Indepentment investigation for missing Khumi Chin: Interview with Rachel Fleming

Written by Chinland Guardian
Published in Interviews

24 June 2015 — Ling Min, a Khumi Chin from Pyin So village where the Burma Army and the Arakan Army clashed, has been missing since late March and it is alleged that he might have been abducted. Regarding his disappearance, the Chinland Guardian interviews Rachel Fleming, CHRO’s Advocacy Director.

Chinland Guardian: Why are the Arakan Army fighting in Chin State?
Rachel Fleming: In a Reuters media interview, General Nyunt Htun Aung, the second in command of the Arakan Army, said that the AA opened up a new Western front as a way of putting pressure on the government to include it among ethnic armed groups engaged in peace talks. [Source:] Hardline Arakan nationalists would like to claim Paletwa to be part of Arakan State, even though the majority of the population self-identify as Khumi and Mara Chin.

Chinland Guardian: Aren’t these very serious allegations you are making against the Arakan Army?
Rachel Fleming: We have documented evidence of serious human rights abuses committed by both parties to this conflict. The Arakan Army detained Khumi Chin civilians, and ordered them to perform forced labour, including digging a grave and burying the dead body of a Burma Army Captain. At the same time, we also documented human rights violations by the Burma Army in the lead-up to the conflict, including the recruitment of child soldiers and also forced recruitment, which is a form of forced labour. Ordinary Khumi Chin civilians are the ones bearing the brunt of this conflict.

Chinland Guardian: What happened to Ling Min, who you allege may have been abducted by the Arakan Army?
Rachel Fleming: We don’t know exactly, which is why there must be an independent, impartial investigation to determine what happened to him. Circumstantial evidence points to the Arakan Army, as they detained 8 other villagers at the same spot, and ordered other villagers to perform forced labour. Also, the Burma Army soldiers were positioned in the village for the duration of the fighting, in sight of the villagers, so they do not believe that the Burma Army is responsible. If the Arakan Army are holding Ling Min, they should release him immediately. Under international humanitarian law, each party to the conflict must take all feasible measures to account for persons reported missing as a result of armed conflict, and to provide their family members with information it has on their fate.

Chinland Guardian: Who should investigate his disappearance?
Rachel Fleming: As a first step, the police should launch a search for Ling Min. There also needs to be an independent, impartial investigation to determine what happened to him. In the first instance, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission should do this, in accordance with best practice guidelines produced by the International Committee of the Red Cross. [Source: Best practice guidelines are outlined by the International Committee for the Red Cross in The Missing and Their Families: Action to resolve the problem of people unaccounted for as a result of armed conflict or internal violence and to assist their families, December 2003, ICRC, ref: 03/IC/10] That includes making sure that his family are kept fully informed at every step of the way. They have a right to know what happened to him.

Chinland Guardian: There has been criticism of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission in the past. Are they up to the job of investigating?
Rachel Fleming: We are well aware of the limitations of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, and have called for the enabling legislation to be amended, in order for the Commission to operate independently, impartially, and effectively. However, in this case we believe that an investigation by the MNHRC would be better than one conducted by the Burma Army, as they are a party to the conflict.

Chinland Guardian: What should the Arakan Army do?
Rachel Fleming: As a party to the conflict, the Arakan Army has legal obligations to protect civilians under international humanitarian law. Arbitrary detention, abusive forced labour, and enforced disappearance are expressly prohibited under international humanitarian law. If the Arakan Army are holding Ling Min, they should release him immediately. The AA should investigate these alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice in open civilian court, regardless of rank or position. We are also calling on the AA to sign and implement the Geneva Call deeds of commitment, including banning the use of anti-personnel landmines.

Note: The other deeds of commitment cover protecting children in armed conflict, and prohibiting sexual violence and gender discrimination.

Chinland Guardian: Has the government of Chin State taken any action regarding the conflict, and help for the victims?
Rachel Fleming: Chin State Minister for Forestry and Mining U Kyaw Nyein delivered 4 million kyats in assistance to the IDPs, but that has run out already. U Kyaw Nyein promised the IDPs that the State government will take action to help them go back peacefully. But to date, nothing has been done to ensure the IDPs’ safety. Kyaw Nyein urged the IDPs to return to Pyin So soon. The IDPs have also faced pressure to return from Paletwa Township Administration Officer Han Win Aung. He told the IDPs, “If you don’t go back very soon, your villages will be expelled from Kyway village tract and you will have problems regarding your National Registration Cards and family registration documents under the department of home affairs and immigration.” He warned the villagers that would be a particular problem for them, in light of the upcoming elections. Such threats and pressure breaches international standards on the treatment of displaced persons, including those provided by the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

Chinland Guardian: Ling Min’s family as well as the villagers must be deeply affected by his disappearance.
Rachel Fleming: Ling Min’s disappearance has caused huge anguish to his family and to the Pyin So community as a whole. We are calling on the police to launch a search for him. There also needs to be an independent, impartial investigation to determine what happened to him, and his family must be kept fully informed at every step of the way. They have a right to know what happened to him. Those responsible must also be held accountable.

Another practical way we can help the family and the community as a whole is to support them with their immediate and longer-term needs. They need food, medical care, and medicines. In the longer term the IDPs are very concerned about their children’s education and have already started to construct a school out of bamboo in the IDP camp. But they have no teachers.

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