resulted in the Shan working as cheap illegal laborers, who are often exploited by their Thai employers, in order to survive.
The military continued to forcibly relocate Shan villages in Shan State during 2003, especially in areas where ethnic activists and rebels were active, where military facilities were to be placed, and in areas targeted for the development of international tourism. In early April 2003, villagers of Wan Mai Tin Loi village in Murng-Pan Township were ordered to leave their village by SPDC military authorities. At the time of this report, the villagers were either displaced or had fled to Thailand. In addition, the area was in the process of being developed as a military stronghold for the SPDC, and was utilizing local labor (source: SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, July 2003). According to the U.S. Department of State Department, it was estimated that forced relocations had produced hundreds of thousands of refugees, with as many as 1 million internally displaced persons within the country.
In addition, a large scale re-settlement of between 50,000 and 100,000 ethnic Wa occurred to areas formally inhabited by Shan villagers in Eastern Shan State. These Wa settlers were moved from Northern Wa-controlled areas on the Chinese border to the Thai border opposite Chiang Rai and Chang Mai, Thailand, causing the displacement of Shan Villagers. Specific incidents were also reported in 2003. In January, The United Wa State Army (UWSA) facilitated the confiscation of land from Shan villagers in Murng Haang Village Tract, Murng-Ton Township for a group of ethnic Wa settlers, with the support of the SPDC. The UWSA also confiscated land, vegetable gardens, and rice fields. When the villagers went to the local authorities to complain, they were told it was an order issued by their superiors and nothing could be done (source: “Land Seized for ‘Wa’ Settlers in Murng-Ton," SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, May 2003).
SPDC List of the Composition of the Different Ethnic Groups under the 8 Major Ethnic Races in Myanmar
A. Kachin comprises 12 different groups.
(8) Maru (Lawgore)
(10) Lashi (La Chit)
B. Karenni (Kayah) comprises 9 different groups.
(15) Ka-Yun (Padaung)
(18) Bre (Ka-Yaw)
(19) Manu Manaw
(20) Yin Talai
(21) Yin Baw
C. Karen (Kayin) comprises 11 ethnic groups.
(25) Mon Kayin (Sarpyu)
(32) Shu (Pwo)
D. Chin comprises 53 different ethnic groups.
(34) Meithei (Kathe)
(36) Ka-Lin-Kaw (Lushay)
(38) Awa Khami
(41) Kaung Saing Chin
(43) Kwangli (Sim)
(49) Saing Zan
(54) Zahnyet (Zanniet)
(56) Tiddim (Hai-Dim)
(62) Dai (Yindu)
(69) Miram (Mara)
(72) Lushei (Lushay)
(78) Wakim (Mro)
(84) Asho (Plain)
E. Burman (Bamar) comprises 9 ethnic groups.
F. Mon comprises 1 ethnic group.
G. Rakhine comprises 7 ethnic groups.
(98) Kwe Myi
H. Shan comprises 33 ethnic groups.
(104) Yun (Lao)
(113) Kaw (Akha-E-Kaw)
(115) Khamti Shan
(120) Man Zi
(121) Yin Kya
(122) Yin Net
(123) Shan Gale
(124) Shan Gyi
(134) Maw Shan
Table of Contents Facts on Human Rights Violations in Burma 2003