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For Immediate Release

Human Rights Violations Continue in Burma’s Karen State Despite Announcements of Political Reforms

Cambridge, MA - 08/27/2012

Even as Burma’s central government institutes political reforms, the Burmese army continues to routinely violate the human rights of ethnic minorities in Karen State, PHR reported today, citing findings from a field survey conducted earlier this year.

PHR’s report – Bitter Wounds and Lost Dreams: Human Rights Under Assault in Karen State, Burma – provides a snapshot of ongoing abuses against Karen people and communities in the country’s mountainous eastern region bordering Thailand, where the army has been battling insurgent groups for decades.

“Despite many positive changes underway in Rangoon, the international community must not forget about ethnic minority groups in Burma’s rural and border areas,” said PHR Burma Project Director Bill Davis. “This survey demonstrates that even with political reforms and discussions of a ceasefire, human rights violations by the Burmese army remain a constant threat for too many families in Karen State.”

Nearly one-third of the families surveyed reported having experienced human rights violations, including being forcibly evicted from their homes, being forced to work for the army, and being physically attacked — sometimes even tortured or raped. The research showed a much stronger incidence of human rights violations in territory controlled by the Burmese army than in areas where insurgent groups were actively striving for control.

“As observers of the peace negotiations in Karen State hope for a ceasefire, we must remember that an end to hostilities does not necessarily lead to an end to human rights violations,” said Davis. “Any agreement to lay down arms must also include provisions that target the foundations of violence, such as greater political participation and mechanisms to hold accountable the people who violate human rights.”

The PHR survey indicated that people who lived near a mine, pipeline, hydroelectric dam, or other economic development project promoted by the Burmese government were significantly more likely to have experienced a human rights violation. People living near such projects were almost eight times more likely to have been forced to work for the army and over six times more likely to have been uprooted or had restrictions placed on their travel.

“These findings are especially timely considering the US Administration’s decision to allow US companies to invest in Burma with minimal protections to prevent human rights violations,” said PHR Washington Director and Chief Policy Officer Hans Hogrefe. “The correlation between development projects and human rights violations should send a sobering message to those in the US government that an influx of investment without strict accountability for abusers will worsen the human rights situation in Burma.”

About the Report

PHR’s research team trained 22 surveyors from five partner organizations who surveyed 665 households in 88 villages in Karen State in January 2012. The survey, conducted in two local languages, consisted of 93 questions covering human rights abuses, health indicators, food availability, and access to health care between January 2011 and January 2012.

PHR is indebted to the Karen community organizations that continue to work to fulfill the right to health of people in eastern Burma; to the dedicated surveyors who collected the information; and especially to the Karen families who shared their experiences for this report.

The report’s findings are part of an ongoing project to document human rights violations in Burma. In January 2011, PHR released Life Under the Junta: Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity in Burma’s Chin State, which focused on abuses in Chin State in western Burma.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

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