[JURIST] Human rights group Partners Relief and Development [advocacy website] said Monday that Myanmar soldiers may be committing war crimes [press release] in the form of torture and forced labor against ethnic communities in Kachin State. The group issued a report [text, PDF, graphic content] documenting the war crimes which allegedly began on June 9 after a 17-year ceasefire agreement was broken to begin a war between the Myanmar army and the Kachin Independence Army [BBC backgrounder]. Evidence for the alleged war crimes was gathered from first-hand interviews of witnesses in Myanmar. The report calls attention to Myanmar’s legal obligations and highlights that it has failed to honor its obligations under human rights law and the Geneva Convention [ICRC backgrounder] and that it may also be subject to charges from the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. The report calls on the UN to conduct an investigation into the war crimes in Myanmar:
Considering the evidence available, the actions and involvement of the Burma Army in causing extensive and prolonged displacement of civilian populations throughout Burma are likely to amount to crimes against humanity and/or war crimes. In order to establish the facts, investigate allegations of these grave breaches of international law and hold the perpetrators responsible for their role in such crimes, the international community should support a UN mandated Commission of Inquiry into international crimes in Burma. This does not have to come at the expense of parallel engagement with the Burmese authorities—on the contrary, the Burmese authorities would be expected to welcome such independent inquiries.
The report urges Myanmar to cease the harming of civilians during the war, permit and conduct investigations and allow UN access to conduct an independent investigation. The group also urged US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to raise issues of war crimes when she visits the country as the first Secretary of State to visit Myanmar in 50 years.
Myanmar’s human rights record has been at the center of discussion recently. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] announced [JURIST report] this month, after meeting with Myanmar President Thien Sein [BBC backgrounder], that he hopes to visit Myanmar soon and praised the nation for ongoing reforms. Last month, US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell indicated that Myanmar’s civilian-led government was planning dramatic changes including releasing hundreds of political prisoners [JURIST report] and consequential dialogue with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Myanmar has sought to improve its international reputation following a transfer of power from a military regime to a civil system in March after holding its first elections in 20 years. Myanmar’s government formed the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) in September to promote and safeguard the country’s constitutional rights [JURIST report]. In August, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana urged the government of Myanmar to investigate human rights abuses [JURIST report] and improve its rights record. In May, Myanmar began releasing as many as 15,000 prisoners [JURIST report] as part of an amnesty program after a visit from a special envoy from the UN secretary-general, but rights groups claim the government has not gone far enough.