One year ago, the Burmese army launched a military offensive against the people of Kachin State, ending a 17-year ceasefire. Over the past twelve months, more than 75,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. Stories of rape, forced labor, abduction, torture and death at the hands of the Burmese army have been reported. Yet, governments around the world are reporting great “progress” in Burma as they move to cancel sanctions and open up Burma’s rich deposits of oil, gas, mining and timber for investors.
In April, United to End Genocide President Tom Andrews and I traveled to Kachin State. I often think about all of the people we had the privilege of meeting during our trip to the region. I recall their smiles and resilience, but also their sorrow and grief.
I remember Dau Lum who hasn’t seen his wife since she was abducted by the Burmese army at the end of October. I remember Nang Bank and her two beautiful daughters. Her husband, a local pastor, had also gone missing. Then, there was Myu Jat Aung—the 11-month-old who fell ill in a camp for displaced families and never lived to see his first birthday. Stories similar to these were all too frequent.
Everywhere we went there was someone whose village had been burnt to the ground, livestock taken or crops confiscated. Countless families were forced to flee for their lives as the Burmese army advanced on their villages, leaving with only the few possessions they could carry and walking through the jungle for days to reach safety. And, these were the fortunate ones. Not everyone was able to escape.
Amid all the celebration of Burma’s recent election in April, the fate of these Kachin families is being ignored. According to sources on the ground, there have been more than 100 attacks in Kachin State since the election. Yet, all of the news coverage is focused on celebrating “progress”, while the presence of Burmese troops escalates in Kachin State.
The Burmese government is courting international favor as it takes small (and still reversible) steps toward democracy. All the while, the regime and its cronies have their eyes set on exploiting the natural resources in Kachin State and other resource-rich ethnic national areas. And, it’s no secret that Western companies have been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to make money in Burma. They’ve all been fighting against sanctions for years and, now, they are getting their way at the expense of the people. In fact, forced displacement has reached its highest level in a decade.
Despite the warnings from human rights groups and requests from ethnic national groups, like the United Nationalities Federal Council, the United States and other countries are moving too prematurely to relax sanctions. The international community is offering rewards to a regime that continues to commit gross human rights violations and is providing financial incentives for continued exploitation of minority groups. As Khin Ohmar — coordinator of the Burma Partnership, a network of organizations throughout the Asia-Pacific region advocating for and mobilizing a movement for democracy and human rights in Burma — pointed out, “Investment, particularly in the country’s unstable ethnic areas, serves to exacerbate human rights abuses and causes major environmental and social damage.”
We’ve been sounding the alarm, but we need your help to keep the pressure on the Burmese regime and prevent the influx of investment from exacerbating human rights violations. The United States Congress still has sanctions in place through the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, but they will expire if they aren’t renewed before July 28. Take action before it’s too late. Ask your member of Congress to support renewal of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act today.