Attacks on villages

Attacks on villages

This category includes attacks against civilians and civilian objects, whether they occur through the use of indiscriminate military practices or through the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian objects. Attacks may or may not take place in geographic and/ or temporal proximity to legitimate military objectives or armed engagements between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups. Attacks may be related to other abuses, such as when civilians are attacked for failure to adhere to forced relocation orders or movement restrictions. During attacks, landmines may be planted in civilian areas and villagers homes may be looted, their livestock killed or their crops destroyed. Villagers respond to attacks on or near their communities by monitoring and sharing information about troop movements, developing early-warning systems, and by preparing for flight in the event of an attack, by securing food and family members in a safe location. Background International humanitarian law (IHL) requires parties to armed conflict to adhere to the principle of distinction; parties must distinguish between civilians and combatants at all times, including during the planning and execution of military operations. IHL therefore prohibits parties to conflict from deliberately attacking civilians or civilian objects. IHL further prohibits “indiscriminate” attacks which are not or cannot be directed at a specific military objective. Since its founding in 1992, KHRG has consistently documented attacks in violation of the principle of distinction in all seven research areas, including incidents in which civilians and civilian objects were deliberately attacked, as well as attacks on civilians and civilian objects as a result of indiscriminate military practices. Documentation by KHRG over the past 20 years suggests a general pattern to these attacks. 1. Attacks on civilians and civilian objects as a result of indiscriminate methods and means of combat Indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian objects typically occur in geographic and temporal proximity to legitimate military objectives or armed engagements between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups. Civilians and civilian objects are attacked when soldiers use weapons in a context where they are inherently indiscriminate, by, for instance, firing inaccurate or high blast radius weapons into civilian residential areas or farms, with knowledge of civilian presence, or without verifying if civilians are present. This has resulted in the death and injury of civilians, damage to houses, injury to livestock and the destruction of villagers’ possessions. 2. Deliberate attacks targeting civilians or civilian objects Deliberate attacks in which civilians and civilian objects are targeted, with shelling and/ or ground attacks frequently take place when no recent or proximate engagements have occurred. In such cases, several battalions launch coordinated operations against identified areas, remotely shelling civilian villages. Soldiers then sometimes enter the village on foot and destroy civilian objects, including houses, places of worship, plants and crops under cultivation, domestic animals, cooking implements, agricultural machinery, food processing or storage equipment, and food supplies. These types of attacks appear to be perpetrated against communities perceived to support ethnic armed groups – sometimes as apparent retaliation for recent clashes with ethnic armed groups – and/ or communities residing in difficult-to-control upland areas that Tatmadaw forces have sought to depopulate over decades of military operations. In these areas from which civilians may have previously been forcibly relocated, or where control by Tatmadaw forces is weak vis-à-vis ethnic armed groups, Tatmadaw forces have employed “free-fire” or “shoot-on-sight” practices towards anyone encountered. Soldiers also fire freely at civilians in areas in which movement restrictions or curfews are being enforced, without hailing the individual or seeking to ascertain whether the person is a civilian or a combatant. For this reason, villagers often utilise early-warning systems to flee approaching columns of Tatmadaw soldiers on patrol and prepare belongings ahead of time in order to be ready to flee the firing of mortars and small arms in civilian areas. In other cases, villagers have no advance warning of attacks and flee, leaving possessions and food supplies behind. The flight of civilians due to attacks on civilians and civilian objects disrupts villagers’ access to education and health facilities, as well as previously-cultivated land, and results in many cases in prolonged or permanent displacement. As a result, villagers experiencing prolonged displacement frequently voice concerns about access to education and healthcare, as well as severe food insecurity. “Four cuts,” or pya ley pya Academic and expert analysis of Tatmadaw military history, as well as evidence provided by Tatmadaw personnel supports the finding that deliberate attacks on civilian populations formed part of the Tatmadaw’s counter-insurgency strategy of “pya ley pya,” or the “four cuts.” The “four cuts” strategy was developed as early as the 1950’s, initially for use against the Karen National Union (KNU) in the Ayeyarwaddy Delta and against the Burmese Communist Party (BCP) on Burma’s northernmost border. The strategy sought to destroy links between insurgents, their families and local villagers, cutting four crucial pillars of support to ethnic armed groups: food, funds, intelligence and recruits. “Four cuts” campaigns consisted of the indiscriminate firing of weapons, the destruction of food supplies and homes, and the forced relocation of civilian populations to areas not accessible by ethnic armed groups. Between the end of the last major Tatmadaw offensive in 2008 and the January 2012 ceasefire agreement, KHRG continued to report incidents of remote shelling or limited-range patrols in areas proximate to camps. In that time period, soldiers deliberately targeted and shot villagers, burned houses, food stores, field huts and/or fields, but not necessarily as part of a multi-battalion offensive. As of 2009, Burmese military analysts sympathetic to the Tatmadaw, meanwhile, continued to describe pya ley pya’s strategic virtues – and ongoing use by the armed forces. Crucially, ongoing abusive practices of the Tatmadaw, especially those that trace back to pya ley pya, are not isolated acts of individually egregious perpetrators, but practices embedded in Tatmadaw strategy. During 2010 and 2011, KHRG continued to document attacks deliberately targeting civilians, civilian settlements and their food resources in areas beyond established or consolidated Tatmadaw control. Current: 2012 Since the beginning of 2012, KHRG has not documented any instances in which civilian objects were deliberately destroyed. This may be the result of movement restrictions placed on Tatmadaw patrols by a ceasefire agreement in January 2012 between the Burma government and the KNU. Community members have, however, described the indiscriminate firing of mortars into a civilian area, which left one woman dead and another injured, and ongoing use of “shoot-on-sight” practices by Tatmadaw troops. Individuals were fired on without any attempt being made to hail them or to determine whether they were combatants or civilians. During March 2012, Tatmadaw soldiers fired on four villagers, two of whom were serving as gher der Home Guards at the time, as they crossed a road in an area of northern Papun District in which civilians have long sought to avoid government troops. One of the Home Guards was killed and another injured. This is consistent with a long-established pattern of firing on civilians based on their presence in certain areas arbitrarily determined to be off-limits. During June 2012 Tatmadaw soldiers fired on and killed an unarmed man collecting truffles near a Tatmadaw camp in Papun District. At the same time in Toungoo District, four villagers were fired on while carrying rice to their villages. They fled without injury, only to return the next day and find that the rice had been destroyed by rain during the night.

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