Home to over one hundred ethnic groups, Burma is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse countries. However, throughout decades of civil war, ethnic minority groups have been marginalised by the ruling military regime, and now thousands are displaced and facing severe insecurity.
The transition to a quasi-civilian government in 2011 brought much international acclaim and optimism, yet behind a public façade of reform, the Burmese army still holds a great amount of power and influence in internal affairs.
In Kachin and northern Shan States, there has been an escalation in conflict and human rights violations since 2011 with Burmese military offensives against ethnic minorities resulting in the displacement of approximately 401,000 civilians and the destruction of over 400 villages. In Rakhine State, ongoing human rights abuses carried out by Burmese authorities against the Muslim Rohingya population has led to over 740,000 fleeing to Bangladesh since August 2017.
In areas where ceasefires have been signed, the Burmese Army is increasing and consolidating its presence leading to ongoing insecurity and fear amongst the local population. International companies are moving in to exploit natural resources without proper consultation or compensation for local communities, causing further displacement and destruction of livelihoods.
Despite the ongoing atrocities, international funding is increasingly being funnelled through the Government and its approved NGOs. As a result, ethnic community-based organisations are facing dramatic cuts to their funding. These local organisations have been a lifeline for persecuted and disenfranchised communities for decades, providing access to healthcare and education, as well as becoming one of the main conduits through which ethnic minorities are able to make their voices heard.
Unfortunately, armed attacks in Northern Shan State escalated in mid-August 2019 by use of heavy artillery and landmines in Kyaukme, Nam San, Hsipaw, Kutkai, Lashio townships and along Pyi Htaung Su main road, which are in close proximity to civilians.
In April 2020, the military bombed villages in Paletwa Township in Chin State, killing civilians and destroying homes and churches. There are also reports of escalating attacks against the majority-Buddhist Rakhine peoples.
HART welcomes the announcement of a four-month ceasefire by the military from 10 May until 31 August in order to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, we understand that the ceasefire does not apply to Rakhine and Chin States, where the conflict is most intense. Even in ethnic areas where a ceasefire has been in place for almost a decade, ethnic and religious tensions prevail.
To find out more, please read our visit reports (available to download below).