Myanmar (Burma): The Plight of the Karen

Image of Karen people in hiding by Burma Matters Now, used with permission

The ethnic minority of the  Karen are one of the groups that have been targeted by the Burmese army in its effort to defend the military regime. The threat of the soldiers’ arrival  is enough to force migrations as the Karen people run from their homes and into hiding, carrying a few of their possessions on their backs. Burma Matters Now brings us a few videos that speak out about the plight of the Karen people.

The Karen had a part in the victory over Japan during the 2nd World War, and two war veterans speak of their experience during the war, and how, for them, the results of victory were never felt:

In this short film, two veterans in their 90s tell their story and how, for them, world war 2 was just the beginning of a drawn out bloody conflict in which their communities have been systematically and brutally devastated by the Burma Army for the last 61 years.

The military's incursions in the area are related to the existance of the Karen National Union and its armed wing the Karen National Liberation Army, however the government's Four Cuts policy of eliminating anything that might provide support to the resistance, including food, information, future recruits and resources means that villagers have to flee for their lives. The Karen villagers attempt normalcy as they hide from the soldiers. Their camps are located in the middle of jungles where it is less likely they will be discovered, and although they lack health facilities, schools, and food,  they try to survive. After all, for many, staying in their villages is not an option:

Across northern Karen state, villages are regularly targeted and burnt to the ground, including their clinics, schools, temples and churches. Typically, Burmese troops will fire mortars into the settlement before entering and shooting any remaining civilians, regardless of age or sex. They will seek out stored medicines and food stocks to destroy along with pots, pans, blankets and school materials. Complete disregard for human and civil rights allows almost total impunity to soldiers on the ground, many of which are despicable racists and sadists. Monthly, reports are received of unprovoked torture, extrajudicial killing and rape, few of which gain local media attention let alone the international coverage, due to lack of accountability or communication capacity.

These attacks, are not only towards the Karen. Most minorities in Burma face similar challenges as the military attempts to crack down on different insurgent groups:

Once insurgents in these areas are weak, the Burma Army will move in and force villagers into relocation sites under government control, where they are kept under tight travel restrictions and often forced to do perform labour duties without remuneration.

Meanwhile, areas that are not possible to take due to insurgent strength are kept in a state of chaos, via regular long-distance shelling of farms, villages and markets, the routine shooting villagers, and the blocking of key travel routes. People in these regions are effectively considered insurgents themselves, are not registered as citizens and are unable to access government services of any kind.

Some efforts are being made to bring these stories out to light: some of the footage in these videos was collected by WIN, Worldwide Impact Now, an organization which has been training members of the Karen communities so that they can report their stories in a more efficient manner. Training includes basic journalism, camera work, video editing and strategies for advocacy:

WIN has worked with people in these zones to develop specific shooting plans to document this entire process from the outbreak of conflict through to the documentation of life in hiding. We are also empowering numerous community groups with the knowledge of international human rights mechanisms to collect incident details for the United Nations.


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