U.N. Special Rapporteur to Visit Burma

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on theSituation of Human Rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, is visiting Burma thisweek to assess the country’s recent changes and to determine if the changes areleading to a realization of the citizens’ human rights.

A spokesperson from the U.N. Officeof the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that Quintana hopes to discussthe conflict in Kachin State with Burmese officials. PHR has been urging the international community to take stronger action regarding the conflictin Kachin State, and we welcome Quintana’s decision to address the situation.PHR and other human rights organizations have documented ongoing severe humanrights violations by the Burma army in this area yet the government is blockingmuch-needed aid to internally displaced people (IPDs). Though there have beenmany positive changes in the country, the government’s blatant disregard forhuman rights in Kachin State should be a reminder that true reform is stillneeded.

PHR visited Kachin State inSeptember 2011 and reportedthat the Burma Army used civilians for porters and minesweepers and fired intoa civilian village. The report, UnderSiege in Kachin State, Burma, also documented child malnutrition in one IDPcamp in Kachin that was at a “severe” level according to the World HealthOrganization’s scale.

Unfortunately, the situation hasonly worsened since PHR’s visit. Fighting that broke out in June between theBurma Army and the Kachin Independence army (KIA) continues. In Shan and KachinStates, an estimated70,000 civilians are living in camps, shelters, or with family – an increasefrom 30,000 in October. Tens of thousands more have crossed the border into Yunnan Province, China.Overcrowded camps and poor sanitation have led to diarrhea and other diseases,and local aid workers have expressed concernthat diseases will spread.

“No proper internationalassistance has been delivered since the outbreak of the conflict. IDPs have totake shelter in temporary shelters while hundreds of shelters still need to bebuilt,” said La Rip, the head of the Relief Action Network for IDPs andRefugees, told PHR in January.

The IDPs’ needs are not being met.The UN is delivering aid to about 30,000 IDPs who have fled to areas controlledby the Burma army, but it has only sent one shipment of blankets to the 40,000IDPs living in areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).The Burmese government granted permission for only one aid convoy to travel toKIO areas last December, and has blockedall other UN attempts at reaching those IDPs. In December the UN said that $6.4 million was needed to provide assistance to all IDPs for six months. Butnone of that aid will reach a majority of the IDPs if the government continuesto block access or if this funding is not given directly to community groups that have greater access to populations in need.

The aid is urgently needed giventhe Burma Army’s continued attacks on civilians. A KIO official told PHR lastmonth that, “The incidences of the Burmese Army's atrocities are everywhere:killing, torture, forced labour (portering and asking the civilians to fencethe military posts), and rape are the most cases of the atrocities.”

The Kachin Women’s Association of Thailandtold PHR on Thursday that more than 60 women have been raped by the Burma Armysince the conflict began. Multiple reports have emerged of the Burma army destroyingchurches,torturingcivilians and targeting civilian villagesand IDP sites.

The immediate future looks bleakfor IDPs. Peace talks, which have been sporadic since late last year, haveyielded nothing, and two separate calls by Burma’s president Thein Sein for theBurma Army to stop its offensive in Kachin State have been ignored. A Burmesegovernment negotiator recently said that it could take up to three years oftalks before a lasting truce is reached.

The Burmese government mustcontrol its army and force it to stop attacking civilians in Kachin State. Itmust also allow international aid groups to reach all IDPs in Kachin State, notjust the ones in areas controlled by the army. PHR hopes that SpecialRapporteur Quintana is forceful with these issues.

The changes that are happening inBurma cannot be allowed to obscure atrocities that are ongoing and easilypreventable. The Burmese government, the international community, and SpecialRapporteur Quintana must understand that the government of Burma is accountablefor these ongoing atrocities, and that true changes in the country must includegovernment accountability for past and current abuses.

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