Fortify Rights: Burma Army Using Civilians As Forced Labor Under Threat of Death

Burma Army soldiers have forced civilians to work for them in Rakhine State, under threat of death if they do not, Fortify Rights a human rights watchdog based in South East Asia said.

Fortify Rights said that ethnic Rakhine civilians were forced to dig graves and carry supplies for Burma Army forces engaged in a conflict with the Arakan Army in a number of incidents from December 2015 to January 2016.

“The military should work closely with the NLD government and the ILO to end forced labor,” Matthew Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights said, referring to the governing party National League of Democracy and the International Labour Organisation. Mr Smith added: “The authorities will need to demonstrate that they’re prosecuting perpetrators and protecting and compensating survivors.”

Fortify Rights said it had concluded an 11-day long preliminary investigation into the use of forced labor in Kyauktaw Township, Rakhine State, and referred to one particular incident where three ethnic Rakhine men were held for 11 days, deprived of food and had their hands tied behind their backs.

“We had to carry rations and weapons. When there was fighting, we had to hide on the ground,” a 40-year-old Rakhine man was quoted in the Fortify Rights report, “We had to go wherever the soldiers went, with food or water or sometimes dried rice and other rations.”

Clashes between the Myanmar Army and Arakan Army began in April 2015, reportedly resulting in scores of casualties and displacing hundreds of ethnic Rakhine and Chin civilians.

Founded in 2009, the Arakan Army comprises an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 soldiers. It was not among the 15 ethnic armed groups invited to sign the controversial Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement—only eight armed groups signed the agreement in October 2015.

Fortify Rights said that since 2012, the Myanmar Army has reportedly used forced labor from several thousand Rohingya persons in northern Rakhine State, including children.

Fortify Rights has previously reported on Burma Army human rights abuses in Kachin and Shan State.

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