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Govt, military have ‘weaponised aid’, says rights group

Amy Smith (L), David Baulk (C), La Rip (R), launch the Fortify Right's report "They Block Everything." (Photo: DVB)

The government is willfully imposing restrictions on aid access to tens of thousands of Kachin civilians in Burma’s north, a report released today revealed.

After collecting evidence for five years across Kachin State and northern Shan State international human rights group Fortify Rights says the Burmese government and military is denying humanitarian aid, particularly access to food, healthcare, shelter water and sanitation.

“More than seven years into the war, the world has failed to stand up,” Fortify Right’s Burma specialist David Baulk said at the launch of the “They block everything” report.

He called on the government to simplify the travel authorisation process and to immediately allow aid unfettered access to civilians displaced by the civil war across Kachin State, describing it as an “easy win” for the government.

From 2017 to July 2018 the government unconditionally approved only approximately five percent of 562 travel authorizations to assist displaced populations in government-controlled areas of Kachin State. Even fewer requests for Kachin Independence Army (KIA) controlled areas were given the green light.

More than 100,000 Kachin civilians have been internally displaced in more than 140 sites in Kachin and neighbouring Shan State.

The reports’s findings, which included visits to more than 20 displacement camps between 2013 and 2018, the government’s travel authorization process for aid groups was characterised by onerous and vague measures with undue delays or complete obstruction of humanitarian operations.

When asked if the government had been open to meeting with the human rights group, Baulk stated simply that engagement has been “regrettable,” and that it was felt the government “doesn’t want to hear what we [Fortify Rights] had to say.”

Threats of violating Article 17 (1) of the Unlawful Associations Act for delivering aid in areas under the KIA which the government has called a “terrorist group” were frequently cited by local aid groups attempting to provide aid to displaced groups.

In light of the mass restrictions Baulk added, “local groups are taking the burden upon themselves to work in a clandestine way to deliver aid.”

The report echoes finding in the UN Fact-finding report released on August 27 that called for top generals to face prosecution for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan state. The report was the most strongly worded report released by the UN yet which states that imposing restrictions on aid fails to meet Burma’s obligations under international law.

Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights pointed out that although Burma is not a signatory under the Rome Statute, “it doesn’t mean that routes are closed to the International Criminal Court”.

She called on the international community to leverage their donor communities and not to stop providing aid to the situation in the north. If the interest decreased she emphasised this could “undermine the will of the government to take issue.”