The following urgent appeal and harrowing account of the situation in northern Burma comes from Kachin State, where long-time Burma researcher and author Guy Horton reports that not only is there no sign of the promised ceasefire between the Burmese Army and the Kachin Independence Army, but the fighting is intensifying and the humanitarian situation is worsening…
I am writing to you from northern Kachin State on the border of Burma and China. For days I have listened to sustained heavy mortar and artillery fire from the Burma Army as it slowly closes in. The civilians here are preparing for the worst.
The churches are open on a 24-hour basis. The people pray for deliverance from a conflict where Kachin soldiers, with the support of tens of thousands of civilians, are fighting for survival against an army several times their number. In such a conflict, Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, protecting civilians from intentional violence, applies.The Kachin authorities, it should be noted, are not a terrorist group, as for example the former Tamil Tigers were; nor are they a gang of war lords involved in narcotics. Rather, they have been carrying out the duties of self-government responsibly for many years, and are supported by most of the Kachin people who are bonded by their Christian faith. They are targeted, however, by the Burma Army on the basis of what constitutes their identity: their religion and their ethnicity. The law of genocide thus applies.
The first point that should be made is that there has been no ceasefire and there is no ceasefire. On the morning of Saturday 19 January at 6 a.m., the time the ceasefire was due to commence according to President Thein Sein’s order, I stepped outside my house to be greeted with the sound of mortar and artillery fire. This was not sporadic small arms fire, but systematic heavy shelling from the Burma Army. It was replicated elsewhere in Kachin State, but only a small fraction of it has been captured and transmitted by the media.
I would therefore like to express grave concern at much of the international community’s gullible acceptance of the “ceasefire”, which was either a deliberate grotesque hoax, or the result of a systemic failure in the Burma Army’s chain of command to implement President Thein Sein’s order.
The second point is that Kachin fixed defensive positions protecting civilians are probably unsustainable. Confronted with jet bombers, artillery, heavy mortars, and overwhelming numbers of ground troops, Kachin soldiers may be unable to protect their civilians in the long-, or even medium-term.
The third point is that in such an eventuality there may be not just a humanitarian disaster, but the infliction of widespread crimes against humanity. This is for two reasons. Firstly, the civilians are likely to resist because they have nowhere to flee. Gentle people I know are preparing to fight. Women are reportedly leaving their babies on the China side of the border and returning to resist. A probable humanitarian disaster is thus likely to be exacerbated by appalling human rights violations, of the sort I have been regularly receiving testimony of during my time here.
The point of telling you all this is to alert you to the very serious possibility that such acts may be repeated on a large scale in the event of a Burma Army victory, especially where civilians try to resist and there is no foreign observer force.
The fourth point is that as this massive assault on Kachin areas continues, the more likely it is that other non-Burman groups will resort to active resistance in solidarity. Burma may disintegrate further into civil war.
Effective action must therefore be taken very quickly to avoid repetition of previous disasters.
The UN has carried out studies of its failures in Rwanda, Yugoslavia and Sri Lanka and described at least one of them as amounting to “complicity with evil.” The same fatal passive complicity may result in a disaster in northern Kachin State. This letter is thus the gravest appeal to the outside world to stop it from happening. This is not a ‘communal riot’. This is a massive military attack on the Kachin ethnic religious group which is trying to resist in the limited territory it controls.
The following should therefore be implemented:
1. Appointment of an effective UN envoy, genuinely committed to the principles and articles of The Charter, mandated by the Security Council with the right to unhindered access to all areas of Kachin State, and especially to internally displaced people. If the military-controlled government refuses access, it could be facilitated by China, which is supportive of a ceasefire and does not wish to be flooded with refugees. Some of the most threatened Kachin areas are, it should be noted, adjacent to China.
2. A ceasefire, preferably mandated by the Security Council, supported by the Chinese and US governments, the EU, and relevant UN organs, monitored by an effective UN observer group, should be declared.
3. A just and lasting peace, with the objective of establishing real autonomy within the context of a genuine Federal Union, should be negotiated and implemented, if the so-called reform process is to have any validity.
4. A firm reminder to the military-controlled government of Burma that the majority of international sanctions were suspended, not cancelled, and in the event of a refusal to implement a ceasefire they will be reimposed. If a genocidal attack on civilians occurs an appropriate response will be made.
You can assist by helping to disseminate this information, and supporting the appeal, as widely and as quickly as possible.
Guy Horton is a researcher at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and has been studying and reporting on the human rights situation in Burma for many years. He is the author of Dying Alive: Justice in Burma, as well as a contributer to several other reports.
photo by Hkun Li, Kachin refugees on their way to a displaced persons camp near Laiza, Kachin State
- Kachin Community Holds Peace Rallies in Chiang Mai
- Activists, Monks Begin Peace March to Kachin State
- Solidarity with the Kachin overflows in Chiang Mai
- Global actions to end the humanitarian crisis in Kachin State
- Ashin Gambira & Ashin Khesara’s visit to Kachin State
- URGENT! Rally in Chiang Mai, Thursday at 10 a.m.
- “The important steps must come from inside the country” – Notes from a meeting at the German Foreign Ministry
- 84,000 Karen Civilians Call on Ban Ki-moon to Help Stop Attacks in Burma
- Urgent: Burma’s People need your help!
- Urgent: Water crisis in Burma!