Two reports released today document abuses by the Burma Army against civilians in Karen State, Eastern Burma. The Burmese government and the Karen National Union, the main opposition group in Karen State, have been engaged in ceasefire talks since January of this year, and Burmese President Thein Sein has repeatedly called for peace in ethnic areas. But despite all the talk, the Burma Army’s abuse of civilians in Karen State continues.
The Free Burma Rangers (FBR) reported today that their teams documented human rights abuses by the Burma Army in six districts across Karen State. The abuses included forced labor, pillaging, torture, use of human shields, and the executions of civilians.
FBR teams interviewed villagers who had been captured, beaten, and held for two months by the Burmese Army. They reported that three civilians had been shot and killed by the Army since January, and more than 30 had been used as forced labor. Multiple villages were pillaged and at least one was mortared. All of these events happened after ceasefire talks began in January.
The Karen Women’s Association (KWO) also reported that on March 4, two Burma Army soldiers attacked a 22-year-old Karen woman while she was gardening. The soldiers allegedly beat her, drugged her, and were attempting to rape her when nearby gunfire frightened them away. KWO is now caring for the alleged victim.
The recent talk of ceasefires and Thein Sein’s calls for peace have been lauded by many in the international community as part of the positive changes in Burma, and many governments are citing this as cause for easing pressure on the Burmese government.
The US government has said that one of the conditions for lifting economic sanctions is peace in ethnic areas; however, as recent events have shown, talk of a ceasefire does not mean peace.
Easing pressure on the Burmese government too soon carries a great risk. If the Burmese Army continues to commit human rights abuses with impunity, it will be felt by civilians, like the ones included in these reports.
PHR encourages the Burmese government to continue its reforms and to embrace democracy. But PHR urges the international community to maintain pressure on Burma until the reforms are actually felt by civilians on the ground.