Shan Human Rights Foundation

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May - 2012

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COMMENTARY: Forced Labour
Earlier this month, there was news about the commander-in-chief of the Burmese army telling the ILO’s Governing Body’s Chairperson that Burmese army personnel suspected of using forced labour would be prosecuted under civilian law because, like all other persons, they were similarly covered by the law concerning forced labour.
Although it seemed to be, as the ILO’s Liaison Officer in Burma put it, “an indication that the military has fully accepted equal responsibility to work within the framework of Burmese laws”, a more careful observation would perhaps indicate otherwise.
Such a policy may sound good, but it is difficult to see how it can be implemented. It seems more like a scheme of the military to evade responsibility and at the same time protect its members from having to face other legal actions.
First, it will put the military in a position to avoid having to use military regulations to take punitive actions against its own members for offences which it does not recognise as such.
Second, it will put its members in a position where they are already protected, e.g., by the Constitution, and by the assertion that people willingly offer their free labour, and hence there is no forced labour.
However, whatever the concerned officials have said over the years, there has so far been little change on the ground.
The use of civilian forced labour, both systematically and randomly, by the Burmese military in Shan State is still rampant and the perpetrators still enjoy impunity.
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CONTENTS:--
(Note: This month’s newsletter contains mainly reports on various types of forced labour, and a few cases of beating and extortion, systematically and randomly imposed upon the people by the Burmese military authorities and their cronies in Shan State, that took place during the second half of 2011)

Themes & Places of Violations reported in this issue
*    Beating in Murng-Kerng
*    Forced Portering in Murng-Kerng, Murng-Paeng, Kun-Hing and Kae-See
*    Other Types of Forced Labour in Nam-Zarng, Lai-Kha, Murng-Pan, Murng-Ton and Murng-Nai
*    Extortion in Murng-Kerng

ACRONYMS:
LIB = Light Infantry Battalion (e.g. LIB246 = Light Infantry Battalion No. 246)
IB = Infantry Battalion
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SITUATION OF FORCED PORTERING
Many months after the nominally civilian Burmese government came to power, the use of unpaid civilian forced porters by the Burmese army troops in Shan State was still frequent and widespread.
Virtually all the Burmese military patrols that roamed the rural areas of Shan State forcibly conscripted villagers to serve as unpaid guides and porters, often for several days at a time.
They also often forcibly took villagers’ livestock and other property and forced civilian porters to carry them, and were quick to find fault with and beat up the villagers.
The following are some such instances that took place during the period from mid to the end of 2011:


VILLAGERS FORCED TO SERVE AS PORTERS, VILLAGE LEADER BEATEN, LIVESTOCK EXTORTED, IN MURNG-KERNG

In December 2011, 5 villagers were forced to serve as unpaid porters for several days, a village headman was severely beaten up and chickens were extorted from the villagers by the Burmese army troops of LIB514 in Yaang Loi and Murng Khun village tracts in Murng-Kerng township.
On 9 December 2011, a patrol of about 40 Burmese army troops from LIB514 came to Yaang Loi village in Yaang Loi village tract and conscripted 5 villagers to serve as unpaid porters and go with them as they patrolled the areas of Yaang Loi and Murng Khun village tracts in Murng-Kerng township.
On 11 December 2011, the said Burmese military patrol came to Paang Law village in Murng Khun village tract, Murng-Kerng township, and stopped for the night at a public pavilion of the village’s Buddhist monastery.
During the night, some of the Burmese troops secretly went around the village and stole many villagers’ chickens. In the morning, the villagers whose chickens had been stolen told their village headman about it and they together went to the military commander and complained about it.
The commander, whose name was said to be Aung Thein, however, not only denied the villagers’ accusation but accused them of trying to defame the Burmese military and punished them. The village headman was severely beaten 4 times with a stick and the villagers were forced to provide 8 viss (1 viss = 1.6 kg) of chickens within 2 hours.
If the demanded chickens were not provided in time, the Burmese troops said they would take a cow instead. But the villagers managed to give the chickens to the troops before the time was up and the troops left the village, with the chickens adding to the weight of the porters’ shoulder loads.
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ROUTINE FORCED PORTERING IN MURNG-PAENG
From early up to late 2011, villagers of Murng Pu Long village tract in Murng-Paeng township were routinely conscripted to serve as unpaid porters by the patrols of Burmese army troops from IB43 and LIB314.
Starting from April up to late 2011, patrols of Burmese army troops from IB43, based in Murng-Paeng, had routinely conscripted villagers from the 12 villages in Murng-Pu Long village tract to serve as unpaid porters as they routinely patrolled up and down the areas along the east of Salween river.
The main purpose of the Burmese troops was said to be to provide security for the logging companies and their workers that were cutting teak and other hardwood in Murng Pu Long village tract area, and that meant regularly patrolling the area.
As they went up and down along the river several times a month, the Burmese troops forced the villagers in the areas to carry rice and other foodstuff, and cooking materials every time. Several porters were needed each time for about 5-7 days.
In late 2011, a contingent of about 150 Burmese army troops from LIB314, based in Kaeng-Tung, were sent to replace IB43 and were stationed at 2 places, at Wan Tong and Si Paw villages, both in Murng Pu Long village tract.
The troops of LIB314 continued to do the same as those of IB43, conscripting villagers to serve as unpaid porters several times a month and several days each time. Up to the end of 2011, when this report was received, the Burmese troops were still taking civilian porters as before.
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RANDOM FORCED PORTERING IN KUN-HING
Until late 2011, Burmese army troops in Kun-Hing township were still frequently seizing villagers to serve as unpaid porters where and whenever they wanted them, often causing serious trouble for those who needed to work for their survival.
On 3 October 2011, a patrol of about 30 Burmese army troops from IB246 came to Naa Khaa Awn village in Ngaa Teng village tract in Kun-Hing township and seized 3 male villagers to serve as unpaid porters.
The 3 villagers were forced to carry several things, including food stuff which the Burmese troops had forcibly taken from many villages, e.g., chickens, vegetables, cooking oil, canned meat, seasoning powder and salt, etc., back to the military base in Kun-Hing town.
On 11 October 2011, a patrol of less than 30 Burmese troops from the same IB246 seized 2 villagers of Wo Long village who were going to their farms and forced them to go with the patrol to serve as unpaid porters.
The 2 villagers were going to gather some peanut and cucumbers at their farms to bring back and sell at a  village fair to support their families. But they were forced by the Burmese troops to serve the military, causing them to miss a good opportunity to sell their farm produce.
On 16 October 2011, 4 villagers of Wan Phaai village in Wan Phaai village tract in Kun-Hing township were also seized and forced to serve as unpaid porters by a patrol of Burmese army troops form LIB524.
The 4 villagers were forced to carry foodstuff and other military things and go with the patrol along the east banks of the Nam Paang river until they reached the area of Naa Sae village near Kun-Hing town.
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MASS FORCED PORTERING IN KAE-SEE
In mid 2011, about 40 villagers of Nawng Sawm and Wan Phurng villages in Nawng Sawm village tract in Kae-See township were forcibly conscripted to serve as unpaid porters by the Burmese army troops of IB9, IB286 and 55th Division.
On 10 July 2011, the Burmese army troops from the said military units came by military trucks to Nawng Sawm village in Nawng Sawm village tract in Kae-See township and forcibly conscripted 20 villagers to serve as unpaid porters.
On the same day, the Burmese troops seized 17 more villagers at Wan Phurng village, also in Nawng Sawm village tract, to serve as unpaid porters. After that, all the porters were put on several military trucks and taken away towards the area of Wan Hai village tract in the same township.
The situation of the porters after they were conscripted and trucked away was not available because the eyewitnesses who brought the information fled the area just one day after the incident and reached the border with Thailand a few days later.
According to those local villagers, IB9 and IB286 were based in Murng Nawng village tract in Kae-See township and they were the ones who helped Burmese troops from other units, sent in from other areas to fight the Shan resistance troops, to conscript not only civilian porters but also vehicles such as motorcycles, mini-tractors, cars and trucks.
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SITUATION OF FORCED LABOUR IN BUILDING AND MAINTAINING INFRASTRUCTURE
The systematic as well as random use of unpaid civilian forced labour in building and maintaining infrastructure, especially roads and military establishments, by the Burmese army troops and their cronies is still rampant in Shan State.
Up until the end of 2011, many months after the establishment of the nominally civilian government, the Burmese troops in many places in Shan State were still frequently using civilian forced labour with impunity.
The following are some such incidents:


VILLAGERS FORCED TO BUILD FENCES AROUND MILITARY CAMP IN NAM-ZARNG

During November and December 2011, Burmese army troops manning a military camp at Paang Nim Kung Pao village in Paang Nim Kung Pao village tract in Nam-Zarng township forced the local villagers to build 3 layers of fences around the camp.
On 1 November 2011, the said Burmese troops issued an order requiring villagers of Paang Nim Kung Pao and surrounding villages to build 3 layers of fences around the military camp at Paang Nim Kung Pao village.
The outermost layer of the fences was required to be built with bamboo spikes pointing outwards at close intervals. The middle layer was a simple bamboo picket fence and the innermost layer had to be a lumber picket fence.
The fences, especially the inner layer, to which 2x1-inch lumber planks had to be nailed at 2-inch intervals, were so tedious and time consuming to build that they took the villagers many weeks to complete.
The villagers had to use their tools to work and provide their own food during those weeks. Although they had to work at the military camp, they received no assistance from the Burmese troops, not even a cup of drinking water, said the villagers.
Furthermore, this particular forced labour, e.g., the construction of fences, was imposed on the villagers in addition to other already existing routine types of forced labour in the maintenance of the military camp, causing more difficulties for them to find time to work for their livelihood.

MASS FORCED LABOUR USED IN CLEARING THE SIDES OF ROADS IN LAI-KHA

During November and December 2011, villagers of Naa Poi village tract in Lai-Kha township were forced en masse to clear the sides of roads for many weeks by the Burmese military authorities and members of a Shan ceasefire group.
In early November 2011, Burmese military authorities in Lai-Kha town issued an order requiring members of the Shan ceasefire group at Nam Hu military camp in Naa Poi village tract to requisition civilian forced labour to clear the sides of the roads between Lai-Kha town and Nam Hu camp.
Accordingly, the authorities of the said Shan ceasefire group then required all the villages in Naa Poi village tract to take turns and clear the sides of the designated roads, working in rotation until the work was completed.
The villagers had to clear both sides of the roads, about 100 yards on each side. Many villagers had to work every day using their own tools and providing their own food. When this report was received by SHRF field workers in late December 2011, the work was not yet completed.
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VILLAGERS FORCED TO FIX ROADS AS PUNISHMENT IN LAI-KHA
In October 2011, villagers of several villages in Paang Phon village tract in Lai-Kha township were forced to fix roads as punishment by the Burmese army troops, stationed at Paang Phon village, for not being able to answer questions.
Sometime in mid October 2011, a patrol of Burmese army troops from IB64 came to Nawng Kaa village in Paang Phon village tract and asked the villagers about the situation of the Shan resistance in the area, and the routes by which the Shan soldiers used to pass through.
But the villagers said they did not know, and the Burmese troops went on to another village and asked the same questions. The Burmese troops went on to many other villages in the area asking the same questions, before they returned to their base in Lai-Kha town.
Some time later, the Burmese troops that were stationed at Paang Phon village came to the villages that were not able to answer the questions and forced the villagers to fix roads in the area, as a punishment for being unwilling to properly cooperate with the Burmese military, they said.
The villagers were required to fix many roads that were damaged either by the weather or frequent use. They had to fill holes with earth and fix the surface where there were landslides, etc... The following 3 villages were among thoes that had been forced to fix roads as punishment -- Nawng Kaa, Ho Hung Mawk Zaam and Wan Paang villages.

ROUTINE FORCED LABOUR IN MURNG-PAN
Up until this report was received in late 2011, people of Murng-Pan town and surrounding villages have been for many years forced to provide routine forced labour by the Burmese military authorities in Murng-Pan township.
There were 3 main military bases located in and on the outskirts of Murng-Pan town, namely, LIB332, LIB520 and Military Operational Command No. 17. The Burmese troops at these bases have routinely used forced labour of the people in maintaining their bases and in many other activities.
People in all the 4 quarters of the town and villagers in Ho Phaai Long village tract near the town were divided into 3 groups, e.g., those who had trucks and tractors, those who had motorcycles, and those who did not have such things, and used as necessary by the military authorities.
Among the routine work the people had to provide for the military included having to maintain and fix the roads leading to the military bases and surrounding areas, provide transport around town for the troops and cleaning and maintaining the military bases.
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MASS FORCED LABOUR USED IN MAINTAINING MILITARY CAMP IN MURNG-TON
In late 2011, villagers of at least 3 villages in Mae Ken village tract in Murng-Ton township were forced to build fences and do menial work at a military camp, at Loi Saang village in Mae Ken village tract in Murng-Ton township.
In August and September 2011, villagers of Loi Saang, Huay Pa Laai and Naa Mi Ur villages in Mae Ken village tract in Murng-Ton township were forced by the Burmese army troops manning the military camp at Loi Saang village to work for the military unpaid.
The villagers were required to build bamboo fences around the camp, using their own tools and providing their own food, and gathering building materials by themselves. At the same time, they were also requires to do other menial work in the camp.
The villagers had to clear grass in and around the camp, keep the camp compound free from other rubbish, level the ground at certain places to make footpaths or rooms for buildings, etc... At the end of September 2011, when this report was received, the work was not yet finished.
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MASS FORCED LABOUR IN BUILDING AND MAINTAINING MILITARY CAMP IN MURNG-NAI
From July up to September 2011, the Burmese army troops at the base of Regional Command No. 3, at Waeng Kao village in Kaeng Tawng area, in Murng-Nai township, forced people in the area to fix roads and construct several buildings in the base.
Buildings the villagers were required to construct were a warehouse, a sleeping quarter for the troops, and living quarters for the troops’ families. The villagers were also forced to fix the roads in the base and surrounding areas that had been damaged by the rains.
To construct the buildings, those who had tractors had to gather wood and bamboo from the forest and transport them to the base using their own fuel, and the other villagers had to construct them using their own tools and providing their own food.
In the same way, to fix the roads, the tractors were required to transport sand to the work sites and the other villagers had to fix the roads using their own tools. Both tractor owners and other villagers had to provide their own food and fuel.
Many villages, including Ho Ta, Nam Tum Tai, Waeng Kao, Nawng Nurm, Nam Tum Nur and several others, had to work in rotation for more than 2 months to finish the work, making it very difficult for many villagers to support their families during the period.

MASS FORCED LABOUR USED IN CLEARING THE SIDES OF ROADS IN MURNG-TON

In mid 2011, people in several village tracts in Murng-Ton township were forced to clear the sides of the main road between Pung Pa Khem village tract and Murng-Ton town, by the Burmese military authorities in the area.
In July 2011, villagers of the village tracts along the main road between Pung Pa Khem village and Murng-Ton town were required by the local military authorities to clear the sides of the sections of the road that ran through their respective areas.

The areas that were needed to be cleared of brush and bushes were 10 arm-spans, or about 20 yards, on both sides of the road. Some of the villages that were affected by this forced labour duty were Pung Pa Khem, Naa Kawng Mu, Huay Aw, Murng Haang and Mae Ken.

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