With the exception of Kachin and parts of Shan State, reports that government forces engaged in widespread and systematic violent abuses of noncombatant civilian populations in the ethnic minority border areas experiencing armed conflict decreased significantly compared with past years. Many observers credited the change to cease-fire agreements. The government signed cease-fire agreements and was preparing implementation with all major armed ethnic groups, with the exception of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The government and Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) held negotiations in May and October and reached an agreement to commit to de-escalation of troops, establishment of a joint ceasefire-monitoring mechanism, and return and resettlement of IDPs.
In Karen State, ethnic interlocutors noted that there was an increase in the number of Burmese Army troops along the border but that clashes decreased after the signing of a cease-fire with the government in January 2012. The KHRG, which documented violations in Karen State and parts of Mon State and Bago and Tanintharyi regions, reported that severe and violent abuses once perpetrated by the military were no longer as pervasive. Nonetheless, during the year the group documented four reports of physical abuse of villagers by the Burmese Army and Border Guard Forces and two reports of killings related to drug production by the Border Guard Force in T’Nay Hsah Township. The KHRG also reported fewer instances of forced labor. New types of violations gained prevalence in areas with an increase in business, development, and natural resource extraction, according to groups in Mon and Karen states. Violations included uncompensated damage to farms, land confiscation, and forced displacement.
In Chin, Mon, and Kayah states, sources also reported a decrease in fighting between ethnic and government troops since the signing of cease-fires with the government. There were no reports of widespread and systematic violent abuses in these states.
In November ethnic armed groups convened in a historic meeting to discuss a nationwide cease-fire and political dialogue and agreed in principle to a nationwide cease-fire accord with the government, although a formal nationwide cease-fire agreement had not been agreed to by year’s end. The government allowed ethnic armed-group leaders to travel freely to Laiza, Kachin State, and Rangoon, in spite of the Unlawful Associations Act, which criminalizes association with government-banned groups. Observers commented that the government’s efforts to allow freedom of movement of ethnic armed group leaders who continue to be on the government’s Unlawful Associations blacklist was a marked indicator of progress. In subsequent negotiations with the government, ethnic groups and government representatives agreed to work towards a formal nationwide cease-fire and an inclusive political dialogue.
High tensions and sporadic clashes continued between the government army and ethnic armed groups, despite a cease-fire agreement in Shan State and negotiations in Kachin State. Armed clashes between the KIA and the military increased from October to the end of the year. The army continued to station forces in most ethnic groups’ areas and controlled certain cities, towns, and highways. There were continued reports of abuses by government soldiers, including killings, beatings, torture, forced labor, forced relocations, and rapes of members of ethnic groups in Shan, Kachin, Mon, and Karen states.
Killings: Military officials reportedly killed, tortured, and otherwise seriously abused civilians in conflict areas. On August 29, government soldiers reportedly arrested 10 men from Nhka Ga village in Kachin State, including Pastor Ram Mai, his son Nang Mawn Htin Aung, and Deacon Lahkreng Hkaw Duk, on suspicion of supporting the KIA. The men reportedly were bound, hung upside down, and beaten during an interrogation that occurred inside the church building. Two men died from their injuries, and others allegedly were being held as hostages and denied medical care.
Civilians also were killed through indiscriminate use of force. There were a number of civilian deaths in Kachin State due to fighting between government troops and the KIA. For example, in January the Burmese Army attacked the KIA base of Laiza, Kachin State, killing at least three civilians and injuring six more.
Abductions: There were multiple reports of government soldiers holding Kachin civilians as hostages.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Media reports documented torture and beating of civilians alleged to be working with insurgent groups in Kachin and Shan states; there were reports of forced labor, forced recruitment, and use of child soldiers by the KIA. During the year local NGOs and camp inhabitants reported that authorities interrogated, burned, cut, and beat Lahtoi Brang Shawng while he was detained for more than a year. Security forces took the 26-year-old Kachin man from an IDP camp outside of Myitkyina in Kachin State in June 2012 for alleged association with the KIO. Lahtoi Brang Shawng’s lawyer reported that the military mistook his client for another individual with the same name affiliated with the KIO. Authorities released Lahtoi Brang Shawng on July 23 following a presidential pardon, but he reportedly continued to suffer from physical pain and memory loss resulting from the abuse.
A prominent civil society group reported that Burmese army soldiers committed numerous crimes of sexual violence against women and girls in Kachin and Shan states. For example, on November 11, a soldier from the 323rd Light Infantry Regiment reportedly raped a seven-year-old girl in Hka Lum village in northern Shan State.
There was a significant decrease in reports of the military forcing civilians to serve as military porters; however, there were reports that the military forced civilians to carry supplies in Shan, Karen, and Kachin states and at least one report that the military used Kachin village children as human shields.
Armed actors, NGOs, and civilians inside the country and operating along the border with Thailand reported continued landmine use by the military and armed groups during the year. However, reports of landmine use steadily decreased. Peace talks between the Burmese Army and the KIA and in other ethnic minority states likely accounted for the reduction. In January official government press reported separate landmine incidents resulting in two civilians killed and three injured.
The 2012 Landmine Monitor Report stated the country still suffered from extensive landmine contamination, with 47 of 325 townships affected by unmarked land mines. Since the government first publicly acknowledged in February 2012 that land mines were an impediment to peace and development, discrete initiatives such as mine-risk education in ethnic-state capitals and the country’s first observance of International Landmine Awareness Day in April increased public awareness. In addition the government and ethnic minority groups showed a willingness to discuss jointly landmine action. In May community members from Kayah State and government officials met to discuss landmine issues, and in June the Karenni National Progressive Party and the government officially agreed to coordinate on landmine clearance, a sign of increased trust and political dialogue between the two parties.
The Department Mof Social Welfare held four Mine-Risk Education (MRE) Working Group meetings during the year, five since 2012, and five subtechnical MRE Working Group meetings, seven since 2012. Limited collaboration between the Myanmar Peace Center and the Social Welfare Department’s MRE Working Group, however, hindered the broader campaign for comprehensive landmine action.
Child Soldiers: Human rights activists, international NGOs, UN officials, and representatives from various ethnic regions described continued recruitment of child soldiers, despite military rules prohibiting enlistments of persons under 18 years of age (see also section 6, Children).
Because recruiters were rewarded for the number of recruits without regard to legal status, children continued to be targets for forced recruitment, with child soldiers reported to be as young as 11 years of age. One of the tactics used by the army involved military recruiters reportedly approaching children found alone at bus and railway stations and in rural areas and asking for identification. If the children could not provide identification, recruiters threatened to imprison them unless they agreed to join the army. Alternatively, recruiters offered incentives, promising a good salary, continuing education, food rations for parents, and housing. In many cases some training was promised, such as truck driving or carpentry, only for the victims to end up being brought to the army battalion. Other children were simply abducted. The government investigated and released children from military service if the children or their families were aware of the law prohibiting child soldiering and exercised their right to file a complaint with the International Labor Organization (ILO) or petitioned for their child’s release directly to the government’s armed forces.
Armed ethnic groups also reportedly used forced recruitment and child soldiers. There were multiple reports of the KIA forcibly recruiting hundreds of members of the Taileng (also known as the Red Shan) ethnic group residing in Kachin State to fight for the KIA when hostilities between the KIA and the military escalated at the end of the year. Taileng leaders hosted a rally in Mansi, Kachin State, in late December to raise awareness of KIA abuses and oppose forced recruitment in their communities. On January 14, the KIA released to the custody of the ILO eight child soldiers whom they had captured from the army and held as prisoners of war.
During the year there was limited but positive progress to implement the June 2012 joint plan of action between the government and the UN to cease the recruitment of child soldiers and demobilize and rehabilitate those currently serving in the armed forces. The UN reported that the government improved in upholding its commitment – per the terms of the action plan – to allow UN monitors to inspect for compliance with agreed-upon procedures to cease recruitment of children and to implement processes for identification and demobilization of those serving in armed conflict. The UN was able to access battalion-level military installations. The action plan was scheduled to expire in December, and one prominent international NGO (INGO) involved in the task force noted that although progress had been made, additional time was needed to ensure full implementation of all commitments of the action plan.
The government continued to release child soldiers during the year, including 24 in July and 68 in August. Since the action plan was signed in June 2012, the government had released 176 child soldiers. The Department of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and other partners provided discharged children social assistance and re-integration support.
Since 2008 military officials in cooperation with UNICEF and the ILO had trained 14 groups of approximately 1,000 military officers, including recruitment officers and officers up to the rank of captain, on international humanitarian law. UNICEF trained personnel assigned to the country’s four recruitment hubs and reported increased numbers of child soldiers rejected at this stage. A prominent INGO reported that the military demonstrated a growing commitment and willingness to raise internal and public awareness around the use and recruitment of children in the army. In November the task force, Ministry of Defense, and Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement launched a national public campaign on ending the use and recruitment of children in the armed forces. The campaign included broad public distribution of billboards, posters, and stickers and television, radio, and newspaper announcements that indicated a hotline for use in reporting child soldiers. In August the Ministry of Defense reported that 43 soldiers, including nine officers, had been punished for recruiting child soldiers but did not detail the type of punishments given. Government officials, including police forces, general administration, and judges, also participated in ILO workshops on forced labor.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/.
Other Conflict-related Abuses: International humanitarian organizations reported that in the first half of the year, the government continued to restrict passage of relief supplies and denied humanitarian organizations access to conflict-affected areas of Kachin State. While local organizations had unhindered access to the 52,000 IDPs in nongovernment-controlled areas, international organizations and UN agencies were restricted from entering these areas. In August the government began allowing some access to UN convoys to deliver humanitarian assistance in previously restricted areas. International staff of the UN and NGOs still faced significant restrictions, including lengthy negotiations with the government on a case-by-case basis for access to IDPs in Kachin State. More than 100,000 persons remained displaced by conflict in Kachin State, including more than 2,300 displaced by renewed armed clashes starting in October and continuing to the end of the year. In some cases villagers driven from their homes fled into the forest, frequently in heavily mined areas, without adequate food, security, or basic medical care (see section 2.d.).
There were reports that the government military used aid convoys as cover to enter new areas and that soldiers entered IDP camps and displaced inhabitants. In November in Mansi, Kachin State, there were reports that the military used a humanitarian convoy as cover to move into new areas. Military personnel reportedly followed the aid convoy into an IDP camp, scattering camp inhabitants.