Effects of Oppression

Rebel troops scout road before escorting displaced villagers across, April 2007

When Myanmar’s current government came to power, it signed a number of cease-fire agreements with various rebel groups. However, as of 2007, violence between the government and several rebel groups continued, often leaving civilians trapped in the middle.

The fighting between the rebel groups and the government has severely disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of ethnic minority people in Myanmar.

IDPs fleeing to Kayah State from the State Peace and Development Council’s restrictions, June 2007

For example, the fighting has created a severe refugee crisis:

  • In 1991 and 1992, 250,000 Muslims fled into Bangladesh to escape repression in the northern state of Rakhine.
  • Between 1996 and 2001, more than 300,000 ethnic Shan civilians and 20,000-30,000 ethnic Karenni villagers also fled their homes to escape human rights violations by the military.
  • Since 1996, 2,800 villages have been destroyed (usually burned), relocated en mass, or abandoned due to conflict.
  • As of late 2005, there were 540,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in eastern Myanmar alone.

Large scale movements of people involve numerous hardships, but in Myanmar, for many fleeing villagers, there is the added danger of passing into "free fire" zones where the military is instructed to shoot anyone on sight, whether the person is a suspected rebel or not.

UN Special Rapporteur to Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro

"Free fire" zones are not the only danger civilians face. Many of the government’s counterinsurgency operations specifically target civilians. In one such operation in Karen state, Human Rights Watch reported that 31 civilians were summarily executed and evidence of other abuses such as torture and looting was prevalent. In another campaign in Karen state, the largest in Myanmar in the last 10 years, tens of thousands of civilians were displaced and 232 villages destroyed. The UN Special Rapporteur to Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, described theses operations as systematic attacks on civilians by the government, claiming that "terrorizing or displacement of civilians is often part of a deliberate strategy."

Unfortunately, as of 2007, the broad and systematic attacks on minorities in Myanmar had not subsided. Amnesty International reported that more than 16,000 Karenni villagers were displaced in 2006.

Many of these refugees and IDPs fled their homelands because of forced labor. The military, in trying to root out rebel groups, often forces civilians into either portering or helping with the construction of roads and bridges to allow the military access to remote regions of the country. In the context of forced labor, various human rights violations occur, such as rape, extrajudicial killing, and torture.

Gkroo Kee villagers forced to porter thatch shingles to a military camp, May 2007
A Personal Story

A forced labor survivor described an all-too-common occurrence for minorities forced to porter for the military. He spoke of Ana, a 25 year-old male from an ethnic minority:
"The Burmese tied his hands and told him to carry a mortar but he couldn’t do it. So the soldiers started kicking him. They kicked him on his arms and back, initially several soldiers, later only one. After he was already dead, his body was thrown over the mountain ledge."

Source: Amnesty International Report 2007, Myanmar

What would you do if you knew your government was willing to force you into labor, drive you from your home, or shoot you on sight, even if you were not rebelling against it?

Aside from having to flee their homes, what other types of hardships do you think refugees have to deal with?

Amnesty International: MYANMAR, Torture of Ethnic Minority Women
Burma Peace Foundation: Dossier on Forced Labour
Human Rights Watch: They Came and Destroyed Our Village Again, June 2005
Nation/World: Myanmar's ethnic minorities endure decades of brutality from the military junta
Spiegel Online: The Silent Genocide of Myanmar
US State Department: Burma