Since the ceasefire, KHRG has received an increasing number of reports about serious abuses related to methamphetamine sale and use. For decades, Myanmar-based actors have been major players in the international drug trade. Beginning in the 1970s, the “Golden Triangle” region at the meeting of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand has been a world center for heroin distribution and trafficking. The areas of the Golden Triangle in Myanmar encompass parts of Shan State, which is located several hundred kilometers northeast of KHRG’s reporting areas. The Myanmar government has acknowledged that drug trafficking exists within the country, and committed domestically and internationally to work against drug trafficking. Myanmar acceded to the ‘United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances’ in June 1991, which committed the Government to enact and enforce laws against drug trafficking. The Myanmar government has repeatedly cited “the elimination of narcotic drugs” as one of the aims of its transition to peace. This is particularly notable because, in the past, ceasefires have provided opportunities for armed actors to develop their drug-trafficking business, as they no longer had to fear interference from state actors.
In recent years, the drug distributors of the Golden Triangle have diversified into methamphetamine production and distribution. In 2008, Myanmar’s combined methamphetamine and opium products were worth between one billion and two billion dollars annually. More recent estimates have put drug exports at 40% of Myanmar’s total exports by value. As of 2009, areas along the Chinese-Myanmar border controlled by the United Wa State Party, the dominant narcotrafficking organisation in that region, were the primary locations of methamphetamine production in Myanmar. During the same time period, some international actors determined that the Myanmar armed forces were complicit in the drug trade. Further evidence that the Myanmar government had not succeeded in combatting the effects of drugs came when the United States government declared in September 2012, and again in September 2013, that, “During the past 12 months the Government of Burma has failed demonstrably to make sufficient efforts to meet its international obligations under international counternarcotic agreements.” It is in this context that KHRG began to receive reports of substantial social impacts of methamphetamine use in KHRG research areas.
At the same time, human rights advocates in Mon ethnic areas, some of which border KHRG research areas, began to report on the social impacts of rapidly increasing drug use in those areas. Use in these areas has reportedly increased because of an influx of very cheap, widely distributed methamphetamine, which has often been distributed by members of EAGs.
There have also been allegations that EAGs in Karen areas have been involved in the drug trade. In April 2012, the Thai government placed the leader of the DKBA, General Na Khan Mway, on its list of most wanted criminals, on the basis of an incident that occurred in 2003 and offered a 2,000,000 baht (US $62,500) reward for his capture. It is unclear whether this designation was primarily the result of an impartial drug investigation, or whether it was politically motivated. Shortly after this announcement, the DKBA’s political wing began a high-profile campaign against drugs in the areas they control, including declaring a section of Myawaddy Township, Hpa-an District a “drug-free zone”.
Drug production, use and social impacts since January 2012
Since January 2012, reports regarding drug sales, drug use, and the consequences of both overwhelmingly came from Nabu and Paingkyon townships in Hpa-an District, with a small number of reports from locally defined Nyaunglebin and Hpapun districts. During the reporting period, BGF commanders and soldiers were the most commonly reported perpetrators of drug-related abuse, with abuses also committed by Tatmadaw, DKBA, KPF, the KNU/KNLA and the KNU/KNLA-PC. KHRG also received one report of a combined Myanmar Police and KNU anti-drug action in Mergui-Tavoy District, where they burned a large amount of the narcotic leaf kratom, and in Kyaikto Township, Thaton District, where the KNU reportedly shut down a gambling parlour to combat the impact of substance abuse.
Since the ceasefire, KHRG has seen an increase in reports of abuses related to drugs. These reported abuses likely represent a small percentage of the abuses related to drugs to which villagers in Southeast Myanmar have been subjected. KHRG has heard repeatedly from researchers that villagers are more reluctant to speak about abuses related to drugs than they are about other abuses. In addition to the information referenced below, researchers have had many conversations with villagers who insisted that none of the details of the conversations be publicly reported.
One researcher reported that even a villager who was willing to talk to him was very nervous, and said that, “If people know that I told you this, they will kill me.”
Villagers reported the following three trends which contributed to drug related negative impacts on villagers in 2012 and 2013: drug use; drug production; and drug sale by or with the permission of armed actors. Negative impacts have included killings related to drugs; and impacts on youth or the community, including addiction and mental health problems. KHRG also received one report each of a drug-related rape, and threats to villagers’ safety from armed actors on drugs. In addition, KHRG received one report of the destruction of drugs.
The most serious reported drug-related problems took place in the neighbouring Nabu and Paingkyon townships, Hpa-an District. In these townships, villagers complain that methamphetamine pills are widely available at many small shops, causing addiction and related social problems. BGF soldiers were primarily responsible for the production and sale of drugs, and for drug related violence in this area, though the KNU/KNLA, KNU/KNLA-PC, Tatmadaw, KPF and villagers affiliated with BGFs also sold and used drugs.
“A 16-year-old student who used [methamphetamines] spent all of his money on the drug and then pawned his motorbike [to trade it for methamphetamine pills sold by BGF soldiers]. His parents asked him, ‘Where are you keeping your motorbike?’His father asked him this continuously, so he told him. His father said, ‘My son, I bought this motorbike for you with 38,000 baht (US $1,187.50) and you traded it for 30 k'thee k'thay [methamphetamine pills]. So, here is the money, go and redeem your motorbike’. … Then, the boy … went to the place where he pawned his motorbike. He met the seller of the drug [BGF soldier] and asked for his motorbike; they were worried that the news would go public after he’d given the money to them. So, they arrested the boy, and then beat and killed him with a piece of brick.”
Situation Update written by a KHRG researcher, E--- village, Nabu Township, Hpa-an District/Central Kayin State (March to May 2013)
In a separate incident in Nabu Township, a 62-year-old woman who publicly confronted BGF Battalion #1016 soldiers about their drug trafficking activities was reportedly killed by soldiers from that battalion to prevent her from reporting on their activities. Villagers in this township have also reported that they have been subjected to threats from government-affiliated and ethnic armed actors if they complain of the negative impact of drugs on their community. These frighten the villagers, make them feel insecure, and decrease their ability to complain to NGOs, CBOs, the Myanmar government and EAGs about the impact of drugs.
“We dare not speak carelessly. If we were to say so, we are afraid that people would come and kill us. We do not want it [drug dealing and use], but we cannot do [anything].”
Situation Update written by a KHRG researcher, Yaw Kuh village tract, Nabu Township, Hpa-an District/Central Kayin State (March to May 2013)
In one instance, a BGF soldier who sells the drug publicly announced explicit threats to deter villagers in Nabu Township from reporting about the issue.
“We will not give any punishment or imprisonment to those who are using, selling and producing drugs, but we will give serious punishment to those who are telling or reporting.”
Situation Update written by a KHRG researcher, Nabu Township, Hpa-an District/Central Kayin State (September 2013)
Villagers in Nabu Township also report that they are unable to stop the widespread use of drugs, and that many villagers have become poorer because of their drug use, or drug use by a family member. Even soldiers have limited ability to intervene. One member of the KNLA told a KHRG researcher that his unit did not wish to provoke conflict between armed actors by confronting drug traffickers. In other areas, however, authorities are willing to act against drugs, as when the Myanmar Police and local KNU leaders burned a large amount of the narcotic leaf kratom in Mergui-Tavoy District.
The Government must take responsibility for the production and sale of drugs by Tatmadaw-BGF soldiers and enforce existing laws to hold commanders accountable. Because drugs are often produced by local armed authorities, international organisations can play an important role in hearing and publicising complaints. Additionally, local and international drug addiction and rehabilitation experts should provide information about the short and long-term consequences of using methamphetamineson a person’s health and on the community, as well as by provide rehabilitation services for those individuals already affected. Religious leaders should play a role in combatting the negative impacts of drugs, because they are less vulnerable to the explicit threats of violence for reporting drug issues made by Tatmadaw-BGF soldiers.