Steps towards peace: Local participation in the Karen ceasefire process

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Steps towards peace: Local participation in the Karen ceasefire process

Published date:
Wednesday, November 7, 2012

This commentary considers Karen villagers' perspectives on impacts of the ceasefire between the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Government of the Union of Myanmar. In light of their concerns, this commentary makes workable recommendations about what the most effective next steps could be for negotiating parties and for stakeholders in the ceasefire process. Building on KHRG's previous analysis in Safeguarding human rights in a post-ceasefire in eastern Burma, published in January 2012, this commentary brings to light new evidence of villagers' perspectives. Documentation received since the ceasefire reveals some positive changes, but also raises concerns about ongoing human rights abuses in the post-conflict environment, as a result of ingrained abusive practices and a lack of accountability, particularly in areas where there has been an increase in business, development, natural resource extraction, accompanied by a continued military presence. KHRG believes that the perpetration of abuses is exacerbated, and villagers' options to respond effectively limited, both by the lack of opportunities for genuine local input and a dearth of information-sharing concerning new developments. Analysis for this commentary was prepared based on a collaborative workshop held between all staff members at KHRG's administrative office, as well as field documentation and oral testimony received since January 2012 from villagers in all KHRG research areas, which incorporate all or parts of Kayin and Mon States, and Bago and Tanintharyi Regions.

Footnotes

[1] "Govt, KNU sign ceasefire," Myanmar Times, January 16th-22nd 2012; "KNU, Govt Reach Historic Agreement," The Irrawaddy, January 12th 2012.

[2] The KNU described the purpose of this meeting as being to discuss the withdrawal of Tatmadaw troops and the ceasefire code of conduct, see: "KNU Delegations Departs for the Third Round Negotiation of Ceasefire with the Burmese Government," Karen National Union, September 1st 2012.

[3] "Burma government, KNU agree to ceasefire code of conduct," Mizzima News, September 5th 2012; KNU and "Govt need more time to finalize ceasefire code of conduct," Karen News, September 7th 2012.

[4] See: "Safeguarding human rights in a post-ceasefire eastern Burma," KHRG, January 20th 2012.

[5] Human rights training for military actors has played an important role in other ceasefire contexts; such training was included as part of broader efforts to support security sector reform in a ceasefire context was in the mandate of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), see United Nations Security Council Resolution 1856 (2008), Adopted by the Security Council on 22 December 2008. At the request of the NSAGs in the Philippines, Geneva Call organised international humanitarian law and human rights training of trainers for NSAG military and political officers in November 2005. See Training of Trainers Workshop, Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat Maguindanao, The Philippines, 2005. The need for all local actors to develop an understanding of human rights is also exemplified in the emergence of the 'New Generation School', which encourages younger generations to attend as an alternative to joining an armed group and included human rights and United Nations studies in its curriculum, see: "Global Post: Guerrilla economics in Myanmar's 'black zone," Patrick Winn, August 29th 2012.

[6] "Myanmar's new frontiers come with striking business challenges," Global Times, August 1st 2012.

[7] KHRG trains and equips villagers to gather testimony and document human rights abuses in their communities. For more information on KHRG research methodology, see 'All the information I've given you, I faced it myself': Rural testimony on abuse in eastern Burma since November 2010, KHRG, December 2011, pp. 9 – 12.

[8] See statement issued by KNU on January 13th 2012, the day after a 19-member KNU delegation, which included military representatives from all KNLA Brigades except 5th Brigade, attended initial ceasefire talks in the Zwegapin Hotel in Pa'an Town. Karen National Union, Statement on the Initial Agreement between KNU and Burmese Government, January 13th 2012.

[9] Sustained Tatmadaw resupply operations in Thaton, Nyaunglebin and Papun during ceasefire, May 31st 2012.

[10] Villagers return home four months after DKBA and Border Guard clash, killing one civilian, injuring two in Pa'an, June 27 2012.

[11] This is an excerpt from an as-yet-unpublished interview conducted in July 2012 by a community member trained by KHRG to document human rights abuses.

[12] See for example: "Papun Situation Update: Northern Lu Thaw Township, March to June 2012," KHRG, September 2012.

[13] See for example: "Pa'an Situation Update: T'Nay Hsah Township, September 2011 to April 2012" which describes KNLA Battalion #101 and Border Guard Battalion #3 working together following an order to remove the landmines in February 2012.

[14] For the full published report, see: "Toungoo Situation Update: Tantabin Township, January to March 2012," KHRG, May 2012.

[15] This is an excerpt from as yet-unpublished notes accompanying a set of photos taken by a community member in Papun District and received by KHRG in June 2012.

[16] This stands in stark contrast to the same time period in the previous year 2011, during which villages in Papun, Mergui-Tavoy and Toungoo were attacked, houses and rice barns burnt and food materials destroyed. See for example: "Incident Report: Forced labour and killing in Toungoo District, July 2011," KHRG, March 2012; "Nyaunglebin Situation Update: Ler Doh Township, September to October 2011," KHRG, January 2012; "Incident Report: Three villages fined after fighting between Tatmadaw and NSAGs, two villagers arrested, one killed," KHRG, February 2011. For information detailing the scope of attacks occurring in 2011, see 'All the information I've given you, I faced it myself': Rural testimony on abuse in eastern Burma since November 2010," KHRG, December 2011, pg 12

[17] In an incident of civilians being caught in crossfire during an armed post-ceasefire skirmish, see: "Villagers return home four months after DKBA and Border Guard clash, killing one civilian, injuring two in Pa'an," KHRG, June 2012.

[18] See for example: "Tatmadaw soldiers fire at four villagers carrying rice, order forced labour in Toungoo District," KHRG, July 2012; "Villager shot and killed in Papun District," KHRG, October 2012.

[19] See for example: "Forced labour and extortion in Pa'an District," KHRG, June 2012.

[20] See for example: "Abuses since the DKBA and KNLA ceasefires: Forced labour and arbitrary detention in Dooplaya," KHRG, May 2012.

[21] See for example: "Toungoo Situation Update: Tantabin Township, January to March 2012," KHRG, May 2012.

[22] See for example: "Papun Situation Update: Dwe Lo Township, February to June 2012," KHRG, September 2012; see also Photo Set: Villagers register concerns about proposed Hatgyi Dam," KHRG June 2012.

[23] For the full published report, see: "Papun Interview: Saw E---, June 2012," September 2012.

[24] See for example: "Dooplaya Situation Update: Kawkareik Township and Kya In Township, April to June 2012," KHRG, September 2012; and "Papun Situation Update: Dwe Lo Township, February to June 2012," KHRG, September 2012.

[25] For the full published report, see: "Toungoo Situation Update: Tantabin Township, January to March 2012," KHRG, May 2012.

[26] This is an excerpt from an unpublished interview conducted in July 2012 in Ler Doh Township, Nyaunglebin District by a community member trained by KHRG to monitor human rights conditions.

[27] Villagers continue to frame their situation in the context of historical experience, specifically the Northern Offensive 2005 – 2008, when Tatmadaw units began widespread attacks on villages in mountain areas of Toungoo, Nyaunglebin and Papun districts in northern Karen State, beyond the sphere of Tatmadaw control; see for example: "Toungoo Situation Update: Than Daung Township", KHRG, April 2012. For further information regarding the Northern Offensive, see: "KHRG Photo Gallery 2006: The Northern Offensive," KHRG, March 2007 and Less than Human: Convict Porters in the 2005 - 2006 Northern Karen State Offensive, KHRG, August 2006.

[28] This is an excerpt from an as-yet-unpublished situation update from T'Nay Hsah Township, Pa'an District received in July 2012 from a community member trained by KHRG to document human rights abuses.

[29] This is an excerpt from an unpublished interview conducted in July 2012 Ler Doh Township, Nyaunglebin District by a community member trained by KHRG to document human rights abuses.

[30] For published references by villagers to 'rich people' initiating business and development projects and confiscating land in villagers' testimony gathered by KHRG in 2012, see: "Papun Situation Update: Dwe Lo Township, February to June 2012," KHRG, September 2012; "Mergui/Tavoy Interview: Saw K---, April 2012," KHRG, July 2012; and "Toungoo Situation Update: November 2011 to January 2012," KHRG, March 2012.

[31] Field surveys recently conducted by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) 'found a strong correlation between development projects and incidence of human rights abuse: "Bitter Wounds and Lost Dreams: Human rights under assault in Karen State, Burma," PHR, August 2012. See for example: "Papun Situation Update: Dwe Lo Township, February to June 2012," KHRG, September 2012.

[32] For previous examples of lack of information limiting villagers' options to protect their rights, see: "Toungoo Interview: Saw H---, April 2011," KHRG, September 2012.

[33] This is an excerpt from an interview conducted by a community member trained by KHRG, see: "Papun Situation Update: Dwe Lo Township, February to June 2012", KHRG, September 2012.

[34] This is an excerpt from an unpublished interview conducted in July 2012 Ler Doh Township, Nyaunglebin District by a community member trained by KHRG to document human rights abuses.

[35] This is an excerpt from a different unpublished interview conducted in July 2012 in Ler Doh Township, Nyaunglebin District by a community member trained by KHRG to monitor human rights conditions.

[36] This is an excerpt from an unpublished situation update received by KHRG from a community member in Mergui-Tavoy District in July 2012.

[37] A prominent economist has also pointed out that there are 'three fundamental truths about conflicts today: they are mostly borne out of competition for control of resources; they are predominantly a feature of poorer economies; and they are increasingly internal conflicts.' Dambisa Moyo, Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York, p. 59. In the context of Burma, see also: Not Open for business: Despite elections, investor risk remains high in Burma, Conflict Risk Network (CRN): A Project of United to End Genocide, April 2012.

[38] See for example, "Open Letter from Mary Robinson and John Ruggie to EU Foreign Ministers and EU High Representative," Institute for Human Rights and Business, 19 April 2012 and "Ruggie advises caution over Burma/Myanmar," Ethical Trade Initiative, April 2012.

[39] Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is clearly established as a right of indigenous peoples in international human rights instruments like the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), in international financial governance norms and has judicial precedent, for example in the decisions of bodies like the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. See, "The Right to Development: From Policy to Practice," The North-South Institute presentation to UN Human Rights Council, Geneva, September 2011. 'As a principle, and as a consequence of rights to self-determination, property, health, and others, FPIC is also recognized as best practice for other, non-indigenous peoples and communities.' FPIC is the principle that a community has the right to give or withhold its consent to proposed projects that may affect the lands they customarily own, occupy or otherwise use.

[40] In a statement released to commemorate Karen martyrs' day, KNU Chairman Tamla Baw said "Though the government claims to be building peace with armed ethnic nationality forces, it is my analysis that, in practice, it is working with an emphasis only on business matters, rather than dialogue for peace with a political essence," August 8th, 2012, "KNU Doubts Govt Peace Efforts," The Irrawaddy, August 9th, 2012.