Myanmar is restarting stalled peace talks between the government and multiple ethnic minority groups.
Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi the opened the fourth meeting of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference in the capital Nay Pyi Taw on Wednesday.
From August 19th to the 21st, Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, the Burmese army and several ethnic-minority groups will gather in the capital for the conference.
These will be the last set of meetings before November’s general election.
Multiple armed ethnic groups have been fighting for independence since the country’s independence from Britain in 1948.
Peace conference negotiations first started with the hopes of achieving a truce but talks had stalled, according to the Economist.
So what are the goals of this next round of talks?
According to the Foreign Brief, “It is expected that the conference will encourage non-signatories to accede to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).”
The NCA was created under the previous State Counselor and promised to establish a federal system.
The groups who signed it would continue to the next phase of the peace process, which is political dialogue.
But the Economist reports, in 2015 the army, which controls the ministries of defense, border and home affairs and 25% of the seats in Parliament, announced some would not sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement.
Initially, just eight armed groups, representing 20% of Myanmar’s rebel soldiers, signed the NCA.
The army is accused of deliberately sabotaging the peace process by clashing with two groups that had signed the NCA, which led to the withdrawal of two groups in 2018, according to the Economist.
Since January 2019, the army has also escalated fighting with an ethnic-Rakhine group.
Priscilla Clapp, a senior adviser to the Asia Society, an American think-tank tells the Economist, the army is not “pursuing peace, they’ve been pursuing conflict.”
The army’s commander-in-chief sees Aung San Suu Kyi as a rival and is committed to Myanmar being a unitary state, controlled by the majority ethnic group, the Bamar, the Economist writes.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has also had an impact on the latest round of meetings. Fewer people are participating and the conference was reduced from five to three days.
Key negotiators will attend but many observers and delegates won’t be present because of the pandemic.
COVID-19 and the upcoming general election in November prompted some to suggest the conference be delayed but politicians later agreed to continue with the peace process, according to the Irrawaddy.
On 17 January 2020, President Xi Jinping visited Myanmar. The visit led to 33 bilateral agreements being signed to unleash the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) soft power which is not in the best interests of Myanmar. Nonetheless, in an attempt to question CCP’s role in aiding crimes against humanity, Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar Armed Forces, Senior General Min AungHlaing (MAH) probed Party President Xi on the role of CCP in assisting the large number Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) operating in Myanmar.
In November 2019, the Tatmadaw (official name of Armed Forces of Myanmar) seized a large cache of weapons which included a Chinese made FN-6 from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. The Tatmadaw has also been increasingly frustrated with the availability of Chinese made weapons with the Arakan Army (which has been declared as a terrorist organisation by the Government of Myanmar). This was also voiced by MAH during his recent visit to Russia where he stated that terrorist organisations active in Myanmar are backed by ‘strong forces’; albeit the CCP. This indicates that top Tatmadaw military brass has blamed CCP’s attempts to take advantage of the fragile internal situation and undermine the sovereignty of Myanmar.
Notwithstanding bilateral setbacks in 1967 and 1973, China-Myanmar relations (termed as “PaukPhaw‘ or fraternal) have been on the upswing since 1988. After the infamous ‘8888’pro-democracy uprisings, Myanmar was relegated to being a pariah by the West, and the CCP had swiftly moved in to fill the void. Over the years, as the West shunned Myanmar, the CCP became Myanmar’s key political, military, economic and diplomatic partner and began exerting disproportionate pressure and influence on Myanmar.
Today, China is important to Myanmar for several reasons. Economically, China is Myanmar’s largest trading partner and largest source of FDI. Diplomatically, the CCP uses its UNSC veto as a shield for Myanmar. Politically, the CCP has not only engaged extensively with both the ruling NLD party and the Tatmadaw but has also exercised its influence on EAOs in negotiating the peace process. In effect, the CCP with its “double game” continues to exploit Myanmar’s resources by accentuating its vulnerabilities.
The original cost of developing KyaukPhyu SEZ (which is a part of China-Myanmar Economic Corridor or CMEC) was $ 7.2 Billion. This cost was slashed to $ 1.3 billion by Myanmar over concerns of excessive debt. Whilst the environmental/ social impact assessment for the project is yet to begin, concerns have already erupted in the local populace. Though these concerns may seem premature, given Myanmar’s previous experience with other Chinese projects such as the LetpadaungCopper Mine (where Chinese operators blatantly resorted to land grabbing/ unauthorised evictions) and Myitsone Dam project (where construction had to be stopped in September 2011 due to environmental issues), these concerns are increasingly influencing Myanmar’s decision making. Today Mayanmar’s leadership is worried about the tell-tale signs of the “Dragon’s trap“.
Another shocking fact of CMEC is that it passes through the most troubled areas in Myanmar where EAOs have waged armed conflict for decades against Myanmar’s government. The KyaukPhyu SEZ (Rakhine state) is where the Arakan Army is active and the other end of CMEC is in the Northern Shan State where armed conflict has been raging. It is unclear how such large financial investments in these sensitive areas would assist in ending the armed conflicts. The converse is more likely to be the state. The CCP is infamous for closed-door negotiations and would resort to illegally paying the EAOs to progress the CMEC. Such payments will further empower the EAOs, and in turn, strangulate Myanmar’s peace process.
More recently, the Government of Myanmar has ordered a probe into the contentious Chinese development of ShweKokko in Karen State by illegal land confiscation/ construction, and the influx of CCP’s money for illicit activities. Be it the CMEC, Letpadaung Mine, Myitsone or Shwe Koko; in fact in all Chinese aided projects, total disregard of rules and insensitivity to local sentiments is a measure of the coercive approach of the CCP in exploiting Myanmar.
Anti-CCP sentiment in Myanmar is not only fuelled by large state-run projects such as CMEC but also smaller projects such as private infrastructure development, small-scale mining operations and agriculture – plantations, where exploitation of local population is rampant. Allured by cheap labour, land, lack of transparency and ineffective labour laws, CCP-backed Chinese private companies are investing heavily in plantations bearing cash crops in Myanmar. These plantations are often unregulated and the investors take the assistance of EAOs, thereby exploiting the locals and natural resources of Myanmar for CCP.
The emergence of COVID-19, limited transparency in CCP’s economic dealings and lack of concern for national sentiments, coupled with exploitation of natural resources have resulted in deep distrust and anxiety among the people of Myanmar against the Chinese. The hardened Western stance and increasing investment by CCP, push Myanmar further into the Chinese orbit, eventually paving the way to being shackled by the tentacles of the Dragon’s debt trap and becoming a client state.
US new Ambassadorial nominee to Myanmar Thomas Laszlo Vajda told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, US engagement with Myanmar is “essential” in order to advance the Southeast Asian country’s reforms and help defend the country against “malign influences”.
NEW DELHI: US new Ambassadorial nominee to Myanmar Thomas Laszlo Vajda has emphasised that one of his goals as envoy would be “to advance US interests and values” in the Southeast Asian country and help defend the country against “malign influences” in a veiled reference to China.
He told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, US engagement with Myanmar is “essential” in order to advance the Southeast Asian country’s reforms and help defend the country against “malign influences”.
The hearing took place after US President Donald Trump’s nomination of Vajda as the US envoy to Myanmar in May.
“It is also critical that we support Burma’s efforts to resist malign foreign influences and challenges to its sovereignty,” he said at the hearing.
“To support Burma in this regard, the United States will need to continue helping government officials, economic reformers and civil society actors who are pushing back on unfair investment practices and deals that provide little benefit to local communities,” he added.
Though the nominee didn’t name the “malign influences” mentioned in his testimony, his reference to “unfair investment practices and deals that provide little benefit to local communities” was obvious as being to China.
An op-ed penned last month by the chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Yangon, George Sibley, alleged that China’s actions are part of a larger plan to undermine the sovereignty of its neighbors, including Myanmar.
In response, the Chinese Embassy accused Sibley of “outrageously smearing China” and attempting to sow discord between it and Myanmar, damaging the countries’ relations and bilateral cooperation. It said the article not only reflects the “sour grapes” mindset of the US toward China-Myanmar relations, but also a global effort by the US to shift attention away from its domestic problems and seek selfish political gain.
Facebook has objected to a request from Gambia, which has accused Myanmar at the World Court of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority, to release posts and communications by members of Myanmar’s military and police.
The social media giant urged the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Tuesday to reject the demand, which it said would violate a U.S. law that bars electronic communication services from disclosing users’ communications.
Facebook (FB.O) said the request, made in June, for the release of “all documents and communications” by key military officials and police forces was “extraordinarily broad” and would constitute “special and unbounded access” to accounts.
Gambia Attorney General Dawda Jallow told Reuters he was being briefed on the issue but could not yet comment.
The case before the United Nations’ International Court of Justice in The Hague accuses Myanmar of violating the 1948 U.N. Convention on Genocide. Myanmar authorities say they were battling an insurgency and deny carrying out systematic atrocities.
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 after a military crackdown that refugees said including mass killings and rape. Rights groups documented killings of civilians and burning of villages.
In 2018, U.N. human rights investigators said Facebook had played a key role in spreading hate speech that had fuelled the violence. Facebook has said it is working to block hate speech.
On Thursday, a spokesperson said Facebook “stands against hate and violence, including in Myanmar”.
YANGON, 3 August 2020: Myanmar’s aviation authorities confirmed recently, the ban on international commercial flights to and from Myanmar would extend to 31 August, but high ranking tourism officials now say international commercial flights might not resume until October.
Myanmar’s government is not issuing visas for visitors, and the only international flights are specially arranged repatriation flights to bring back Maynmar citizens and allow foreigners to leave the country.
Officials speaking on the sidelines of the 9th Mekong Tourism Advisory Group meeting last Thursday said rules would be eased this month, but international tourism to the country would remain suspended until October including all commercial international flights.
Myanmar’s hospitality sector rely exclusively on domestic bookings to support around 1,300 hotels that have reopened in popular tourist destinations including Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake.
During long weekends and public holidays, occupancy at hotels in Mandalay and Bagan peaks at around 75% indicating the growing contribution of domestic travel that in the past has been largely overshadowed by the international travel market. Approximately, 700 hotel rooms in Yangon have been reserved for 14-day quarantine stays.
Around 200 travel companies in Myanmar have benefited from a stimulus package introduced by the government, but financial resources for the sector are limited with most of the support going towards training classes for tour guides and tour company staff currently furloughed.
For the last couple of years PJ Wood has focused on growing its manufacturing base in its Chonburi headquarters.
As it continues to expand and shifts to be a truly regional company it has acquired Myanmar’s largest rubberwood company from a leading Japanese multinational group, and aims to transform it into a sustainable manufacturing hub within the next few years together with its local Myanmar partner.
“Other than operating efficiently our secondary purpose in entering the country is to share our knowledge and know how in creating a company that provides happiness to both customers and employees through the standards that we have internally created over the years” according to Mr. Andrew de Jesus, CEO of PJ Group. Mr. de Jesus added that the most important aspect for PJ Wood is to be a leader in ethical and sustainable standards.
The sawmill and timber facility located in Mawlamyie, Mon State a four hour drive from Yangon will be a strategic location in the future as it is within Asia highway and within a few hours from the Thai border of Mae Sot. Currently the facility is the largest rubberwood facility in the country, and surrounded by the largest rubberwood plantations in Myanmar.
“This acquisition will help strengthen and manage our operational risks, given the changing demographic in Thailand for labor intensive industries. Our goal is to fully automate our Thai operations and slowly shift labor intensive operations to Myanmar”. This will be done in several phases, during the first phase the focus is to support the Thai market, according to Mrs. Busayakorn de Jesus, Director of PJ Wood. As a monthly visitor to Myanmar for the past eight years de Jesus believes that the country and its people have a very similar culture to Thai’s. “We understand that their will be initial hurdles in setting up operations in Myanmar, however, we believe that the long term prospects of Myanmar is very bright”
mericans won’t be the only voters going to the polls in November. Myanmar’s third national election since transitioning from half a century of military rule is slated for Nov. 8.
Already, several questions loom over this test of the country’s democratic trajectory. How will the government ensure ethnic civilians displaced by armed conflict can vote? How will Facebook protect voters from disinformation? How will the government manage campaigns and polling in the age of COVID-19?
These are tough challenges. But there is another critical question, easy to resolve, that will also determine whether the exercise is free and fair: Will the government ensure the right to vote for Rohingya?
The Rohingya are an ethnic and religious minority, mostly Muslim, indigenous to western Myanmar; and today, far more live outside the country than inside. The reason for this is summed up in a word: genocide.
In October 2016 and August 2017, the Myanmar military responded to nascent Rohingya militancy with full-scale attacks on civilians, forcing more than 800,000 to flee into neighboring Bangladesh. They have no hope of safely returning to Myanmar anytime soon, and this creates new but surmountable logistical challenges for the 2020 elections.
Rohingya-led refugee groups have already said they want the government to facilitate voting from the camps in Bangladesh. One of these organizations, called the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH), has urged Myanmar to set up voter registration and polling in collaboration with the Bangladesh authorities. Many other Rohingya have since reiterated the request.
Some in Myanmar dismiss this option out-of-hand, calling it unfeasible. But this is a cop-out.
In 2004, some 850,000 Afghan refugees voted in their country’s first presidential election from camps in Pakistan and Iran and through absentee ballots. In that case, concerned governments and international humanitarian organizations did their part to ensure refugees could exercise their right to vote. Myanmar and its bilateral partners could do the same.
There are also an estimated 600,000 Rohingya still in Myanmar, and many there are also anxiously awaiting news about the election. The three Rohingya-led political parties in the country—the Democracy and Human Rights Party (DHRP), the National Democratic Party for Development (NDPD), and the National Democracy and Peace Party (NDPP)—are all registered and intending to field candidates.
But Myanmar has denied Rohingya the right to vote since the 2015 elections that brought Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to power. Despite Myanmar’s wholesale exclusion of Rohingya, the international community made the profound mistake of lauding those elections. President Barack Obama, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon all congratulated Aung San Suu Kyi on the outcome. Hillary Clinton even claimed partial credit for nudging Myanmar onto the reform path during her tenure as Secretary of State, recognizing the election was “imperfect” but calling it “an affirmation of the indispensable role the United States can and should play in the world as a champion of peace and progress.”
Few stopped to consider the repercussions the disenfranchisement of the Rohingya could have. Some analysts suggested that Aung San Suu Kyi would have to build a constructive working relationship with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in order for her government to be effective. None imagined she’d do so in the commission of genocide against Rohingya, but that’s precisely what happened.
In December last year, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi went so far as to represent Myanmar at the International Court of Justice, defending the military from allegations of genocide in a historic, ongoing lawsuit brought by The Gambia.
By wholly denying any intent to destroy Rohingya, Aung San Suu Kyi won military favor, and by taking aim at Rohingya on the global stage she strategically scored perverse ethno-nationalist points ahead of the elections.
Now, the cycle is poised to continue. Government insiders, diplomats and even representatives of international non-governmental organizations are saying that if all Rohingya were in Myanmar, they would still not meet the requirements of the election law because they lack citizenship. This is a politically convenient excuse.
Not only did Rohingya vote in past elections—during which they were still unjustly denied full citizenship rights—but since the 1990s, Myanmar authorities have kept detailed records of Rohingya through “household lists.” The government has other sources of data on Rohingya as well, including former identity cards and other evidence it could use to determine Rohingya voter eligibility.
Officials may suggest that Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and those in Myanmar will have the right to vote only if they accept National Verification Cards (NVCs). However, these cards are discriminatory, effectively requiring Rohingya to identify as outsiders, thereby foregoing any chance to restore full citizenship under the current law. Any demand that Rohingya accept NVCs in exchange for the right to vote would be unacceptably coercive.
As November approaches, Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh are hoping that access to the polls might help them secure a better future.
“Rohingya need a voice in parliament,” Abdul Rasheed, an expected candidate with DHRP in Sittwe Township, tells me from Yangon. This will be his second attempt to seek office.
“This is not only about voting and democracy, it’s also about dignity and protection,” he says.
The international community, including the U.N. and other organizations, must now do everything in their power to ensure the Rohingya have the right to vote.
Governments around the world overlooked Rohingya disenfranchisement in 2015, and that was at least one paver on the road to genocide. They must not make the same mistake twice.
Myanmar’s government should immediately lift internet restrictions in Rakhine and Chin States that have put civilians at added risk, Human Rights Watch said today. Government restrictions on the internet have hampered the coordination of aid, collection of accurate information, and monitoring of abuses.
The government has offered new reasons for its ban on mobile internet services, which affects more than a million people amid an armed conflict between government forces and the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic Rakhine armed group. Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed in a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council on June 30, 2020 and elsewhere on July 8 that the blackout was required, in part to “prevent the AA from exploiting mobile internet technologies to detonate IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and landmines.” Yet command-detonated landmines, such as those attributed to the AA, can be detonated remotely by various simple means, none of which require the internet, Human Rights Watch said.
“The Myanmar government’s latest excuses for its prolonged internet ban in Rakhine and Chin States are baseless and contrary to the reality on the ground,” said Richard Weir, crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Presenting these overly broad restrictions as necessary to stop landmine use callously deprives people of lifesaving internet access.”
The restrictions are in place in seven townships in Rakhine State and one in Chin State, where the government allows access to 2G networks, which only permit text messages, commonly referred to as SMS, and voice calls.
The government first imposed restrictions on mobile internet communications in June 2019. The restrictions were temporarily lifted in some areas on September 1, but the government reimposed the restrictions on February 3, 2020, within hours after the AA announced that it would release evidence of mass graves of Muslims killed in Rakhine State by government forces during “clearance operations” in August 2017.
The mobile internet restrictions were subsequently removed in Maungdaw Township on May 2, 2020, leaving eight townships subject to the restrictions. On June 23, the military said there was no plan to lift the ban, despite an earlier Communications Ministry announcement that the internet restrictions were provisionally extended only through August 1.
The government had cited a “security requirement and public interest” in its order to telecom companies to reimpose the restrictions and later cited an escalation in fighting to continue them. The government also offered other rationales for the internet restrictions, including concerns about posting hate speech, nationalist sentiment, disinformation, and “military secrets” online. Justifications regarding hate speech belie the Myanmar government’s own promotion of nationalist and anti-Rohingya sentiment. In April, Facebook removed 22 pages and accounts tied to the Myanmar police force for anti-Rohingya content.
The Myanmar military previously raised concerns about the AA’s use of “remote-detonated explosive devices,” but had not tied it expressly to the internet restrictions.
Explosive devices can be designed or fabricated to be detonated by the presence, proximity, or contact of a person. Such victim-activated antipersonnel mines are prohibited internationally, regardless of whether assembled in a factory or improvised from locally available materials.
Explosive devices can also be made to detonate remotely. Command-detonated landmines constructed in Myanmar can be detonated by various means, such as long electrical wires to create distance between the device and the trigger, or by radio frequencies used with unsophisticated electronics, like a two-way radio, pager, remote car door opener, or cell phone. A simple timer can also be used to detonate an explosive device.
The Arakan Army has previously admitted to using “landmines” and “mines,” as well as “technology” to “carefully control” their use, but has denied using mobile internet technologies to detonate them remotely. Local media and the Myanmar government have attributed numerous incidents using such explosives to the AA, including while the mobile internet services ban was in effect.
In late 2019, Zee News, an Indian media outlet, said that Indian intelligence agencies believed the AA may be using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to detonate landmines. Neither technology relies on mobile internet to operate.
Myanmar is not a party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which comprehensively prohibits antipersonnel mines. According to the annual Landmine Monitor report, Myanmar is the only country whose government forces still use antipersonnel mines, while non-state armed groups in Myanmar and other countries also use them, usually improvised mines.
The Myanmar government and all armed groups should immediately end the use of antipersonnel landmines, Human Rights Watch said. The Myanmar government should also ratify the Mine Ban Treaty.
The mobile internet restrictions in Myanmar, imposed under article 77 of Myanmar’s Telecommunications Law, authorizes the Ministry of Transport and Communications to order the suspension of a telecommunications service or to restrict certain forms of communication during “an emergency” situation. The broadly worded law should be amended to bring it in line with international standards on freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said.
In maintaining the blanket shutdown, Myanmar is contravening international human rights standards that require internet-based restrictions to be both necessary and proportionate. The UN Human Rights Council has condemned measures by governments to prevent or disrupt online access and information, and called for free speech protections under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In a 2015 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Responses to Conflict Situations, UN and regional organization experts said: “Using communications ‘kill switches’ (i.e. shutting down entire parts of communications systems) can never be justified under human rights law.” UN freedom of expression experts have said that during crises, governments should refrain from blocking the internet and, as a matter of priority, ensure immediate access to the fastest and broadest possible internet service.
The prolonged and disproportionate internet shutdown is also a form of collective punishment against the affected population, since it hinders access to information and communications that are needed for daily life and that are particularly vital during times of conflict and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fighting between Myanmar government forces and the AA in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin States escalated in November 2018. The scale and intensity of the conflict has continued to grow, with reports of nearly 1,000 civilian casualties since the conflict began and hundreds of structures burned during 2020 alone. As of July 6, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that over 80,000 people were displaced from the fighting throughout Rakhine and Chin States, while local groups told Human Rights Watch that the number of people displaced since 2019 is closer to 200,000. Many civilians, primarily ethnic Rakhine, have been forced to flee multiple times. Sources on the ground alleged that both the Myanmar military and the AA have restricted humanitarian aid from reaching civilians in need.
On June 24, the government announced new “clearance operations” in Rakhine State in Kyauk Tan and Rathedaung townships and ordered civilians to leave the area. Although the order to leave was subsequently rescinded, thousands of people were displaced as the clearance operations proceeded in five villages, media reported. Clearance operations were previously used to describe the multiple military deployments in Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017 that were characterized by widespread atrocities by government forces against the Rohingya.
“The conduct of the Myanmar military and AA continues to imperil civilians,” Weir said. “Myanmar’s government should end its ham-fisted, punitive restrictions on civilians, including its unjustified ban on mobile internet services.”
End Assistance to All Military-Controlled Entities
(Tokyo) – The Japanese government should immediately cancel plans to donate money to purchase vehicles and communications equipment for the Myanmar police force, Human Rights Watch said today. The police force, which operates under the auspices of the military, outside the control of the civilian government, has a well-documented record of serious human rights violations.
On July 2, 2020, Japan’s Foreign Ministry announced a grant of 100 million yen (US$930,000) to the Myanmar police for the purpose of purchasing vehicles and wireless equipment for “protecting dignitaries.” The Foreign Ministry claimed the donations would “strengthen the Myanmar police’s ability to carry out public security measures,” create “social stability,” and contribute to Myanmar’s “socio-economic development.”
“It’s inexplicable that the Japanese government would try to curry favor with Myanmar’s abusive security apparatus by providing financial assistance to the police,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Instead of supporting Myanmar’s police, Japan should be helping the victims of rights abuses and ethnic cleansing by working with other donor governments to hold the security forces accountable.”
Myanmar’s police acted as a pillar of repression during Myanmar’s 50 years of military rule, arbitrarily arresting dissidents and student activists, engaging in widespread torture, and creating a climate of fear in the country, Human Rights Watch said. The police remain abusive and unconstrained, in large part because the military-drafted constitution maintains military control of the police. The police operate under the authority of the Home Ministry, which is led by a minister who the constitution mandates must be a serving military officer, and operates under the de facto control of the military.
In recent years, the police have engaged in joint operations with the military, carrying out atrocities, including crimes against humanity, against ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2012, 2016, and 2017. The Myanmar police force, Border Guard Police, and security police battalions accompanied the military in so-called clearance operations that resulted in mass killings, rape, and arson. Police involvement was documented during the deadliest incidents in August and September 2017, including the massacres at Tula Toli and Gu Dar Pyin, where hundreds of Rohingya were killed.
Police took part in widespread rape, including gang rape, of Rohingya women and girls, as well as killing children while their mothers were being attacked. A woman from Zay Di Pyin, Rathedaung Township told the United Nations-backed Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar: “I don’t know how many policemen raped me, it was not my priority. The only thing I can remember is that they were trying to take my children. They dragged my son from under the bed. I was screaming to protect my children. I have not seen my son again.” In several villages, security forces abducted women and girls and took them to police and military compounds where they were gang raped.
In Rakhine State, the Myanmar police operate the majority of checkpoints, which play a central role in the severe violation of Rohingya freedom of movement in the state. Police enforce an extensive system of extortion, as well as physical harassment at checkpoints, that sustains the Rohingya’s arbitrary confinement to villages and detention camps. Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented torture by police, including the Border Guard Police, against Rohingya who have been arbitrarily detained.
Myanmar police have responded to criticism and protests with arbitrary arrests and excessive and unnecessary force. In 2017, a Reuters investigation into the massacre of 10 Rohingya in Inn Din village prompted Myanmar police to entrap and arrest 2 of the news agency’s reporters. Security police officers told Reuters they took part in raids in the village on orders from the military.
In January 2018, police shot and killed seven ethnic Rakhine protesters among a crowd that had converged at a local government building in Mrauk U after authorities shut down an event.
The police have also been implicated in excessive use of force elsewhere in the country. In April 2020, a video showed police beating a man in Mandalay for violating curfew orders during the Covid-19 pandemic. In February 2019, police fired rubber bullets and a water cannon at ethnic Karenni youth protesting the installation of a statue honoring Myanmar’s independence leader, General Aung San. At least 20 protesters were injured as they attempted to move beyond police barricades.
In response to Human Rights Watch’s inquiry of whether the Japanese government has conducted human rights due diligence to make sure that the aid won’t be used for further human rights violations, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said it has “confirmed with the Myanmar government that this aid be used and maintained for said purposes in an appropriate, effective, and exclusionary manner.” The Foreign Ministry also stated Japan’s embassy in Myanmar will monitor whether the equipment is being used appropriately.
The Japanese government should suspend all aid to the Myanmar police until systematic reforms are carried out and the police are put under civilian control. Japan should also halt aid to all military-controlled entities and ministries, including the Home Ministry.
“The Japanese government should realize that giving shiny new equipment to Myanmar’s police won’t make them less abusive,” Adams said. “By conferring undeserved legitimacy on the Myanmar police, they are signaling to Myanmar’s people that their suffering is of little concern.”
A new five-year project in Myanmar will for the first time document all forests in the Southeast Asian nation – including places affected by ethnic tensions – to pinpoint deforestation risks and boost conservation, the United Nations said.
The joint Myanmar-Finland project, launched this week with funding of 8 million euros ($9 million), will monitor all types of forests in an exercise aimed at helping the country reduce emissions that fuel climate change and adapt to warming impacts.
It will also serve as a basis to develop global guidelines for tracking and protecting forests in conflict zones.
“For a lot of people, Myanmar is a country with still a lot of unknowns,” said Julian Fox, team leader for national forest monitoring at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, which is managing the project.
“There are huge areas of forests that have never been measured,” Fox told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday.
About 70% of Myanmar’s population living in rural areas rely on its estimated 29 million hectares (72 million acres) of forests to provide for their basic needs and services.
But Myanmar also has the third-highest deforestation rate in the world – after Brazil and Indonesia – according to the FAO, partly driven by agricultural expansion and logging activities.
Although the authorities in colonial times made efforts to map parts of the country and its forests, Fox said there had never been a complete national forest inventory.
“For accurate information on forests, you need to know many things underneath the canopy – the tree species, soil, even the social-political context,” he said by phone.
The project will measure trees – with the potential to discover new species – and monitor biodiversity and carbon-storage levels, he added.
Starting in non-conflict forest zones, before expanding into less-secure areas such as the borders with China, Bangladesh and Thailand, the project will use modern tools like laser tree-measuring equipment and collect physical samples, Fox said.
It will cover Rakhine, a state from which more than 730,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh after a military crackdown in 2017 that the United Nations has said was executed with genocidal intent. Myanmar denies that charge.
By engaging in sensitive talks with different ethnic groups and organisations on the ground, the FAO hopes to be able to monitor forest areas in higher-risk conflict zones.
Myanmar has more than 100 different ethnic groups, each with its own history, culture and language or dialect.
If methods developed and used here prove successful, they could be applied in other forested and remote conflict-affected areas worldwide seen as off limits up to now, Fox said.
“It is important that conflict sensitivity and human rights remain in the core of the forest monitoring work in order to ensure that it benefits all people, including ethnic minorities,” Finland’s ambassador to Myanmar, Riikka Laatu, said in a statement.
All results and data on Myanmar’s forests will be made publicly available, allowing both the government and different ethnic groups to better manage and protect forests, Fox said.
Nyi Nyi Kyaw, director-general of the forest department in Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, said the government was “in urgent need of better and updated data about the state of all the forests in Myanmar”.