Press Release & Briefing

Myanmar: End Military Attacks On Kachin And Shan Civilians

War Crimes Continue with Impunity in Northern Myanmar

(Yangon, November 6, 2014)— The Myanmar Army has targeted, attacked, and killed civilians with impunity in ongoing fighting in Kachin State and northern Shan State, Fortify Rights said in a briefing published today. The government of Myanmar should act to end such attacks and hold perpetrators accountable.

“The government of Myanmar wants the world to believe its human rights record is beyond reproach, but that’s just not the reality,” said Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights. “The romantic narrative of sweeping political change is inconsistent with the situation of ongoing war crimes and widespread impunity.”

In a continuing investigation into the conduct of the war between the Myanmar Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Fortify Rights documented incidents in 2011, 2012, and 2013 in which Myanmar Army soldiers attacked civilians and non-military targets in contested territories. Between September 2013 and August 2014, Fortify Rights conducted nearly 100 interviews in the conflict zones of northern Myanmar.

Most of the attacks documented by Fortify Rights occurred in civilian-populated areas with no presence of KIA or other non-state armed groups. These attacks led to widespread displacement of civilians and appear to be designed to undermine the KIA’s civilian-support structures and to gain effective control of strategic locations, including trade routes and areas rich in natural resources.

The Myanmar Army shelled and razed civilian homes, attacked makeshift camps of displaced persons, and entered villages while opening fire on civilians with small arms, Fortify Rights said. In some cases, soldiers committed extrajudicial killings.

“They shot at the villagers,” said “Khon Li Aung” (not her real name), an ethnic Kachin woman referring to Myanmar Army soldiers who entered and attacked her village Mung Ding Pa on October 22, 2013. “Some [civilians] were running to the church and some were coming from the fields to get to the church.”

Humanitarian law requires parties to armed conflict to distinguish between military and non-military targets, including civilians, and to refrain from attacking civilians. Moreover, attacking civilians is a war crime under international criminal law.

Kachin and Shan civilians also fled their villages to escape torture by the Myanmar authorities. On June 9, 2014, Fortify Rights released a 72-page report, “I Thought They Would Kill Me”: Ending Wartime Torture in Northern Myanmar, documenting the widespread and systematic use of torture against Kachin civilians in villages, places of detention, and other locations by the Myanmar Army, Myanmar Police Department, and Military Intelligence. Fortify Rights believes that the instances of torture described in the report constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity and that military commanders, including senior military officers, could be held liable for torture under a theory of command responsibility.

“The people of Kachin and northern Shan states are ready for peace and accountability, but entire communities remain under attack,” Matthew Smith said. “The government’s denial of wartime abuses and the international community’s soft-stepping has gone on for too long.”

Kachin State is home to multi-billion dollar jade deposits, minerals, timber, lucrative trade routes to China, and significant hydropower potential, all forming the backdrop to the conflict. These factors are compounded by ethnic and political disputes dating back decades. The conflict in Kachin State resumed in June 2011 in the area of a Chinese-investor-led hydropower dam near Sang Gang village, Kachin State, ending a 17-year-long ceasefire agreement.

Since 2011, the government and 14 non-state ethnic armies signed preliminary ceasefire agreements. The KIA is not among those with a ceasefire arrangement with the government. Negotiations between the government and non-state ethnic armies have failed to result in a nationwide ceasefire.

“If the government genuinely wants peace in ethnic states, it must end and rectify attacks on civilians and other abuses,” said Matthew Smith. “The survivors of these attacks have been denied their right to access justice and compensation for their losses—that needs to change.”

For more information, please contact:

Matthew Smith, executive director, Fortify Rights +66.85.028.0044;
matthew.smith@fortifyrights.org; On Twitter @matthewfsmith @fortifyrights

Read the 72-page Fortify Rights report, “I Thought They Would Kill Me”: Ending Wartime Torture in Northern Myanmar (June 2014)

Fortify Rights Briefing and Recommendations: November 6, 2014

Attacks on Civilians and Non-Military Targets, and Extrajudicial Killings

In ongoing fighting in Kachin State and northern Shan State, the Myanmar Army has targeted and attacked civilians and non-military targets, and killed civilians with impunity.

For instance, in October 2011, the Myanmar Army entered Hka Wan Bang village, Kachin State following nearby clashes with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Soldiers detained and tortured three local men suspected of involvement with the KIA, two of whom spoke to Fortify Rights. Myanmar Army soldiers detained “Doi Seng,” a 27-year-old Kachin man, along with two other Kachin men and then shot and killed an unarmed Shan civilian man on a motorbike. Doi Seng told Fortify Rights:

They shot him five times from the back. The bullet went through the back of his head and through the front. It was just 12 feet away from me. They shot five times but only hit him once. He was coming from the village, and at that place, the soldiers had a checkpoint. I think he was afraid of being a porter so he tried to turn around and drive away, and they shot at him. … The soldiers fired their guns. Three soldiers fired their weapons. They shot their weapons maybe five times. After they shot him, they just dragged his body to the side of the farmland fence. Then they called the three of us over, told us to stand next to the body, and they took a photo. I don’t know the purpose of that. I was afraid. I thought perhaps they would put this picture in the newspaper, claiming we were KIA. We were in their hands so there was nothing I could do. After they took the picture, they took us and tortured us one by one.

In another incident documented by Fortify Rights, the Myanmar Army entered Mung Ding Pa village in Mansi Township, southern Kachin State on October 22, 2013 at approximately 11 a.m. The soldiers opened fire on villagers, forcibly displacing them.

“The shooting wasn’t continuous. They entered and shot, then entered and shot, for about a half hour,” said “Khon Li Aung,” a 38-year-old Kachin woman from Mung Ding Pa village. “When they saw people, they shot.”

“Gum Law,” a 44-year-old Kachin man, was also in Mung Ding Pa village in October 2013 when the Myanmar Army arrived. He told Fortify Rights: “I saw the soldiers running toward the church. They were shooting toward the church. I thought that they were shooting because we were running. We were running because we were afraid of them.”

Eyewitnesses from Mung Ding Pa village told Fortify Rights there was no KIA presence in the village.

“Lahtaw Tang,” a 60-year-old Kachin man also from Mung Ding Pa village, told Fortify Rights:

The soldiers were coming over the iron bridge. When the military came, I was behind the church. The church and my paddy field are very close. I was in the field. The soldiers came and shot toward the village. Most of the boarding school students ran away. I saw with my eyes that the soldiers were coming into the village. The soldiers were carrying guns, running, and walking. They were shouting, “Shoot, shoot!” and they were shooting their guns. Bang! Bang! Bang!

In another case documented by Fortify Rights, the Myanmar army shelled three civilian homes in Loi Teng village, northern Shan State on June 18, 2013. “There were no KIA soldiers in the village. The Burmese troops shot [mortars] from Sam Kahtawng village,” said 35-year-old Kachin eyewitness “Brang Seng.” “We saw the Burmese shoot the mortars. They shot them from within the village.”

Fortify Rights obtained photographic and video evidence of scorched earth and razed homes after the attack in Loi Teng village.

Kachin villagers from Hpare village, Kachin State fled their homes and farms on May 9, 2012 after the Myanmar army entered their village. Approximately 1,000 civilians made their way to a mountaintop area at approximately 10,000 feet elevation in territory claimed by the KIA on the Myanmar-China border. Just six days later, on May 15, 2012, the Myanmar army unexpectedly attacked their makeshift displacement camp, forcing a second displacement.

“The Burmese [Myanmar Army] attacked the camp suddenly,” a 41-year-old Lachid-Kachin woman and eyewitness told Fortify Rights. “Mothers and children were separated. That had never happened to us before. We were very scared.”

“Ah Lu,” a 36-year-old Kachin woman from Tar Lo Gyi village, Kachin State, told Fortify Rights that the Myanmar Army attacked her village in late December 2011 when there were no KIA soldiers in the village and no KIA resident-soldiers:

There were 30 bombs in just one day. There were a lot of bombings in the morning. The government soldiers were shooting into the village. Some houses and rooms were hit. We were afraid. … [KIA] weren’t living near the village. We left to come [to a displacement camp] two days after the bombing began. We were hiding in a [homemade] trench with our family.

Key Recommendations

To the Government of Myanmar
  • Immediately cease and publicly condemn attacks on civilians, and communicate the illegality of such attacks to the Myanmar Army and relevant authorities.
  • Investigate allegations of attacks on civilians and ensure perpetrators are held accountable, regardless of rank or position, and are provided with due process rights.
  • Support the establishment of an independent international investigation, including Myanmar partners, into alleged violations of international human rights, criminal, and humanitarian law committed by all parties to the armed conflicts in Kachin State, northern Shan State, and elsewhere in the country.
  • Provide unfettered access to Kachin State and northern Shan State for the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, representatives of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), humanitarian organizations, independent observers, and national and international media.
  • Implement the recommendations relating to Kachin State and northern Shan State made by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar and by the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council.
  • Cooperate with civil society organizations to establish a domestic mechanism to provide prompt and adequate compensation to all survivors of human rights violations in Kachin State and northern Shan State.
To the International Community and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
  • Urge the government of Myanmar to immediately cease and publicly condemn attacks on civilians.
  • Support the establishment of an independent international investigation, including Myanmar partners, into alleged violations of international human rights, criminal, and humanitarian law committed by all parties to the armed conflicts in Kachin State, northern Shan State, and elsewhere in the country.
  • Provide financial, technical, and advocacy support to human rights defenders in Myanmar in order to strengthen local responses to human rights violations, end impunity, and ensure accountability for abuses.
  • Advocate for the full realization of recommendations relating to Kachin State and northern Shan State made by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar and by the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council.
  • Support the establishment of a domestic mechanism in Myanmar to provide prompt and adequate compensation to all survivors of human rights violations in Kachin State and northern Shan State.