Written by U Ne Oo on 1994-10-05

A Comprehensive Response To Burmese Refugee and Displaced People Problem

5 October 1994 Dr U Ne Oo, Adelaide Australia

1. Burma in the Year 1993-94.

Reflecting Burma's political situation, some analysts describe the year 1993-94 as the watershed year in Burmese politics [1]. The ruling military junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council(SLORC), seems to be adopting a more conciliatory approach towards the detained opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi [2]. In September 1993, Burmese military claims to have adopted a republic style constitution, which is interpreted as the military making a concession to ease tension with the ethnic oppositions [3]. There is no increase in the level of human rights abuses in this year, partly because SLORC had managed to silence the oppositions effectively [4], and reports of serious violations are rare in comparison to the periods of August-September 1988 and the aftermath of May 1990 election. These indications are that Burma may be at the beginning of a "post-conflict era" in which all parties in the conflict could resolve their problems in a peaceful environment. However, the climate of fear continues for the general populace as the system of repression is still being enforced; therefore it must continue to judge the military junta as a serious violator of human rights. The military continues to show its willingness to hold on to power: making efforts to hold its dominant position in government in the event of a transfer of power to any future administrations. To secure the leading role for the army in the future, the military imposed guidelines in drafting the constitution [5] and has also been desperately seeking ways to establish its political legitimacy. The Military Government of Myanmar(SLORC) appears to be making efforts to improve its political stature. The military government declared the year 1994-95 as ``All-round Development Year'' and is carrying out various infrastructure and development projects. It claims to have made measures to bring Burma's civil war to an end; it is successful in negotiation with some armed ethnic rebel groups to enter the military cease-fire. A highly publicised anti-narcotics operation was launched in order to appease the western governments, particularly the Government of the United States [6]. This is a move that appears to exploit the drug issue as a legitimate avenue to enter the international stage. Attempts have been made so as to attract the businesses and investments, in particular, from the United States [7]. In order to improve its international image, the military junta reportedly hired public relation personnel from a private firm to lobby the western governments. With regards to the human rights situation in the minority areas, as expected, the general condition seems to be ameliorated as a result of the military's renewed initiatives for a cease-fire. However, a resurgence of human rights abuses that are not necessarily related to the government's counter-insurgency measures have occurred. The local military administration has become more systematic in oppressing the villagers: organizing forced labour and porterage; taking bribe and extorting money; and confiscating properties. Although these type of abuses, normally, are considered less serious in comparison to those which occur in generalized violence, the cumulative effect upon the life and livelihoods of villagers is found to be severe enough to cause the displacements. The sincerity of military's initiatives for a cease-fire becomes questionable as the military authorities refuse to make a political settlements with the ethnic rebels who are struggling for the establishment of the Federal Union of Burma. The failure to make political settlement, in fact, is rather dubious because the military itself claims to be promoting a republic style constitution. As the military is preoccupied with keeping a stranglehold on state power, the government's neglect on the welfare of normal citizens is beginning to show its effects. The humanitarian situation within the country continues to deteriorate and the hardships become unbearable to normal citizens. The economic desperation, which combined with political repression, has become another cause of displacement for the Burmese population. Forced relocations, forced labour, extortions and confiscation of properties in ethnic minority areas have resulted in the outflows of refugees into neighbouring countries. A humanitarian oriented approach to Burma's multitude of problems is therefore necessary. The national reconciliations - minorities and majority Burman as well as the military and civilian population - should be given the priority. A unified approach from all fronts (i.e. the political, human rights and humanitarian) that derives from all legitimate concerns becomes necessary to tackle Burma's problems. Therefore a comprehensive response to the Burma's refugee problem should be made by the United Nations and international community. All parties in the conflict should be encouraged to enter negotiation in order to create an environment conducive for refugee's voluntary return. Measures to improve the human rights situation must be made in order to eliminate the root causes that put the refugees to their flights. A voluntary return of refugees, assisted and monitored by the UNHCR and international community, must be arranged as a comprehensive response to the refugee problem. The entire response to Burma's refugees problem must be formulated within the framework of peace-making and aimed at a longer-term peace-building in Burma. Outlined in this paper is the strategy to approach it from all fronts. 2. Human Rights and Refugees [8] ================================ Since the leadership changes in April 1992, the SLORC is seen changing its behaviour in relation to the serious human rights abuses. Certain incremental measures have been taken to improve its human rights records [9]. These measures include the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for the safe repatriation of Burmese-muslim refugee from Bangladesh, also known as Rohingyas, and release of some political prisoners [10]. SLORC also claims to have made initiatives to end the civil war with ethnic minorities who are demanding a greater autonomy. There appears to be some reduction in the number of serious violations of human rights, especially those directly related to government counter-insurgency operations, in the minority areas due to these initiatives for the cease-fire. However, the climate of fear continues for the Burmese populace and the minorities in particular, because the system of repression is still being enforced by the Myanmar military government. It is observed that a resurgence of widespread abuses, which do not necessarily relate to the military's counter-insurgency measures, have occurred in minority areas and are causing the displacement of the civilian population. The nature of these abuses stem from the lack of an independent judiciary, the weaknesses in the structure of government departments and the authorities' inability to control corruption. In particular, the Military government's implementation of various infrastructure projects has led to forced labour and enslavement of villagers. the loosening grip of central control upon the regional military councils has resulted in a widespread pattern of corruption and mismanagement [11]. The systematic repression by authorities that led to the insecurity in the normal life of villagers is producing the outflow of refugees into neighbouring countries. 2.1 Refugees in Thailand ------------------------- As a symbol of the Myanmar military government's renewed initiatives for the cease-fire, the Burmese army has suspended a large scale military offensive on insurgents in minority areas. There appears to be some amelioration of the human rights conditions, particularly the abuses directly related to counter-insurgency measures. However, the forced relocation scheme continues to play a key role in the military government's counter-insurgency strategy, particularly in Karen State [12]. Although large-scale battles with insurgents have not occurred, there are reports of isolated skirmishes happening throughout the year [13]. Forced relocations, forced labour and porterage, confiscation of properties and extortion of money from villagers are commonly reported. The following is a summary of reported abuses within Karen and Mon States; and Tennasserim Division - all bordering Thailand. These abuses are found to be the major root causes of the flights of refugees into Thailand. 2.1.1 Forced relocations: -------------------------- The Burmese Army has used the strategy of forced relocation, commonly known as the ` four-cuts strategy' [14], in its counter-insurgency operations since mid-1970s. Villages within the strategic area are ordered to relocate to places near military outposts. The area is then declared as free-fire zones in which anyone seen is considered rebel and subjected to being shot on sight. In 1992, the Burmese military declared a unilateral cease-fire and suspended the large scale offensive with Karen ethnic rebels. However, as a government counter-insurgency measure, an intensive forced relocation campaign in Karen State was carried out instead. As a result, a large number of villages had to move to places near military outposts [15]. The villagers are ordered to move at short notice with little possessions. The houses and food left behind are destroyed by military and the compensations have never been paid to the villagers. The restriction on the movement of villagers has also caused disruption to their normal farming activities. The humanitarian situation for these villagers in relocated camps were reported to be egregious. As of 1994, it appear that the incidences of forced relocations and the restrictions on the movement of villagers had somewhat eased in minority areas due to government's renewed cease-fire initiatives. However, the military continues to relocate of villages without compensation and exercises the right to shoot on the free-fire zones. Deteriorating humanitarian situation in these relocated camps, i.e. malnutrition and the lack of medical care, is causing sickness and death to the villagers. The Karen Human Rights Group(KHRG) [16] has reported an incident of the forced relocation, testimony given by a refugee who fled to the Thai-Burmese border, as [17]: "They ({\em SLORC}) also force villages to move. They forced Tha Yet Pin and Shan Ywa villages to move to Mi Kyaun Win, and Tha Yet Pin Seit had to move to Kyaik Maw Win. At the new places, the villagers had to clear the bush to build houses for themselves, and there were landmines close all around. They have to go very far just to get water, at least 500 meters down the hill. Now they just have to survive day by day, doing day labour for money cutting bamboo, cutting sugarcane or cutting wood. About 400 families from my area have already fled. Everyone from small villages has to flee to big villages, the forest, or the refugee camps. My village has 50 houses, but when I left there were already 200 houses there from all the smaller villages around. Over the last 3 months very many villagers have been sick. At least 5 or 6 adults have died of the sickness in my village, and at least 10 children."} The military enforced the free-fire zones by threatening to shoot and to kill anyone seen on sight. Consequently, the displaced villagers are having no means to support themselves in new sights. The nature as well as extent of hardships and anxieties for the relocated populace inside Burma are very similar to that of external refugees: threat of persecution upon return to their normal inhabitant, difficulty to survive in a new environment, the humiliations and indignity. One displaced villager told her experience to KHRG as [18]: "Major Kyaw Shwe ordered us to move. He is a commander from 38 Infantry Battalion. He said we had to move because there had been fighting in our village, but I'm sure there was no fighting there, only very far away. They gave us 3 days to move out of the village and said that after that, if they see anyone in the village they'll shoot them on sight. ...\ABR Another villager went back and tried to sleep one night in the old village, and the soldier captured him, tied him up and tortured him all night. Now we face the problem of starvation because we can't work on our farms. We can't do any thing. We don't have enough clothes. We don't know how to make a living in the new place, but we can't dare go back to our old place either. No one can resist them because everyone is afraid to die. Our lives now are just work in the morning to eat in the evening, surviving hand to mouth. Now I need to buy a new sarong but I can't. We all feel deeply humiliated and small in the new place, because we see the people from the village with new clothes while we don't even have a change of clothes. The village head there feel sorry for us, so whenever the SLORC orders forced labour he gets his villagers to go instead of us." 2.1.2 Forced Labour: --------------------- For decades, the Burmese army have been forcibly conscripting civilians for porter duty in counter-insurgency operations. The extensive use of forced labour in large scale infrastructure projects have been reported only in recent years [19]. Various ambitious development projects are announced and carried out as public movements [20]. As sources reports, government use of forced-unpaid labour has been widespread throughout the country in building airports, constructions of roads and railways [21]. Reports in early April 1994 confirm the large scale use of forced labour in construction of 110 miles rail route, know as Ye-Tavoy railway, in Tennasserim Division in southern Burma. The villagers living in the vicinity of this railway are ordered to clear the route, build military encampments and make earthen embankments for construction. Each household in the villages has to work 15 days a month at the construction sites and fees have never been paid. The government's practice of using forced and long-term unpaid labour in its development projects disrupt the livelihood activities of villagers; and the local people are being forced to abandon their former inhabitant as life become impossible, one refugee told the CPPSM [22]: "We were continuously required to work in the railway construction and we didn't even have time to do our own jobs to survive. Again, we had to work very tiredly for the railway. We couldn't afford to work on for the unpaid hard job and so decided to flee away." Local military authorities enforce the order to do unpaid labour by threatening villagers to punish should they evade the duty. A refugee told the military authorities punish his family members as a result of him failing to turn up at work site [23]: "Then the soldiers came to my house and poked my wife in the side with a rifle butt. They kicked her hard in the stomach, and she vomited blood. Then they kicked my baby son down into the fire, and all the hair on his head was burnt. They slapped my 7-year old son in the face and he cried out. They beat them because I had escaped." Villagers are forced to sleep at the road side without adequate shelters; the military guarding them day and night. Working condition is inhumane and medical attention and food for the workers have never been provided by the authorities: conditions that one has been led to describe only as the enslavement of the villagers. A refugee told his experience as [24]: "They guarded us carefully because they were worried that someone might escape. Sometimes people tried to escape and were caught, and the soldiers beat them up severely. Sometimes they beat them with wood, sometimes they kicked, sometimes they punched, until the people were bleeding from the head, and some of them were bleeding seriously. \ABR No one was killed by beatings, but one or two men died from sickness and exhaustion. The soldiers never gave any medical care. \ABR At night we just made a fire and slept on the ground. We couldn't build a shelter because we didn't have time, and we were in a different place every night. We had no mats to sleep on, just the bare ground. The soldiers were always around the whole night, guarding us closely. We had to ask permission to go to the toilet. They didn't follow us, but we didn't dare try to escape because there were other groups of soldiers nearby." The local communities has also been coerced to hire equipment from the railways construction authorities. Both technical management and local military authorities hired bulldozers and sell the fuel to villagers for use in the railway construction. The CPPSM reports [25]: "These 5 bulldozer machines, the fuel and the nails are likely to be the only materials supported by the central SLORC government through its local military authorities for the construction of the railway and the local encampments along the railway line. Whatever it has been, it is clear that even this inconsiderable quantity of material support of the central SLORC has already been misappropriated by its widely corrupt and unscrupulous local military authorities and technical management of the railway construction for their personal benefit." In other settings [26], the military forcibly conscripted villagers for use in guarding roads, building military encampments and transporting military equipments. Little information was given to the villagers about their assignments and fees have never been paid to the porters. Such constant harassment by military authorities brought anxiety and further insecurity to the life of rural populace. A refugee told KHRG [27]: "There used to be over 100 houses in my village, but many people have run away and now there are only 10 house left. The soldiers often ask for 10 or 20 porters every month. One porter had to go from each house, sometimes including many women. The SLORC also grabbed people to be porters whenever they came to ask for money and we couldn't pay. Sometimes I've been a porter for 1 or 2 days, sometimes for over a month. We had to carry rice, ammunition, salt, chillies and sugar, and we also have to carry the soldiers' clothes. I was very afraid to them all the time." The military authorities ensure the villagers comply the order to do slave labour by intimidation, as one Burmese trader testified [28]: "Once when Tha Mo village refused to go for slave labour they sent a package to the village head with a message that said ``You figure out what it means." When the village head opened it he saw one red chillie, ane bullet, and one piece of charcoal. At first no one understood it , but then people guessed that the chillie is very hot, so it means we have to suffer a hot situation and a great deal of trouble, the bullet means they will shoot us and kill us, and the charcoal means they will burn down our village. After that, the villagers were very afraid to refuse again." 2.1.3 Informal taxations and Extortions: ----------------------------------------- Since the military seized state power in 1988, the administrative duties have been carried out by the local Law and Order Restoration Council (LORC). As the central authorities loosen its grip on power, the LORC become increasingly powerful and the local offices become autonomous centers for administrative affairs. Reported since 1992 are the incidences of local commanders collecting informal taxes in an attempt to fill government coffers [29]. Such frequent and unreasonable taxation has also contributed to the hardship of the local population. These informal taxes were collected usually by local LORC in the name of `porter fees',`courier fees', `educational fees', `development fees', etc.. The excessiveness of such collections may be clear from the fact that the villagers in those areas are normally living on subsistence incomes. Although the `porter fees' are regularly demanded from the public, the porters themselves have never been paid for their work. Local military authorities seize villagers who cannot pay porter fees or evade porter duty, and demand ransom monies. One villager told the KHRG [30]: "Sometimes we had to send 4 or 5 porters at a time and sometimes 15 porters, depending on what the soldiers are doing. We tried to hire people to go in our places. For long-time porters it costs us 1,000 Kyat, for medium-time porters 500 Kyat, and for short time porters 100 or 200 Kyat. The soldiers also collect `porter fees' as often as 4 or 5 times a month. I don't know what they use that money for. Sometimes when they enter the village they also catch people and take them away, and we have to pay a ransom of 500 or 1,000 Kyat before they release them." The authorities' imposition of the informal taxes, such as porter fees, that are excessive in total amount has forced the villagers to resort to selling their possessions and finally fleeing to the refugee camps at the border. A refugee described his experience [31]: "In my village I fed my children by working my field , but now I have no farm to work. I had to pay porter fees so I had to sell my field. My father lived by working the fields, and my grandmother gave me that field, but I had to sell it to get the money. I have 3 brothers, and my grandmother gave us one field each. We all sold our fields at the same time, last year. We got 30,000 Kyat altogether. Since then I had to work the fields for other as a laborer, but only got 10 or 20 Kyat a day and all that went to porter fees. I couldn't support my family that way so I came here. After I sold the field I had nothing anymore." The military authorities ensures the payments and demands are met by threatening villagers with punishment and, even, to force the whole village to move. One villager told his experience [32]: "Troops from 36 Battalion arrived at our village on April 30, 1994. They stole 8 pots and one pig, just as if it were their own. They steal so many things from us - they've also ordered 1,000 shingles of leaf roofing and 20 cattle carts, and we have to send it all by May 15. Whenever they come to the village , all the girls have to hide away because the soldiers always give them trouble. T--- army camp also demanded 75 tons of logs from us. The log circumference has to be 2 feet to 4 feet, and they must be 10 feet long. They said if we don't send these on time, we will be forced to move within one week." 2.1.4 Civilians targeted in military operation: ------------------------------------------------ The flagrant disregard of humanitarian laws by Burmese army has also been a major contributor in the deterioration of the human rights situation in minority areas. The use of non-combatant civilians in military operations, such as forced porterage, surveillance support duties, clearing of mines and, sometimes, civilians being forced to march in front of military columns are violations of internationally accepted humanitarian laws. One witness describes the incidence of civilians being forced to walk in front of soldiers in the minefield [33]: "The soldiers force all the men to guard the road, and sometimes the men have to go in front of the troops on operations just to clear the landmines. One man from every village or group of houses has to go, sometimes 200 or 300 men altogether because there are so many little groups of houses around. They have to walk in front along with one cart pulled by a cow. then the soldiers follow behind. No landmines exploded near my village, but it happens sometimes in other places. The villager steps on the landmine and the soldiers just ignore him and leave him there. ...''} In the event of skirmishes with ethnic rebels, the Burmese army has been known to attack a nearby minority village. One villager describe an incident where Burmese soldiers took revenge on villagers after fighting with rebels [34]: "One day the two boys were just outside the village near the forest. The Karen soldiers had attacked the Burmese and disappeared into the forest, so the Burmese soldiers came and fired their guns all around the village, and shot the two boys dead. Kyaw Bwe and Kyaw Aye didn't know anything, they didn't even know how to run away. But the SLORC couldn't catch any Karen soldiers, so instead shot dead two innocent boys. After they killed the boys they came into the village, went directly to the village head and beat him brutally. They interrogated him,..."} The military authorities demand compensation from the local population in the case of army properties being destroyed in operation [35]. The army threatens to shoot the villagers if they refuse to pay. One villager told the KHRG [36]: "There was a truck that exploded about the beginning of February at Tah Paw, not far from a SLORC camp. At the time I was on my way home from Thaton town. The mine destroyed the truck, so the SLORC ordered Tah Paw village to pay 60,000 Kyat. They didn't want to pay, because their village only has 50 houses and they can't afford it or get the money. So the villagers just kept quiet and hoped that the SLORC wouldn't bother to come get the money. But instead, the SLORC came into their village and shot their guns beside and above all the people to frighten them. Then they started shouting,`` If you don't pay the money we'll kill all of you in this village ." All the women, men, old people and children were afraid so they started collecting money among themselves. Some of them didn't have any money so they took the rice they had for the next one or two months, sold it for money and then gave it. After paying, people had no food to eat and had to find some way to get some food. At the same time other villages had to pay too: Noh Aw Hla had to pay 50,000, Noh La Plaw 50,000, Pwa Ghaw 50,000, Kru See 50,000, Pan Ta Ray 50,000 and Day Law Po 50,000. For just one truck they asked this much money - they are only coming here to do business. How can the people not get poor when they do this ?} 2.1.5 Extrajudicial executions: -------------------------------- To enforce the free-fires zones, the military exercises the right to shoot and to kill anyone seen in the defined area. One refugee told [37]: "Three of my other nephews from Htee See Baw Kee village were also killed brutally by the SLORC troops. They had run away into the forest when the soldiers had come to catch porters, and they were hiding in the forest for 2 weeks. They didn't even know the villagers had been driven out. When they returned to the village without knowing, the soldiers grabbed them right away, forced them to put on Karen army uniforms and shot them dead. \ABR We know for sure that they weren't Karen soldiers, just innocent civilians. They were my nephews, and their names were Pa Thu, Thaung Ngwe, and Htun Thaung. They thought it was safe to go back to their village, but they were killed." Extrajudicial executions have taken place, without due process of examining the case, if persons suspected of rebels are captured. A fair trial for villagers has not been given to establish their claims [38]: 2.1.6 Generalized violence: ---------------------------- In December 1993, the Burmese army launched an offensive on the drug warlord Khun Sa in southern Shan State [39]. The case of forced porterage by civilians, including prisoners from central Burma, have been reported [40]. There are also reports of local civilians in southern Shan State had been rounded up, detained and used for porterage [41]. Amnesty International has also reported the forcible returns of displaced villagers who fled into Thailand from fightings and porterage [42]. The Royal Thai Government have consistently refused to allow the international NGOs and Red Cross to assists these displaced villagers and refugees, particularly at northern Thailand. The total number of refugees and displaced people in Thailand is approximately 420,000 [43]. 2.2 Refugees in India and China -------------------------------- Student refugees who fled to India since 1988 are reported to be living at two camps located at Mizorum and Manipur States bordering Burma. Some moved further to the capital New Delhi and have sought assistance from UNHCR. Since April 1993, about 100 Arakanese Student activists in Bangladesh also moved into Mizorum State in India. Although smaller in their numbers compared to those in Thailand, Burmese displaced persons can also be found in every border town in India [44]. There are also approximately 12,000 refugees from Kachin State in northern Burma who had fled to China since 1992. Despite the fact that the Burmese army reached cease-fire agreement with Kachin Independence Army in early 1994, there are continuing cases of internally displaced people in Kachin State [45]. 2.3 Humanitarian Concerns -------------------------- The sad state of decline in the humanitarian situation for the general Burmese populace also deserves international attention [46]. The continuing economic despair for the general populace and deterioration in social service infrastructure due to lack of government's financial support are causing the hardships and insecurity for all Burmese to increase; recent UNDP report warned Burma in the state of economic collapse [47]. Many charged the western countries' boycott on aid and government's increased expenditures on military as the major contributors for such a state of decline, but the military's desperate push for its political legitimacy is also found to be a contributing factor. There has been a continuing embarrassment amongst the ruling military elite since the United Nations designated Burma the status of Least Developed Country in 1987 [48]. The military's admission of such failure is apparent from SLORC announcing 1992-93 as ``The Year of the Economy", 1993-94 as ``The Second Year of Economy" and 1994-95 ``All-round Development Year" [49]. As already reported in Sec. 2.1.2, the implementation of various ambitious development projects have caused forced labour for population. In order to boost the economy, military government set the production of rice for domestic consumption and export as a top priority; and launched vigorous campaigns to encourage the peasantry to adopt multiple-cropping and the cultivation of summer paddy. A total output of 675milion baskets is predicted for the year 1993-94 and is said to increase to 900million baskets in 1994-95. For many years, Burma's rural populace enjoy relative freedom of government's economic policies [50]. The rural economy is subsistence in nature and this suits the village lifestyle. However, the military's recent push for such an increase in productivity without proper investment in agricultural sector has led to the forced procurement of rice and other primary products [51]. In November 1993, the student group in Arakan State reported of the near famine situation for rural populace - which the state of rural poverty believed to be prevalent throughout Burma [52]. The apparent moral decline of the rural families, which threatened the social fabric of rural poor, is a direct consequence of the junta's economic mismanagements. The reported cases of increase in prostitution inside Burma and the trafficking of Burmese women and girls into Thailand are much attributed to this deterioration in rural life [53]. The girls reportedly sold to Thailand are originated from villages in Burma's inland areas, such as Sagaing Division, which show the deterioration has been widespread [54]. Since the military government has made little or no effort to curtail this trafficking problem, spreading of HIV/AIDS becomes the immediate threat to rural communities in Burma. Furthermore, given the facts that an increase in prostitution inside Burma which combined with the government's effort to expand tourism for foreign dollars, there has been a concern that Burma will become another destination for the sex-tour. The increase of illegal drug use in Shan State and Kachin State also needs attention. According to reports, the spread of HIV/AIDS amongst intravenous drug users has been at an alarming situation [55]. The general situation for women and children, along with the internally displaced people throughout Burma, have been in a state of overwhelming humanitarian needs [56,57]. Although human rights abuses are the compelling reasons for displacement of much of the population that need urgent attentions, the deteriorating humanitarian situation within Burma should also be addressed. The international community must therefore be urged to adopt an approach which tackles both human rights and humanitarian concerns in Burma. 3. The Root Causes. ==================== The underlying root causes for Burmese refugees and displaced people, as explained in Sec 2. , are complex in nature and therefore require a complex response. A widespread abuse of human rights, that perpetrated by authorities and sanctioned by system of repression, in the counter-insurgency measures can be seen as the primary root causes. Deteriorating humanitarian situation and generalized climate of fear for general populace; the dire poverty and insecurity to the life of civilians that are generated by political system must also be taken into account. A comprehensive response from all parties in the conflict, therefore, is necessary to solve the refugee problem. One obvious root cause has been the long standing civil war in Burma. The government's counter-insurgency measures are responsible for the displacements and deterioration in the humanitarian situation. The use of civilians for porterage and surveillance duties in the military operation has also contributed to the hardship of villagers. The military's enforcement of free fire zones is also given rise to the serious human rights abuses, such as torture and extrajudicial executions. There may be some difficulty in seeing the government's activity such as taxations on populace as a legitimate root cause for the refugees' flights. However, as it has clearly been demonstrated in Sec 2.1.3 , this government policy is directly responsible for much of the poverty and insecurity of the life of local populace; and the practice of enforcing this by means of threats and intimidations have caused the displacements. These types of human rights abuses cannot be said as particularly serious enough to give immediate threat to the security of a person. But the cumulative effect of such abuses have threatened the livelihoods and caused hardships and anxieties. Such cases do not normally conform to the notion of persecution found in 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. However, these people are clearly in need of protections [58]. The majority of displaced Burmese in Thailand are generated by similar circumstances. With the viewpoint of Convention, it may be easier to establish the well founded fear of persecution for student activists and the ethnic refugees who are likely to be a close relative or in association with ethnic freedom fighters. However, people who fled from the hardships and anxieties that generated mainly by the form of oppressions described in Sec 2.1.3, or possibly Sec 2.1.2, will find difficult to prove their fear are being well founded; Rather likely that they be charged as so called `illegal and economic migrants'. Such arbitrariness to the definition of refugees had already been pointed out in Asia Watch report in 1992 [59]. Although the obvious root cause for the refugees' flights, such as the internal displacements and forced portering, are stemmed from the Burmese Army's counter insurgency campaign, the cessation of armed hostility will not, therefore, guarantee a safe return for refugees. The practice of using forced labour and collecting excessive amount of taxes from the villagers must also be rectified. Various NGOs [60] as well as opposition sources [61] have already expressed that the implementation of cease-fire alone does not provide enough safety to the return of refugees. It is concluded that the cease-fire must be implemented as the first priority and the improvement of human rights and humanitarian situation must also be made for the safe and voluntary return of refugees. 4. Armed Conflicts in Burma ============================ Concerned with the growing crisis of displaced Burmese in Thailand, the UNHCR expressed its willingness, on 21 June 1994, to assist and monitor the returnees in future repatriation. The UNHCR also stated the voluntary repatriation of Burmese refugees is possible only if all groups concerned implement a cease-fire and therefore it urged Myanmar authorities and opposition groups to work towards that end [62]. There has been armed conflicts in Burma since the time Burma gained independence from British in 1948. The armed struggle in early period evolved from the ideological differences as well as ethnic nationality problems [63]. According to the Burmese army, the multitudes of armed insurrections, in pursuasion of communist ideology as well as some ethnic groups' movement towards secession, that threatened security of the nation had been the reason for Burmese military in seizing the state power in 1962. There has been a number of attempts by previous military regime to make cease-fire with the rebels, one in 1963. These attempts failed because of Burmese military's insistence on total surrender for the rebels and refusal to make political concessions on ethnic nationality issues, i.e. to give a greater autonomy. The presense of communist rebels may also have complicated in formulating a comprehensive political settlement at that time. The ethnic nationalities' struggle for varying objectives of freedom and greater autonomy has, in time, evolved into that of establishing the federal union of Burma; the National Democratic Front was formed in May 1976 [64]. Some groups became primarily involved in narcotic trades: appearing to have been driven by the complex dynamics of underlying ethnic beliefs, political and economic factors [65]. The Communist Party of Burma army, which is the strongest force against the Rangoon central government since 1970s, split up into regional resistance armies after the Wa ethnic faction mutinied against Burman communist leaders in 1989 [66]. Following the nationwide uprising in 1988, the urban Burman pro-democracy students fled to rebel controlled areas. In November 1988, the National Democratic Front formally included Burmese students and formed the Democratic Alliance of Burma. The ethnic nationalities' struggle for a greater freedom had reached a new phase in 1991 when the elected parliamentarians, who claimed to have the mandate to form a parallel government, fled to rebel held areas and signed an agreement to form the federal union of Burma [67]. By September 1993, in an attempt to attract the ethnic freedom fighters to enter a cease-fire, the Burmese military have made a promise to adopt a federal republic style constitution [68]. This can be seen as the Burman's concessions on the issue of autonomy for the minorities. These facts suggest, for the first time in Burma's post-independent history, the ethnic nationality issues can be resolved along with the restoration of a democratic government. With the crisis in Burmese politics, as the analyst had pointed out [69], the real opportunities for the cessation of 45 year long civil war as well as the restoration of a popular government in Burma may have been coming into a reality. 5. Eliminating Root Causes =========================== As it is explained in Sec 2. and Sec 3., the armed hostilities between ethnic nationalities and the Burmese army are seen as a primary root cause for the occurrences of human rights abuses that consequently cause displacements. Therefore the priority must be given to implement a nation-wide cease-fire. For a longer term settlement, the ethnic and political issues must be resolved through constitutional reform. The ethnic nationalities' demands for greater autonomy must be realized in the form of Federal Constitution. Along with elected parliamentarians, the ethnic freedom fighters should be given appropriate political platform in drafting the constitution. The UN Committee on Human Rights should offer its help in drafting of the constitution. Measures must be made to improve the human rights situation in minority areas. Efforts should be made to reduce the oppressive activities by Local military authorities regarding forced labour and informal taxations. Arrangements must also be made for the displaced villagers to have the compensations from the Myanmar military government. The growing humanitarian crisis in Burma must also be tackled. The immediate attention should be given to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS throughout Burma, especially in minority areas. The initiatives must be made to curtail narcotic production and increasing cases of illegal drug uses. 5.1 The United Nations General Assembly: ----------------------------------------- In this UN General Assembly, the international community should strengthened the resolution regarding Burmese refugees and displaced people [70]. In particular, the UNGA should urge Myanmar government to make measures to rectify the human rights abuses in minority areas and to eliminate the root causes of the refugees' flights. The various parties in the conflict must also be urged to seek an end to civil war and to implement the nation-wide cease-fire urgently. In this UN General Assembly, the international community should recommand the deployment of a civilian peace-keeping mission to Burma. The mission should be given the mandate to monitor cease-fire and human rights; and to promote human rights and to improve humanitarian situation. The UN mission should take the " an expanded peace-keepers' role" in Myanmar/Burma [71]. A crossed-mandate approach should be made in regards to monitoring and promoting human rights [72]. The UNGA should particularly encourage Myanmar military authorities and the elected representatives to form regional working committees, which similar to {\em Reception Committee} in Arakan State, to carried out the humanitarian tasks under UN mission. The UNGA should urge Myanmar authorities to allow UN Agencies and non-governmental organizations to get free and unhindered access in delivering humanitarian assistance to the people of Myanmar through the regional working committees. All member states should be urged to refrain from providing the large-scale development assistance to Myanmar. The humanitarian and small-scale development assistance should be allowed to be given to Burma. In this UNGA, the international community should promote an appropriate legal framework that is necessary for the UN organized repatriation of Burmese refugees and displaced people. Tripartite agreements should be completed by UNHCR, Myanmar authorities and Myanmar's neighbouring governments - particularly the Royal Thai Government. These agreements must observe the {\em non-refoulment} principle. 5.2 Consolidation of Cease-fire: --------------------------------- Presently, the Burmese military had signed cease-fire agreements with 11 ethnic rebel groups. Although these cease-fire agreements are (1) made to counteract the ethnic federal movement, (2) are aimed at providing a short term solution and (3) are lacking credibility since the majority of groups entered are now engaged in the illegal drug trades; nonetheless these agreements are important. By the time a comprehensive political settlement between the Burmese army and the Democratic Alliance of Burma has been made, these existing cease-fire should be brought into line with the settlement. In this UN General Assembly, the Commission on Human Rights should recommend Myanmar Government and ethnic rebels to enter a cease-fire and to make the political settlement. Detailed plans of how to implement a cease-fire and how to maintain and monitor the cease-fire must also be worked out. Ethnic freedom fighters have been deceived, in the 1963 Peace Parley for example, with the promise of a cease-fire by the Burmese army. They are therefore cautious and fearful about entering into a cease-fire agreement with Burmese army and request the presense of international observers. The UN Agencies and major democracies should offer their presense in the implementation of a cease-fire. Furthermore, there have been concerns that once the cease-fire is implemented, the deployment of the Burmese army at strategic positions may disadvantage the ethnic rebels. These details must carefully be worked out and planned to implement the nation-wide cease-fire. It may become possible for armed opposition groups, which have genuine cause for political freedoms, to enter to the wider settlement. However, there can be difficulties with private militia. In case of the existence of such an obstacle in the nation-wide cease-fire, efforts should be made to contain such insurrection. Once a nation-wide cease-fire agreement has been implemented, the UN Security Council should impose an international arms embargo on Burma. This is particularly necessary for both ethnic rebels and the Burmese army not to arm themselves to get a greater advantage. In order to maintain stability, provisions must be made in the cease-fire agreement so that the armed forces from both sides should not defect to one another's sides. 5.2 Monitoring Human Rights: ----------------------------- In order to improve the human rights situation in minority areas, especially those bordering Thailand, the UN General Assembly should implement the recommendations of the 50th session of Commission on Human Rights [73]. Since the type of abuses occur because of weaknesses in legislative and institutional sectors, the effort to improve human rights should be aimed at building institutions for the long term. To ensure the participation of elected representatives of May 1990 in institution building tasks, the implementations of this recommendation must be made through the regional working committees. In particular, measure should be made to implement following recommendation: "(e) The Government of Myanmar should take the necessary steps to bring the acts of soldiers, including privates and officers, in line with accepted international human rights and humanitarian standards so that they will not commit arbitrary killings, rapes and confiscations of property, or force persons into acts of labour, portering, relocation or otherwise treat persons without respect for their dignity as human beings. When the hiring of local villagers for porterage and other works may be required for governmental purposes, it should be obtained on a voluntary basis and adequate wages should be paid. The nature of work should be reasonable and in accordance with established international labour standards. When relocation of villages is considered necessary for military operations or for development projects, proper consultation with the villagers should take place and appropriate compensation should be paid for those relocations which may be determined necessary for reasons of the public good;} Within the context of enforcing this recommendation, the UNCHR should recommend Myanmar authorities and also UN Agencies: (a) To promote human rights and to carry out a smooth operation for the UN Agencies, the `regional working committees' which similar to {\em Reception Committee} in Arakan State must be formed [74]. (b) A tribunal must be set-up and operate under the supervision of the United Nations. Various compensation claims: the losses of properties in having to move to concentration camps, the monies demanded by military for the loss of army's properties, etc, should be assessed by this tribunal and the military government of Myanmar give compensation to these people. Efforts should be made to initiate judicial reforms in Myanmar and UN Committee on Human Rights to offer its helps. (c) A special committee consisting of respective government ministries, the UN agencies, elected local leaders and regional army commander should be formed to determine the maximum amount of taxes that should be raised from the people. A guideline must be drawn and urge the Myanmar authorities to follow it in their taxations. The UN monitoring team should ensure that the taxation is not excessive. The respective UN agencies, such as UNDP, should offer their helps to train and restructure a proper taxation department in Burma. (d) Myanmar military government must reimburst the monies owed to the villagers along the Ye-Tavoy railway routes as well as other development projects for their contributed labour. (e) Investigations should made into the incidences of extrajudicial killings occurred within the context of military operations. Compensation must be given to those family members of those killed in such incidences. (f) All UN Agencies and non-governmental organizations must respect and promote human rights within Burma, regardless of their formal mandates and humanitarian role. 5.4 UN High Commissioner for Refugees: --------------------------------------- Presently, in Thailand there are 350,000 displaced people, 72,000 ethnic refugees and 2500 student refugees. An estimated 12,000 refugees from Kachin State are in China. Also a smaller number of refugees and displaced persons in India. Within Burma, there are estimated 800,000 internally displaced people(idp) in Karen State, 50,000 idp in Kachin State. In addition to ethnic freedom fighters, there are un-armed Burmese pro-democracy students within ethnic rebel controlled areas [75]. For such a mixed population which need similar protection and assistance as returning refugees, the UNHCR should make an innovative plan for protection. The UNHCR should broaden its mandate to protect returnees and internally displaced people. In particular, unarmed student rebels in ethnic rebel controlled area should be given `person of concern status'. In order to protect refugees and people who have higher risk of persecution, such as internally displaced people, the UNHCR should consider creating special zones, that are similar to security zones created for returning Kurds refugees in northern Iraq in 1991 [76]. In the process of creating special zones, it must be transparent by both sides not to build-up their military capacities. This kind of arrangement will be necessary until the cease-fire is consolidated. Restrictions may be imposed on students to be confined to their respective areas until the cease-fire condition is consolidated. Other detailed arrangements, such as visiting by parents and relatives to those students must also be allowed. 5.5 Humanitarian Agencies and NGOs: ------------------------------------ The humanitarian agencies and non-government organizations have been at the fore-front in advocating to increase humanitarian assistance to Burma. It is reported that the UNICEF and NGOs are now in preparation to enter Burma [77]. Regarding human rights monitoring missions, the UN Agencies have often been described as silent witness [78]. There are concerns already been expressed by NGOs for returning Burmese muslims from Bangladesh. Once the refugees have returned, the international community need to be kept informed of the returnees' situations. The NGOs should fill such an information vacuum, if the UN Agencies' mandate has limitations. The UNICEF and NGO's should make a special effort to tackle the HIV/AIDS problem in Shan State and Kachin State. Special attention should be given to Burmese women returning from Thailand. The education programs for the local population as well as the information flow from these areas, especially Shan State, will be particularly useful to co-ordinate future drug eradication programs. 5.6 UN Drug Control Programmes: -------------------------------- The increasing illicit drug production and trafficking in Shan State also needs attention. In the past, the UNDCP efforts were not yielding good results, probably because it can not operate in the whole Shan State. The main problem seems to be the difficulty to work with the local population directly. Recent human rights field reports suggest that the confiscation of villagers land has occurred within the context of UNDCP's income generation programme. Therefore, efforts must be made to avoid such incidences. SLORC's attempt to use the drug issue for its political legitimacy has been a concern to human rights groups and oppositions. The UNDCP should broaden its focus and consider promoting human rights as suggested in the guideline. Although the cease-fire situation in Shan State is believed to be fragile, the UNDCP should work closely with the regional working committees, UNICEF and NGOs. Through gradual contacts, the UNDCP should promote its drug eradication programs. 5.7 UN Trusteeship Role in Burma ? ----------------------------------- There has been increasing weariness in donor countries and the UNHCR, in particular, to meet growing needs of humanitarian emergencies throughout the globe. Although the NGOs may do their best efforts in searching for funds, it is quite impossible to get at the level of needs. A greater amount of monies will be needed when the reintegration program has started. Therefore, the UN should consider setting up a trusteeship for future development projects. At present, the currency in Myanmar is at a high rate of inflation due to government over printing of notes. However, if this situation can be brought under control, the UN should introduce a local financial institution - i.e. a Bank independent of the Military Government - for development funds, with the provision of handing-over the assets to the elected government when the UN mission is completed. This kind of arrangement will also be beneficial in the training of civil servants for banking and financial matters. 6. Towards the Reconciliations =============================== At the time of preparing this paper, it is not known whether SLORC will set a date to transfer power. One thing certain, however, is that the building of democratic institutions as well as reconstruction of national economy may have to be carried out in the immediate future. Efforts are also needed for reconciliations between the army and civilian populations as well as the Burman majority and ethnic minorities. Societies that experienced violent oppressions inevitably have left with residual tensions. It has often been the case that the fear of retribution becomes the driving force for oppressors to hold on to power. It is the very fear that has kept the present Burmese military junta holding together. Therefore, promises from the opposition forces that no retribution upon transfer of power to SLORC is necessary. One may often feel that the perpetrator of human rights abuses ought to be brought to justice. However, in the best interests of national reconciliation and in order to avoid a violent showdown, it seems worthwhile to make reconciliation. Although we must never forget about the violent past ({\em every effort must be made to prevent the military dictatorship from resurrecting}), our efforts should better be used in promoting peace and future prosperity of the nation [79]. There has been a policy dispute between the approach presented in this document and that of priority given to restoring a popular government. Although this is an obvious point that the removal of the leadership of the junta may pave the way to establish democracy, it is not necessarily the only solution. Of course, there would be far less reasons to argue this point if SLORC set the date to transfer power. However, for a country like Burma which has little experience in democratic government, there are equally important tasks of building democratic institutions and promoting greater respect for human rights. In building such institutions, national efforts with international supports are necessary. A more fundamental approach is to consider SLORC as the system of repression and the violator of human rights. Therefore, the increase in the reduction of SLORC's unlawful activities are equally as good as removing the junta's leaders. From recent developments, it is evident that the SLORC leaderships is increasingly disoriented and also losing their control on the army rank and file. It is a clear sign that the military dictatorship is breaking down in Burma. Therefore efforts must be made in order to create a new democratic political order in Burma. The strengthening of the democratic institutions and establishing the independent judiciary are more important and achievable. The curtailment of SLORC's illegal and unlawful activities can be made through external supports (and power) along with the national efforts. The returning refugees, internally displaced people and the peace-keeping mission that bring international instruments together with them must be seen as part of the strategy. In this case, the nation building tasks will be carried through by national efforts with international supports. Bonuses in this process are peace and security for normal citizens and regional stability. It is necessary to balance the efforts to improve human rights with political realities. For Burma, a country in which all forms of freedom have been severely suppressed for a long period, the improvements for human rights must be made in measured steps. At the same time the confidence building between army, ethnic nationalities and civilian oppositions should be allowed to take place. 6. Voluntary Repatriation and Confidence Building ================================================== Since displaced persons are mixed with refugees, the voluntary repatriation to Burma should be carried out in parallel with confidence building process in Burma. As the first step, the UN mission should be mandated to monitor serious forms of abuses: rape, extrajudiccial killing, torture, detention without trial; and those described in Sec 2. This step will create an environment conducive for the return of most of so called `illegal immigrants' in Thailand. These so called `illegal and economic immigrants' have lesser risk of politically motivated arrests and persecutions therefore this first step will enable them to go home. Since the majority of displaced population in Thailand are the `illegal and economic immigrants', this step need to be considered as major operation. By the time a cease-fire condition is consolidated - probably by middle of next year - the UN mission's mandate should be broadened to include freedom of expression and association ( this may not include freedom to assemble in large crowds ). This is to facilitate the populace to have free discussions for drafting constitutions and forming parties. Amnesty to all rebels, refugees and detained politicians should also be given. This step will encourage the return of the students who participated in anti-government movements and ethnic refugees who are in association with ethnic freedom fighters. These refugees are expected to repatriate as soon as the political climate within the country is improved and the process of reconciliation is in progress. The general amnesty which combined with formation of political parties has to be a primary deciding factor for those refugees to return. This step would meet with the consolidation of nation-wide cease-fire with the army and rebels. footnotes --------- [ 1] John BAdgley, "Myanmar in 1993: A watershed year", ASIAN SURVEY, Vol. XXXIV, NO. 2, February 1994. [ 2] Bangkok Post, 21 September 1994. [ 3] The New Light of Myanmar, 16 September 1994. [ 4] Country Human Rights Reports, US Department of States, February 1994. [ 5] Janelle M. Diller, "Constitutional Reform in a Repressive State: The Case of Burma", ASIAN SURVEY, Vol. XXXIII, No 4. [ 6] Far Eastern Economic Review, 20 January 1994. [ 7] Economic Intelligence Unit Country Report, 2nd quarter 1994. [ 8] This report mainly focus on the human rights abuses that produce refugees. [ 9] see Amnesty International report, "Myanmar: Human rights development July to December 1993"; ASA 16/03/94. [10] This concession, again, has been undermined by continuing detentions and renewed arrests of non-violent political activists in November 1993 and July 1994; see Amnesty document, Urgent Action AI Index: 16/08/94, 16/11/94. [11] It is a sign of present military junta's lack of moral authority upon the army rank and file. [12] Country Human Rights reports, US Department of State; February 1994. [13] Project Maje, "A Swanp Full of Lilies: Human Rights Violations Committed by Units/Personals of Burma's Army, 1992-1993, Feb.1994. [14] The four cut strategy:the military attempts to cut links of intelligence, food, money and recruit between armed opposition groups and local civilians.(see Amnesty International report, AI Index ASA: 16/11/92) [15] ( A - 1) One reliable source stated in 1993 that," The campaign is spread through Papun Sistrict in the north, through central Thaton District, to Pa-an District in the south. It is a large region about 200km north to south, forming a large crescent behind SLORC line west of Manerplaw. [16] An independent human rights group, which based in Manerplaw, have reported a series of interview by both refugees at the border and, on occasions, people from the villages inside Burma. The series of interview are available on the Internet. The names of the interviewees have been changed as a protection. [17] Karen Human Rights Group report: February 17, 1994: see testimonies of DAw Mya Thein. [18] Karen Human Rights Group report: May 26, 1994; testimony by Naw Lar Htoo. [19] There had been reports of forced labour in Loikaw-Aungbann railways in Shan State in 1991-93. Dawn news bulletin, Vol. 4 No. 5. October-November 1993. [20] This can be seen as the Burmese Army's atttempt to seek its political legitimacy: portraying itself as of having the support of masses at the same time trying to mobilize the public support for its agenda. [21] ( A - 2) Burma Update, June 24, 1994. [22] CPPSM, Committee for Publicity of Peoples' Struggle for Monland, Ye-Tavoy Railway Report, April 1994. [23] Karen Human Rights Group report: April 13, 1994; testimony by Maung Aye. [24] Karen Human Rights Group report: April 13, 1994; testimony by Hla Aye. [25] CPPSM report, April 1994. See also New Era Journal(in Burmese), No 27, August 1994. [26] re: the use of forced labour in counter-insurgeency operations. [27] Karen Human Rights Group report: June 24, 1994; testimony by Nan Thein Thein. [28] Karen Human Rights Group report: March 16, 1994; testimony by Maug Win. [29] Burma Action Group UK, "Burma and the United Nations: a roposal for constructive involvement", November 1992. [30] Karen Human Rights Group report: June 24, 1994; tesetimony by Naw Paw Paw Htoo. [31] Karen Human Rights Group report: June 24, 1994; testimony by Saw Hla Maung. [32] Karen Human Rights Group report: May 26, 1994; testimony by Saw Lah Ghay. [33] Karen Human Rights Group report: February 17, 1994; testimony by Daw Mya Thein.

[34] Karen Human Rights Group report: February 17, 1994; testimony by Htoo Htoo Mo.

[35] This appear that the army attempting to discourage the similar aggack by rebels and may also attributed to the practice of army extorting monies.

[36] Karen Human Rights Group report: April 23, 1994; testimony by Naw Say.

[37] Kare

Comprehensive Response to Refugee Problem(94)