BURMA (Myanmar) has deliberately obstructed aid deliveries to civilians in war-torn Kachin and northern Shan states, actions that may amount to war crimes, a human rights group said Thursday.
The report from Fortify Rights comes swift on the heels of evidence from the United Nations of crimes against humanity against the Rohingya in Rakhine state, and calls for the generals responsible to be tried for genocide.
“Consecutive governments and the military have willfully obstructed local and international aid groups, denying Kachin civilians access to aid,” Fortify Rights’ chief executive officer Matthew Smith said in a statement.
“This may amount to a war crime, giving even more reason for the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.”
Displaced #Kachin civilians in #Myanmar continue to struggle without access to adequate aid. Watch @FortifyRights’ latest #FortiFilm to find out why. #Aid4Kachin #NotATarget pic.twitter.com/a5OUZgNHfJ
— Fortify Rights (@FortifyRights) August 30, 2018
The fighting in Burma’s northern borderlands is one of the world’s longest-running civil wars, with the powerful Kachin Independence Army (KIA) rebel group and Burma’s army locked in conflict since the 1960s.
While sporadic fighting has continued in the region since the breakdown of a ceasefire seven years ago, rights groups say the army has stepped up its campaign in recent months while global attention focuses on the Rohingya crisis.
Data collected by the European Commission estimates over 100,000 people have been internally displaced by the conflict.
Fortify Rights accused the military of “weaponising the denial of humanitarian aid,” claiming the internally displaced people (IDPs) have been systematically denied vital resources such as food, water, healthcare and shelter.
SEE ALSO: Burma’s forgotten war
“The extent to which the Myanmar government is denying people aid in Kachin state is staggering,” Fortify Rights Myanmar human rights expert David Baulk told reporters Thursday, calling for the restitution of “safe, sustained and unfettered access to all displaced populations.”
The report found that Beijing pushed Burma authorities and ethnic armies to prevent UN and international humanitarian aid groups from operating on Burma’s side of the shared border with China’s Yunnan province, where most of the displaced Kachin are sheltering and in need of assistance.
Through interviews with nearly 200 stakeholders at more than 20 mostly Kachin state-based displacement camps between 2013 and 2018, Fortify Rights determined that Burma’s government imposed unnecessary travel restrictions on aid groups seeking to enter both government- and KIA-controlled areas in the region.
Kachinland School of Arts and Sciences students watching the @FortifyRights press conference on a subject they know well— how the #Myanmar authorities have obstructed humanitarian aid to #Kachin civilians for seven years: pic.twitter.com/v1hysYGYjN
— Matthew Smith (@matthewfsmith) August 30, 2018
“The government’s travel-authorisation process for aid groups in Myanmar effectively acts as a restriction on aid and humanitarian access to displaced populations in violation of international humanitarian law,” Fortify Rights said.
“The onerous and vague measures imposed through the travel-authorisation process involve civilian authorities and have not only led to undue delays in the delivery of aid to people in need but have completely obstructed humanitarian operations in some areas of Kachin State.”
From June 2017 to June 2018, just 5 percent of 562 applications filed by international groups for government-controlled areas were approved, the report said. Since May 2017, 40,000 IDPs in rebel-held areas have been effectively cut off; one humanitarian actor said the process felt so futile that organisations were discouraged from even trying.
According to the report, Burma’s military have “killed, raped, and tortured civilians with impunity,” and both sides have continued to use landmines and child soldiers.
The report comes just four days after a UN fact-finding mission accused the Burmese military of carrying out war crimes in northern Rakhine state.
The mission documented patterns of gross human rights violations and abuses that included killing indiscriminately, gang-raping women, assaulting children, and burning entire villages.
Investigators found the military had been operating without consequence, saying: “Impunity is deeply entrenched in Myanmar’s political and legal system, effectively placing the Tatmadaw (military) above the law.”
Fortify Rights hopes their latest report will add weight to calls for generals to be tried before the International Criminal Court.
“Impunity in this country has reigned for way too long,” said Amy Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights. “We’re hoping that this week marks the beginning of a new era, we’re hoping that it marks the step towards seeing some accountability, a step towards the end of that impunity.”