News Release

Myanmar: Investigate Whereabouts of Two Kachin Civilians Detained by Military

Civilians feared disappeared after being detained by military on January 31

(YANGON, February 20, 2018)—Myanmar authorities should investigate and immediately account for the whereabouts and well-being of ethnic-Kachin civilians Hpaugan Yaw and Nhkum Naw San, Fortify Rights said today. The two are feared disappeared after being detained by Myanmar Army soldiers in Mansi Township, Kachin State on January 31.

“The authorities have a responsibility to urgently account for the whereabouts and well-being of these two men,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights. “More than two weeks have passed since the military detained them, and the authorities have blocked attempts to locate them, raising grave concerns.”

Fortify Rights spoke to two separate eyewitnesses who said they saw Mr. Hpaugan Yaw, 65, and Mr. Nhkum Naw San, 35, near Hkat Pra village in Mansi Township in the custody of Myanmar Army soldiers around midday on January 31. Both eyewitnesses saw the men’s hands bound behind their backs. One eyewitness, “Maria,” - real name changed for security purposes - said the soldiers had dressed Nhkum Naw San in the uniform of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)—an ethnic armed group operating in northern Myanmar—and she watched soldiers attempt to dress Hpaugan Yaw in a soldier’s uniform. She heard soldiers threaten to kill Nhkum Naw San, and she described Nhkum Naw San’s face as swollen and bruised.

The two men were reportedly farming a field near Hkat Pra village when soldiers arrested them.

“Sut Seng Awng” - real name changed for security purposes - told Fortify Rights that he arrived at the field around 12 p.m. on January 31 and saw several soldiers take Hpaugan Yaw and Nhkum Naw San from a shelter in the field. The soldiers walked the two men to the edge of the field. “Sut Seng Awng” said:

[Hpaugan Yaw and Nhkum Naw San] were forced to sit . . . in the middle of around 30 soldiers. The soldiers were wearing green uniforms. Some of them had baskets and guns and wore quarter-length pants, not long pants. I couldn’t hear what they were saying.

“Maria” and a friend had just come from gathering wild vegetables in a nearby forest and were walking down the main road from Hkat Pra village around 12:30 p.m. on January 31 when they encountered the group of soldiers holding Hpaugan Yaw and Nhkum Naw San at the edge of the field. She said:

When we looked at [the two men], we realized that they were from our village. We saw [Nhkum] Naw San. He was tied up and the soldiers had put [KIA] soldiers’ clothes on him. . . The clothes seemed quite new, not very old. [Nhkum] Naw San’s face was swollen—on both cheeks and his forehead and also near the corners of his eyes. His whole face was swollen. The color was already red and blue.

The soldiers stopped the two women and held them for about an hour with Hpaugan Yaw and Nhkum Naw San. “Maria” said:

The soldiers asked us if we knew the two men. We said, ‘Yes, we know them.’ The soldiers then asked us if they did like this—and he made his fingers into the shape of a gun—so I said, ‘I don’t know.’ They had already put the [KIA uniform] on Naw San’s body so I was afraid. They didn’t question me any more.

Maria said some of the soldiers took Nhkum Naw San to the nearby field shelter and returned with two handmade guns often used for hunting. She told Fortify Rights: “When the soldiers brought [Nhkum] Naw San up the hill, some of the other soldiers were chatting, saying, ‘This guy is just a disturbance. We should kill him.’”

Around 1:30 p.m., Myanmar Army soldiers released Maria and her friend and told them to return home to Maing Hkawng using an alternate route. She said:

Before reaching the end of the field, I turned back to look at the group . . . When I looked back, the soldiers were putting [KIA] soldiers’ clothes on [Hpaugan Yaw] . . . but it looked like the clothes did not fit him, so [the soldier] tried to make them fit . . . We continued walking for five or six minutes, and we heard a man shouting a word that Kachin people use when we are in pain. . . Five or six minutes later, we heard two gun shots, like ‘bang, bang.’ . . . We didn’t hear anything else.

No one has seen or heard from Hpaugan Yaw and Nhkum Naw San since January 31.

Both eyewitnesses told Fortify Rights that the Myanmar Army soldiers who detained Hpaugan Yaw and Nhkum Naw San wore short pants, which is consistent with reports of a mysterious Myanmar Army brigade referred to in Karen State as Baw Bi Doh, or “short pants” brigade. In a November 2014 report, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School suggested that these short-pants brigades “could be a highly trained special force, a mobile hit squad, and/or a special reconnaissance force.” The Harvard clinic said these brigades “were known for their ruthlessness.” The Karen Human Rights Group has also documented the presence of short-pants brigades in armed-conflict zones in Karen State, and Fortify Rights documented evidence of atrocity crimes by Myanmar Army short-pants brigades in Rakhine State since October 16.

Both Hpaugan Yaw and Nhkum Naw and their families have resided in Maing Hkawng displaced persons camp since being displaced from their homes due to armed conflict in Kachin State.

On February 1, Camp Committee leaders from the Maing Hkawng camp met with personnel from the Myanmar Army Light Infantry Battalion 602 stationed in Maing Hkawng to request permission to search for Hpaugan Yaw and Nhkum Naw San. Battalion personnel refused permission to search for the two men. The military also reportedly blocked the road from Maing Hkawng and Hkat Pra village and imposed an 8 p.m. curfew on Maing Hkawng village following the incident.

On February 4, Hpaugan Yaw and Nhkum Naw San’s families filed missing persons reports at the Mansi Township police station. Mansi police officer Myo Thant told the Irrawaddy that the police “informed authorities in other areas about the two missing people” and posted photographs of the two men.

Under international law, an enforced disappearance occurs when state officials or agents of the state arrest or detain someone and refuse to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or conceal their fate or whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law. Enforced disappearances violate various rights protected under international law, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution. The authorities have a legal obligation to investigate alleged enforced disappearances and prosecute those responsible.

In January, a military tribunal reportedly sentenced six Myanmar soldiers to ten years in prison for the murder of three people from the Maing Hkawng camp in May 2017. The tribunal convicted the soldiers from Myanmar Army Light Infantry Battalion 319 of killing Nhkum Gam Awng, 31, Maran Brang Seng, 22, and Labya Naw Hkum, 27, while the three were gathering firewood in a nearby forest.

“There’s a history of abuse by the Myanmar military in this area. Authorities should be doing everything in their power to locate these men and not obstruct efforts to find them,” said Matthew Smith. “The military is terrorizing civilians in Kachin State. The government needs to ensure that those responsible for enforced disappearances will be held accountable.”

Background

Since armed conflict resumed in Kachin State between the Myanmar military and the KIA in June 2011 and later spread to northern Shan State, Fortify Rights and other human rights organizations have documented extrajudicial killings, torture, forced labor, rape and other acts of sexual violence, arbitrary detention, attacks on civilians, and other violations by the Myanmar Army. The KIA and Myanmar Army are also responsible for using anti-personnel landmines and child soldiers during the conflict.