On the September 26th 201l, Lanyaw Zawng Hra, the Chairman of the Kachin Independence Organization, sent a letter to Ban Ki-Moon, the General Secretary of the United Nations (UN), asking help for the Kachins to “find a solution towards ending civil war” and “achieve national reconciliation” in Burma. Waiting eagerly, the Kachins are still yet to hear a response from Mr. Ban Ki-Moon and, thus, from the UN. While the Kachins are waiting for any substantial and constructive involvement form the international communities, the Burmese government is waging multiple-fronts military operation in the Kachin State. The Burmese military is ruthlessly assaulting the Kachin civilians with inhumane brutalities such as burning down their houses, turning the churches into their military barracks, violently arresting, torturing, and killing any “suspicious” individual, and raping civilian women.
In addition, a report submitted to the UN General Assembly on October 19th 2011 by the special envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana delineates the current Kachin situation as “perilous,” and states that “little aid available” for the refugees in remote northern part of Burma. The United Nations must urgently act and respond to the suffering of the Kachin people as an organization that upholds “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.” (Preamble of UN)
Among many reasons for the United Nations to intervene the current atrocities violated against the Kachin people by the Burmese military government, I would like to submit my appeal on the basis that the Kachins’ cause is fundamentally a struggle of the vanishing indigenous people for their existence and autonomy.
The UN should involve in the Kachin situation because it “has an important and continuing role to play in promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.” (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly Resolution A/61/L.67) The Kachins are the indigenous people of the land currently divided by the political geographies namely — India, Burma and China. They were independent people until the British colonized their land and, thereafter, forced to exist as “ethnic minority” in Burma. The Kachin people (Apprx. 1-2 millions) are scattered and divided due to colonization and dispossession of their land, and resources by the dominating nations. Thus, they are devoid of their inherent collective rights, or the right to self-determination of the people, which is “indispensable for their existence, well-being and integral development as a people.”
From the onset of Independent Burma, the successive government has undertaken on-going actions that have aims or effects of depriving the distinct ethnic or cultural identity of the Kachins, and dispossessing them of their land and resources. First, the government of Burma declared Buddhism as a state religion and targeted ethnic groups like the Kachins among whom 95 percent or more are Christians. The policy, in turn, became one of the factors that spurred the armed struggle and formation of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). In a way to obstruct their practice of cultural traditions and customs, for instance, the government continually bans constructing the Kachin traditional dancing field (Manau Wang). Second, the Burmese government encouraged the intermarriage between the government (Burmese) soldiers and Kachin women and, thus, perpetrated a forced assimilation. Third, the government continually undertakes an action of forced population transfer by conducting strategic plans to increase the population of other ethnic groups such as the Burmese majority (Bamas) in the Kachin State.
Fourth, the Burmese government continually carries out the opium war against the Kachins by collaborating with the opium kingpins to supply uncontrolled amount of drugs in the Kachin State. Last, but not least, without “free, prior and the informed consent” of the Kachin people, the Burmese government is exploiting the Kachinland. For example, there is a relentless export of timber to China from the Kachin State. Moreover, another well-known instance is also the construction of the dams on the Irrawaddy river in the Kachin Sate to satiate Chinese energy need. Through the use of forced assimilation and forced population transfer, planned opium war, and denigration of their cultural territory, Burmese government is committing a slow and systematic ethnic cleansing.
Moreover, the UN must involve in Kachin situation because the current unbridled military operation against the Kachin is not just an internal problem or civil war in Burma. It is a systematic violent against ethnic other prone for genocide and large scale ethnic cleansing. The government military is waging an unjust war by using its excessive force and brutal treatment toward Kachin civilian population. As I write this article, civilian casualties are growing in number daily. The Burmese government’s offensive multiple-fronts military operation targets not only the KIA, but also the Kachin people as a whole.
The KIA currently remains as the last defensive stand for the struggle of the vanishing ethnic minority. Far from the negative portrayals of them by the Burmese military government, the KIA is well-respected and endorsed by the Kachins. First, the majority of the growing Internally Displace Persons (IDPs), estimated over 30,000, are now taking shelter in Laiza, the headquarters city of the KIA. Why are there so many Kachin IDPs taking refuge in Laiza if they are insurgents or rebels? If a referendum of the Kachins were to take place today, the KIA will inevitably acquire more than a majority votes from the people. In fact, the KIA is using all of its resources available to provide humanitarian assistance to the Kachin refugees. Second, the KIA is mainly conducting a defensive war against the Burmese army. All the battles occur in the Kachin State and part of the Shan State (formerly Kachin Sub-State). While the Burmese soldiers are turning the villages and cities of the Kachin into war zones, the KIA refrains from committing any violent act against the civilian population. Third, the recent letter to the United Nations by its political wing KIO indicates their political will to pursue meaningful dialogue by peaceful means and actions. The KIA, after all, embodies the struggle of the repressed indigenous people in which it strives to secure “free and equal rights” for the Kachin people and to resist the “unequal development” in Burma.
In sum, the UN should involve because the Kachins’ cause is fundamentally the struggle of the indigenous people whose existence is threatened by clear and present danger, the Burmese military government dominated by racial imperialists. The UN has historically stood against such inhumane atrocities and violence committed to the indigenous and ethnic minorities. However, it is not enough to react to the issues when it is over or too late. It is time for the UN to put its purpose in action, that is “to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace” in the Kachinland. Particularly in the Kachin case, the UN should be for something more so than against something. To be for something here means to acknowledge the rights to the self-determination and autonomy of the Kachins, and to involve for the implementation of free and independent Kachinland by all its peaceful means.
The ethnic issues, such as the Kachin issue, should no longer be considered as secondary issues in dealing with Burma. Since, there is no peace in Burma without peace in the lands of ethnic minorities. The Kachins are immensely counting on the leadership and intervention of the UN. Mr. Ban Ki-Moon should kindly consider the request from the Mr. Lanyaw Zawng Hra and respond realistically concerning the role of the UN for the Kachins’ cause. My sincere intention is the Kachin people to have a realistic and feasible expectation from the UN in their struggle for the survival and autonomy. Quoting the American statesman Dean Acheson, Ban Ki-Moon rightly states that “today, we (UN) find ourselves at an equally exciting moment, no less critical to the future of humankind. We, too, are present at a new creation” (“New Direction for the UN,” Project Syndicate). The new creation of the independent Kachinland will be no less exciting moment of history in which the United Nations can be rightfully present.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect kachinlandnews’s policy.