Nov 16, 2006

Karenni: Researcher Documents Abuses in Burma

A British researcher has documented human rights abuses committed against minorities in Burma, claiming they may amount to “a form of genocide”.

Below is an extract from an article written by Brian Adeba and published by Embassy, a Canadian Weekly Foreign-Policy oriented magazine

Guy Horton says the killings in east Burma is on the same scale with what Saddam Hussein did to Kurds in Iraq, and calls for sanctions on the military junta.

Everything that allows people to live is destroyed–including livestock and crops. Villages have been razed; their inhabitants forced to relocate at gunpoint. Those who resist are shot dead. Between 1996 and 2005, it is believed an estimated 2,800 villages have been destroyed, their inhabitants herded into government-built camps.

That is the horror that ethnic minorities–the Karen, Shun and Karenni–go through in eastern Burma, as the military junta that rules the country unleashes a relentless campaign of terror in the name of fighting a rebel insurgency.

Guy Horton, a British human rights researcher who has documented human rights abuses in Burma, believes there are over a million people internally displaced because of the junta's strong-arm policies.

"We think it is an attempted form of genocide," says Mr. Horton in an interview last week. "It's about similar to the Kurdish villages destroyed by Saddam."

Mr. Horton also thinks the current rulers of Burma, a military junta who renamed the country Myanmar, are carrying out a deliberate policy of "Burmanization." That, Mr. Horton says, is the process of resettling the destroyed villages with members of the Burman ethnic group, the majority of whom form the junta.

"It's not the Burman or Burmese people as a whole, it's the military junta who is responsible for that," he says.


Many reports commissioned by human rights watchdogs, including the United Nations, have blamed the junta for gross human rights abuses, a charge the government has repeatedly denied. Since 2003, the junta has refused to grant permission to the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma to visit the country.

Brian John, national coordinator for Myanmar for the Canadian branch of Amnesty International, says the human rights watchdog hasn't taken the position that the campaign against ethnic minorities in Burma is an attempt at genocide.

"But that is not to say large-scale repression is not happening," he says.

Mr. John says there's also widespread discrimination against minorities, based on religious and ethnic grounds.

Mr. Horton started documenting human rights abuses in Burma in 1999, while working in neigbouring Thailand, where he met soldiers who had defected from Burma. The soldiers told him stories of killings, rape and plunder.

"They told me they had killed people and could no longer go on killing because their conscience wouldn't allow it anymore."

The soldiers also told him stories about the wanton destruction of villages inhabited by ethnic Karens. That's when Mr. Horton decided to slip into Burma to see for himself. He visited destroyed villages, and saw people too frightened to speak to him about it for fear the military would kill them. One village he visited was burned down the next day after authorities learned he had spoken to the villagers.


Mr. Horton says it's time to impose sanctions on the regime in Burma and bring the junta to justice. Last week in Ottawa, he met officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and informed them about the human rights abuses in Burma.

"I came to ask them to explore ways which the perpetrators can be punished using international justice. ”The response was sympathetic but there was no commitment to action," he says.