By Hanna Hindstrom
Human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in Burma are being woefully overlooked, a group of exiled refugees have warned the US government.
Refugees who have fled oppression in Burma delivered a petition to Ambassador Derek Mitchell yesterday calling for greater action by the Obama administration to end systematic oppression against minority groups.
“As people from ethnic nationalities in Burma who have been subject to severe atrocities, we are grieved [sic] that the rights of people continue to be abused, especially while the international community asserts that positive change is happening,” read the letter.
“We are particularly concerned that while the main focus of international diplomatic efforts has been on some limited reforms affecting central Burma, insufficient attention is being paid to developments in ethnic states.”
Earlier this week, a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed systematic human rights abuses, including forced labour, mass rape, arbitrary killings and use of child soldiers, in conflict-torn Kachin state.
“The Burmese army is committing unchecked abuses in Kachin state while the government blocks humanitarian aid to those most in need,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at HRW. The report also documented use of child soldiers and landmines by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
At least 45,000 people have been displaced within KIA-controlled territory along the Chinese border, where residents are facing a growing humanitarian crisis. The Burmese government continues to deny the UN’s humanitarian agencies access to large parts of Kachin state. A small shipment of aid supplies was let through on 12 December 2011, but nothing since.
“We hear from our communities how more new people are being forced to flee their homes and cannot get access to much needed aid,” warned the letter.
DVB has also reported continued abuses in Karen and Shan states, despite initial ceasefire agreements being signed between the Burma government and rebel groups. Many grassroots organisations have expressed concerns that the government’s reform programme will have an adverse impact on their communities, especially relating to land confiscation for natural resource development. Minority religious groups, including Christians and Muslims, also continue to face systematic discrimination.
Burma’s democratic reforms have been broadly welcomed by the international community and the 1 April by-elections are likely to see a significant reduction in western imposed sanctions. But activists insist that ethnic minority voices must not be ignored.
“International efforts to secure dialogue in Burma must prioritise the inclusion of ethnic representatives, including the ethnic democratic forces that are not in parliament,” said the letter. “Our lives and our rights are not less valuable than those in central Burma.”