Expanding Accountability Options for Grave Violations: KHRG statement to the UN Security Council, July 9th 2012

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Published date:
Monday, July 9, 2012

This paper contains the full text of a five-minute statement delivered by KHRG's Field Director Saw Albert to the UN Security Council during an Arria formula meeting in New York City on July 9th 2012. KHRG's presentation was framed by the Action Plan signed by the Government of Myanmar in Yangon on June 27th 2012 to end the use and recruitment of child soldiers by Tatmadaw armed forces by 2014. During this statement, KHRG stressed the need for a responsive and accessible accountability mechanism for grave violations perpetrated against children in armed conflict that prioritises local perspectives and addresses existing impunity for perpetrators. In acknowledging that international leverage can help create space for communities' own protection strategies and ability to hold perpetrators to account, KHRG also urges support for the development of strong domestic legal frameworks and institutions that will contribute to accountability at the local level.

Good afternoon Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. My name is Saw Albert, Field Director of Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), an organisation with 20 years experience documenting human rights abuses in eastern Burma.

Thank you for the incredible opportunity to address this Council. I have just returned from two months in Burma, gathering testimony with our field researchers. I am eager to share this perspective with you, to help find effective ways to foster accountability for child rights violations. Two weeks ago the government of Burma signed an Action Plan to end the use of child soldiers by 2014. We welcome this and other progress. However we note that change has been confined to central Burma and the military has not significantly changed its behaviour in rural areas.

In this fluid context, I would like to make three points:

Firstly, international pressure and action can help communities to protect themselves. In October 2011 two medics were arrested by Tatmadaw while travelling to offer emergency post-natal care.[1] Their detention placed them at risk of summary execution. Even though UN Security Council Resolution 1998 (2011) had just been passed, there was no response to our urgent appeals. The medics were eventually released in February this year, but this could have been expedited if the mechanism had focused international attention on the issue.

If the Action Plan allows villagers to confront soldiers for abusing the treatment standards, it can improve their ability to hold perpetrators to account. This requires the Action Plan to be transparent and understood by all actors.

Secondly, for strong monitoring and accountability, local contributions and priorities are fundamental. Local communities are best placed to contribute to an understanding of root causes and impacts of violations. Conversely, incomplete responses may contribute to impunity by limiting the protection available to children and by putting populations at risk.

KHRG has years of experience engaging the MRM. In August last year, we arranged verification interviews between villagers and UNICEF. They walked day and night, facing personal cost and danger. It was frustrating and their expectations were disappointed when they received no feedback from UNICEF after the cases were confirmed. It is essential that communities have a stake in the mechanism and can contribute effectively, free from the threat of reprisals. Adequate response, access and transmission of verified information to the Working Group will ensure that the accountability mechanism is itself accountable.

The Tatmadaw are currently listed only for the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and the Action Plan addresses this issue only. KHRG has clear evidence to show that they are also responsible for killing and maiming of children and attacks on schools and hospitals.[2] The SRSG verified our information on Tatmadaw attacks that resulted in the closure of 13 schools,[3] destruction of clinics and landmines planted in school compounds.[4] It is critical that accountability for all violations against children is pursued.

Finally, impunity on the ground continues to create an accountability deficit. The post-ceasefire environment may still include grave violations affecting children, because of high levels of militarization, unregulated development and security activity to protect economic interests. There is need for strong support to develop domestic accountability and rule of law. Domestic prosecutions will be a crucial indicator that the Action Plan is working, and should be publicised to encourage local engagement. We call on the Security Council to extend the scrutiny of the Action Plan beyond the release of children, to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.

We urge you to remain actively seized by these issues, keeping them visible and actionable in the interest of protecting children and creating enduring peace and security. Thank you.

Footnotes

[1] Two medics were arrested by Tatmadaw LIB #212 on October 28th 2011 in Dweh Loh Township, Papun District. They were arrested along with a male villager who was leading them to his home to provide treatment to his wife following childbirth. The woman subsequently died. From confidential KHRG correspondence: Emergency request for assistance, December 10, 2011.

[2] Attacks on Health and Education: Trends and incidents from eastern Burma, 2010-2011, KHRG Thematic Report, December 2011. Health workers have also faced the constant threat of assault or arrest, which effectively limits access to health care.

[3] KHRG's news bulletin describing this incident, "Attacks and displacement in Nyaunglebin District," KHRG, April 2010 was confirmed and included in Children and armed conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/65/820–S/2011/250, para 112 April 2011. Please see the Appendix provided for further incidents and interviews.

[4] Published in "Abuses since the DKBA and KNLA ceasefires: Forced labour and arbitrary detention in Dooplaya," KHRG, May 2012.