Kachin Displaced Face Humanitarian Crisis

The Kachin conflict, now in its third year, has left tens-of-thousand of displaced civilians without adequate access to health care. A community-based-organisation working with the displaced civilians warned in an interview with Karen News that the health situation is worsening.

The Kachin Women’s Association Thailand are concerned that the situation for internally displaced civilians has reached a “crisis” point.

“We have 6 nurses for 4,000 people. We are facing a health crisis,” Jessica Nkhum, from KWAT, said in an interview. “The nurses can’t get any rest, they are practically working 24 hours [non-stop].”

Mrs Nkhum told Karen News that women and children are dying because of the lack of available health care.

“There is a general lack of all medicines, but our nurses have to treat wide-ranging diseases from pneumonia and tuberculosis to health complications from pregnancies. Women are giving birth in unsanitary conditions, risking both their health and the health of the child.”

Mrs Nkhum said the camps are inadequately prepared to deal with health needs of so many displaced people.

“People in the camps are frightened and some are dying because of the lack of healthcare. If people from the West saw what these people endure they would be shocked.”

The Kachin conflict started in June 2011, breaking a 17-year ceasefire between the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), its armed wing the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and the government. Beginning with small-scale skirmishes, the conflict escalated drawing in thousands of soldiers, and the government deploying helicopter gunships, heavy artillery and jet fighters.

KWAT figures listed that 78,225 civilians were displaced by the conflict and were living in 67 camps in KIA controlled territory. The UNHCR estimates that more than 100,000 civilians are displaced in Kachin State, including in government held territory.

Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, a South East Asia based human rights watchdog, said that the conditions for IDPs were worsening.

“The displaced are going into the fourth consecutive cold season living under difficult conditions and the more remote camps still lack adequate provisions, including medications and health care,” he said.

Mr. Smith accused the government of perpetrating war crimes.

“There’s been no accountability for abuses by the Tatmadaw against civilians and a variety of abuses we’ve documented would amount to war crimes. Abuses are ongoing.” Mr. Smith said, referring to a term for the Burma Army.

A 2014 report by Fortify Rights accused the government of committing “war crimes” in Kachin State and documented the torture and abuse of civilians by the Burma Army, Military Intelligence and the Police, from June 2011 to April 2014, using 78 first-hand accounts.

Some of those interviewed reported being beaten with bamboo sticks, metal rods and rifle butts, with some forced to lick up pools of their own blood, one was shot in the head during an escape attempt and survived. In another case, Burma Army soldiers forced detainees to have sexual intercourse with each other.

Mr. Smith urged the international community to intervene.

“The international community needs to understand the gravity of what’s happening in Kachin and Shan states. We’re talking about several consecutive years of war crimes, layered on top of a longer legacy of abuse. The international community should support an independent international inquiry into the abuses, insist upon respect for the laws of war, and support the many human rights defenders working to change the situation.”

In a January report, the Women’s League of Burma, a coalition of 13 women’s organizations, that includes KWAT, accused the Burma Army of raping more than 100 women since 2011 – including 47 gang rapes, the majority of which were in areas of armed conflict. The WLB also said that 28 of the women died from their injuries or were killed after being raped.

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