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Seminar Highlights Continued Atrocities in Burma’s Karenni State

A panel of experts led by U.S. Ambassador Kelley Currie discussed the findings of the 2023 report, “How Do We Survive in the Future?: Atrocity Crimes in Karenni State.”
A member of the Burmese military surrounded by his comrades; he is holding a weapon

By Deanna Johnson on February 21, 2023

On February 7, a panel convened at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) to present and discuss the findings of a recently released joint report, “How Do We Survive in the Future: Atrocity Crimes in Karenni State.” The report documents the multiple atrocities and crimes committed by the Burmese junta against civilians in Karenni State and calls for action by the international community. At the seminar, panelists included: 

  • Neineh Plo from the Coordination Team for Emergency Relief (CTER) who has worked with the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) to provide humanitarian assistance and speak on behalf of the party at peace negotiations after the 2021 attempted coup;
  • Karen Ames, the Managing Director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma (USCB); and
  • Rachel Flemming, an independent human rights consultant with extensive experience in human rights research and legal analysis on accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma (also known as Myanmar). 

The panel was moderated by Ambasador Kelley Currie, former Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.

During the 90-minute session, the panelists provided background on the war crimes and atrocities committed by the junta against Burmese civilians and discussed the country’s needs moving forward. Further, the panel explained why this report is necessary now and how it is different from other reports written on the Burma crisis to date. As expressed by Karen Ames, “How Do We Survive in the Future” is a, “report written by the Karenni for the Karenni.” She explained that while previous reports authored by Western organizations relied on the knowledge and experiences of Karenni and other Burmese people, they usually failed to credit those who guided their research. This report is different in that it was developed, produced, and authored by four grassroots organizations in Karenni State—Karenni Human Rights Group (KnHRG), Kayan Women’s Organization (KyWO), Karenni National Women’s Organization (KNWO), and Kayah State Peace Monitoring Network (KSPMN). 

The organizations came together following the 2021 Christmas Eve massacre during which junta forces arbitrarily arrested and detained a group of Karenni villagers before burning them alive. The organizations wanted to shed international light on the realities of life in Burma and call upon governments to hold the junta accountable. Specifically, the groups want foreign governments to bring the matter of war crimes before the International Criminal Court (ICC). There is no question that what the junta has done and continues to do constitutes legally punishable war crimes and crimes against humanity, as explained by Rachel Flemming in the seminar. The junta has waged war directly against civilians as part of its “Four Cuts” strategy that aims to cut off resistance groups’ access to food, funds, intelligence, and recruits. This is a collective punishment strategy that targets civilians. As such, the junta has used landmines, airstrikes, and mortar shelling against hospitals, churches, and internally displaced person (IDP) camps, usually at night to ensure mass casualties. 

While Neineh Plo highlighted the fact that military action against the civilian population is not new, the scale and intensity of attacks has increased since the coup attempt took place. Today, as a result of the junta’s actions, hundreds of thousands of Burmese people have been forced from their homes and are unable to return. Over 40 percent of the Karenni population—more than 180,000 people—have already been displaced.  More than half the state is “empty,” explained Plo, and ghost towns are becoming increasingly prevalent.

Ultimately, the panelists expressed the same end goal: to abolish the military regime. To do so, the international community must, as Plo states, support the people of Burma in a “Three Cuts Strategy:” cutting the junta’s access to cash, weapons, and impunity. In addition to ICC intervention, the panelists called for sanctions upon military jet fuel in the country, which would hurt the junta’s ability to launch airstrikes. At the same time, the international community must come together to meet the humanitarian needs of those displaced within Burma and in neighboring countries.

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