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Building Local Capacity to Document Crimes Against Humanity:  Achieving Justice and Accountability in Burma

Drs. Chris Beyrer, Voravit Suwanvanichkij, and Luke Mullany
In Partnership with Richard Sollom of Physicians for Human Rights, Adam Richards of Global Health Access Program, the Chin Human Rights Organization and Sai Yee Tip of Shan Health CommitteeLife Under the Junta: Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity in Burma's Chin State

Just released:
Life Under the Junta: Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity in Burma's Chin State 
PHR report website

The approach used by the investigators lets us see the widespread and systematic nature of these abuses and the results are devastating…This report embodies the voices of Chin survivors of these atrocities and lets us hear an enslaved and brutalized population asking for assistance in the struggle for justice, for freedom, and for life itself.
- Desmond M. Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town.

Objectives: This project is designed to build local capacity and document mass atrocities in the ethnic states of Burma.  The primary aims of this project are: 1.) To produce evidence-based qualitative and quantitative documentation of alleged crimes against humanity in Burma, 2.)  To examine patterns of human rights abuses in different ethnic states of Burma and gauge whether they are widespread or sporadic, 3.) To examine the associations between these violations and health outcomes, access to health services, food insecurity and malnutrition in populations living in ethnic states of Burma.

Background and rationale:  Burma is Mainland Southeast Asia’s largest country and is home to multiple diverse ethnic groups, in addition to the majority Burmans after whom the country is named. Burma has been in conflict since independence from Britain in 1948.  A military coup in 1962 ended ethnic aspirations for autonomy, and ushered in almost five decades of continuous military rule, along with the expansion of civil conflicts in the country, particularly in Burma’s ethnic states.  In response to calls for autonomy, the Burmese military government (currently the State Peace and Development Council or SPDC) has unleashed widespread human rights abuses on civilian populations as part of their counter-insurgency strategy, central to which is the forcible transfer of populations from contested areas to those controlled by the Burmese military, or tatmadaw.  Since 1996, over 3,500 villages have been estimated to have been destroyed, forcibly relocated, or abandoned in eastern Burma, particularly in the ethnic Karen, Karenni, and Shan States, as well as Tenasserim Division, forcing almost 500,000 to live as internally displaced persons (IDPs). Abuses such as forced labor, seizure of property, destruction of food supplies, torture, rape and sexual violence against ethnic women, and extrajudicial execution have been widely documented.  These abuses have had direct, severe, deleterious impacts on the health of the ethnic peoples of Burma, and have driven millions from their country, making Burma Southeast Asia’s largest source country for refugees and, globally, the third highest source, after Iraq and Afghanistan. Reports from human rights organizations and various UN organs demonstrate that there is prima facie evidence that the ruling military junta has committed crimes against humanity.  Lacking, however, is rigorous scientific-based documentation of mass atrocities across Burma from data collected from populations of displaced persons in Burma proper, as well as in the country’s ethnic states, along borders with Thailand, Bangladesh, and India.  Such documentation could provide evidence for the widespread, systematic nature of abuses, rather than their being isolated, sporadic events, and thus support a UN Security Council referral for investigations into crimes against humanity, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

In response to these abuses and draconian censorship in Burma, local, ethnic community-based organizations (CBOs) have already been documenting the situation unfolding for Burma’s ethnic groups, including Shan, Chin, and Rohingya.  A partnership between such community-based organizations, the Center for Public Health and Human Rights, and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), will help expand such efforts, particularly in the systematic collection and analysis of data, and galvanize international advocacy efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Reports:
Stateless and Starving: Persecuted Rohingya Flee Burma and Starve in Bangladesh

Life Under the Junta: Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity in Burma's Chin State
Life Under the Junta: executive summary

Publications:
Health and Human Rights in Chin State, Western Burma: A Population-Based Assessment Using Multistaged Household Cluster Sampling

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