Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of guns firing or bombs exploding. Fearing for your life and the safety of your family, you flee your house and run into the nearby jungle. You find your way to a camp for displaced people, but life there is not better than the jungle. This is what life is like in the Kachin region of Burma, the northern portion of the country, which borders China and India. The area is rich in jade, sugar, and hydroelectric power, and is the center of ethnic conflict in Burma.
In March, we received a report from Columban Fr. Eamon Sheridan, our central Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Coordinator, regarding his visit to refugee camps in Burma. He alerted us to the unstable living conditions the internally displaced refugees encounter, such as 46 teenagers sharing one housing unit. Thankfully, Fr. Eamon did acknowledge that there are peace talks occurring, but there is still much violence in Burma, and a widespread sense of fear among the people.
The Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand reported in October 2011 that women and children are victims of rape and sexual violence by members of the military in Burma in the Kachin state. The Human Rights Watch report, “Untold Miseries: Wartime Abuses and Forced Displacement in Burma’s Kachin State,” illustrates that since June 2011, the government of Burma has blocked humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of displaced civilians. In addition, the report found evidence of rape by government soldiers. While Burma has established a National Human Rights Commission, the chair, Win Mra, has commented that the commission would not look into accusations of abuse in Burma’s ethnic armed conflict area because of the government’s efforts to negotiate ceasefires. Approximately 75,000 Kachin civilians have been displaced since June. These Burma citizens are prisoners in their own nation.
On April 1, Burma held a by-election (a special election held in between regularly scheduled elections), which was freer from violence than many in their recent history. The election resulted in the Nobel Prize winner and democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, winning a seat in parliament. A large number of her fellow party members of the National League for Democracy won parliamentary seats, also. This is one step in an extensive process Burma is implementing to create reform in the country.