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Canada Asia Work. Group:2/6 Burma R

Subject: Canada Asia Work. Group:2/6 Burma Report

CAWG Brief on Burma (Part 2 of 6 parts)

Minority Rights

At the root of the high level of human rights abuse in Myanmar is the
status of Myanmar's tribal ethnic minority groups in the Union of
Myanmar. (As there has been no accurate census in Myanmar for years,
some argue that the ethnic minorities are really a majority and that
SLORC has underestimated their numbers.) The ethnic conflict is rooted
in centuries of Burmese history and has intensified since Burmese
independence in 1948. In broadest terms, shortly after independence,
many of the tribal ethnic groups in the mountainous border areas
rejected the constitutional terms for inclusion in the Union of Burma,
arguing that the terms ensured their future domination by the largest
ethnic group, the lowland Burmans. Many of the ethnic minority
political groups asserted their sovereignty and armed conflict between
them and the Union of Burma army began and has continued until today.
Members of ethnic minority groups in Myanmar have sometimes chosen to
live cooperatively within the Union of Myanmar, sometimes pursued
armed struggle against the Union of Myanmar and sometimes tried to
remain neutral.

The ethnic minority tribal groups' fear of Burman dominance was well
founded. In the name of preserving the "Union" of Myanmar, the
government of Myanmar has increasingly pursued a policy of ethnocide
-- forced removals of ethnic minorities from their traditional land
and way of life to forced labour camps or new urban settlements
without resources; suppression of minority languages and compulsory
use of Burmese language in schools in minority areas; cultural
assimilation of minorities into Burmese society; massive exploitation
and degradation of the environmental resources of tribal minorities
without compensation; expulsion from the country (for example, the
expulsion of 280,000 Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh in early 1992);
and terrible human rights abuses ranging from theft to kidnapping,
rape, torture and murder. While pursuing armed insurgency groups,
government soldiers are incapable of distinguishing between civilians
and insurgents and thus attack anyone belonging to the particular
ethnic group. As the Union of Myanmar is a Buddhist state and many of
the minority groups are Muslim or Christian, the ethnic conflict
frequently takes on an anti-Muslim or anti-Christian character. The
ethnic and religious prejudices of Burman soldiers, who are often
recruited from the lowest levels of society, frequently cause them to
be extremely brutal and rape and torture are very common.[17]

Because ethnic tribal groups within the Union of Myanmar are subject
to extreme pressure from SLORC, the most credible organization
representing these groups is the National Democratic Front, organized
on 10 May 1976. The aim of the NDF is "to establish a true and general
federal union, i.e., federated states based on mutually agreed upon
equality and self-determination between and among all ethnic
nationalities residing in Burma." The NDF supports the "formulation of
a federal form of government that guarantees [the] inalienable
fundamental and democratic rights of all the federated states."[18]
Since 1988, the NDF has cooperated with National League for Democracy
members and students who fled SLORC's nationwide massacre of
dissidents into NDF-controlled territory through the Democratic
Alliance of Burma. This alliance represents the most credible combined
alliance of Burman and ethnic tribal minority groups against SLORC.

In 1993, SLORC continued its "four cuts" policy against NDF-related
ethnic tribal groups and their potential supporters. This policy is an
attempt to "cut" links of intelligence, food, money and recruits
between armed opposition groups and local civilians: large areas are
declared "free-fire" zones; ethnic minority communities are forced to
move to "strategic hamlets" under strict military control; crops and
villages are destroyed; and any villagers remaining in their homes are
shot on sight. As Amnesty International noted in 1992, "During these
operations, the army arbitrarily kills civilians, rapes or otherwise
tortures villagers during interrogation and arrests thousands of
people, many of whom are subject to ill-treatment in custody." Anyone
suspected of having any contact with insurgents or any village ever
visited by them are in grave risk of torture and death.[19]

In 1993, there were also indications that SLORC intends to move Burman
settlers into the tribal ethnic states to dilute their ethnic
homogeneity and thus lessen the demand for recognition. On 16 July
1993, Lt. Gen. Khin NYUNT announced that "double squatters" (former
satellite town residents who had returned to Yangon) would be
resettled in Kayah and Karen States and Sagaing Division. There have
also been suggestions from SLORC at the National Convention that the
ethnic names presently given to the states will be dropped in the new

The "four cuts" strategy has been pursued with the greatest ferocity
in 1993 in Karen State, as noted above. An area extending from Papun
District in the north through central Thaton District to Pa'an
District in the south (200 km. north to south, 50 to 100 km. east to
west) has been totally terrorized by SLORC troops  Most of the
population has been herded into camps surrounding army bases or
garrison villages along roads; the entire area is becoming a free-fire
zone. Once in the "strategic hamlets", villagers become slave labour
to build army camps and serve as porters in the offensives. Women in
the camps are subject to constant sexual violence by the SLORC troops.

One observer comments on the activities of the military in this region
after the forced removal of 10,000 villagers in December 1992:

Since then, troops from 99 Division have been roaming the entire
region, shooting any villagers they see outside of villages as
"rebels" or catching them as porters. All men, young or old, found
inside or outside a village are captured, beaten and interrogated.
They are usually accused of being Karen soldiers, and are often
ordered to hand over a gun or be executed. Hundreds of men in the
region have been murdered like this in the past six months. As a
result, all villages are empty of men, who must flee to hide in the
forests, even though they are shot if found there. The women, children
and the elderly remain in the village to try to support themselves and
to protect their belongings and homes from looting by SLORC troops.
However, when the troops arrive at the village they become angry
because there are no men to capture as porters. They accuse the
village of sending all their men to join the Karen Army, and then
torture or kill the village leaders. Homes and food supplies are
looted or burned, livestock are shot and crops burned because the
SLORC says they are "food for the rebels". Women, old and young, are
raped, often with their children present or in front of the whole

Individual Karens' stories of how they have been treated by SLORC
soldiers are horrific. The Karen Human Rights Group, in a document
dated 10 July 1993, has presented transcriptions of 30 such stories.
They include the most inhumane treatment of persons (including the
most gruesome forms of torture and sexual violence) by soldiers who
have clearly lost their basic humanity; the soldiers' activities are
fully supported by their SLORC-appointed officers. Excerpts from three
of these stories give some sense of the cruel treatment of all Karens
by SLORC troops. A woman (age 30) from Papun District testified:

[The Burmese soldiers] torture people in many ways. Sometimes they
slash people's skin and put salt and chillies in the wounds -- I saw
them do this to seven men one time. They make people go without food
and another time they took out a villager's eye. We often find the
bodies of villagers the soldiers have killed. They never bury them,
just strip them naked and leave them lying there. Usually they accuse
people of being Karen soldiers before they kill them, and if the
village headman tries to plead for them then they beat him too.

A former resident of Pa'an Township, Thaton District (male, age 30)

Another time, 107 Battalion came and raped a girl. She shouted loudly
but the soldier slapped her face. We went and told the Burmese
commander about it because he had said, "If my soldiers do something
bad to the villagers, come and tell me." But when we told him, the
commander just said, "Do you have more girls? If you do, bring some
for me."

A woman from Pa'an Township, Thaton District, testified:

I'll tell you about a man named Pa Keh from our village. The SLORC
accused him of being a Karen soldier. They tortured and interrogated
him for two whole days before they killed him. . . . Finally the
torture was so bad that he said, "Okay, I'm a Karen soldier - but I
have no gun" and he told them to go ahead and kill him. He couldn't
stand their beatings any longer, so he told them that if he had to be
killed, he just wanted to die right away. . . . Then the soldier beat
on both of his shins until they broke, poked him with knives and cut
open the skin on his stomach, but they wouldn't stab him and let him
die. They just kept him alive and tortured him. They they killed him
the next morning out in the forest.[22]

SLORC totally denies that any such events take place and maintains
that Karen civilians support the presence of SLORC troops in their
areas. However, the testimony of thousands of refugees along Myanmar's
borders cannot be denied.

The Karens were not the only minority tribal group that suffered such
persecution. In March 1993 five villages in Thanbyuzayat Township in
Mon State, with a total population of about 10,000, were ordered by
SLORC 31st Battalion to vacate their traditional land immediately
without adequate provision for resettlement. 10,000 people of the Mon
ethnic minority immediately became homeless, forbidden to return to
their traditional land. Similar relocations have taken place
throughout Mon State, including of the long-established village of
Khaoja, Ye Township, with a population of 5,000. In another case, on
10 March 1993, 40 troops from the 408 Infantry Battalion entered Ale
Sakhan Village, Yebyu Township, Tenasserim Division, and opened fire
indiscriminately, killing two and wounding others. Three women were
taken away and gang-raped. Three men were taken away for portering and
a variety of valuables were stolen from homes and stores by the

Rape continues to be one of the ways SLORC asserts its dominance over
the tribal ethnic groups. When soldiers entered We Kloong Village,
Kyan Inn Township, Moulmein District, on 24 July 1993, many Mon
villages were plundered and villagers raped or kidnapped, for
portering, as the following account makes clear:

According to villagers of We Kloong, the troops forcibly took away
about ten women, including Mi Yi KYI, from the village on that day and
gang-raped them in a cave in the vicinity of the village. Mi Yin Kyi,
after her release, told her friends and neighbours that she was
repeatedly raped by the Burmese soldiers and she heard those soldiers
call the name of one of their group "Win MYINT". . . . The troops also
plundered an assortment of things from the villagers, ranging from
money, precious ornaments, clothing, livestock, etc., to all odds and
ends of food they could find, amounting to 100,000 Burmese Kyats. In
addition, the troops forcibly took away three men from the village for

These stories of Burman oppression of tribal ethnic groups in Myanmar
are simply a few of hundreds and hundreds of accounts of the most
gruesome and cruel behaviour by the Union of Myanmar army. The
accounts have been extremely well-documented by Amnesty International,
independent observers, the press, the UNCHR Special Rapporteur and
many others. Union of Myanmar soldiers who have been captured by the
insurgent groups have substantiated them.[25] The Union of Myanmar
government's position that such events do not take place and that
minority groups are treated with fairness and equality (as maintained,
for example, in the Union of Myanmar's presentation to the 1993
meeting of the UNCHR) is patently false and duplicitous. At the root
of the Union of Myanmar government's unwillingness to treat the ethnic
minority peoples as equals and accept a democratic and federalist form
of government for the country, is the desire for continued control of
the country by the small (largely Burman) SLORC military clique.