Shan Documentary Highlights Burmese Military Abuses Ahead of ICJ Ruling

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

A documentary film produced by ethnic Shan community organizations was launched on Tuesday in Chiang Mai, Thailand, reminding the international community that justice has yet to be realized for war crimes committed by the Burmese military in Shan State the 1990s.

“Four Cuts” focuses on the Burma Army’s human rights abuses perpetrated in central and southern Shan State from 1996-1998. It is named for the military strategy that intended to “cut” food, funds, information and potential recruits to ethnic armed organizations, but translated to a scorched earth policy against rural ethnic communities.

The film was timed for release before the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) ruling on whether to enact emergency measures against Burma on January 23. The Gambia has brought the Burmese state before the court on genocide charges for their crimes committed against the Muslim Rohingya population in Rakhine State in 2017.

“The Burma Army… caused mental and physical fear in local people. We want to let the international community and the Burmese people in central Burma to know about the Burma Army’s human rights abuses in Shan State. That’s why we released this documentary,” Sai Leng, a spokesperson for the coalition of Shan civil society groups, told media outlets at the launch.

The film included interviews conducted with victims and witnesses of these abuses, including villagers who were forced to flee their land, had their homes burned down, were subjected to torture, or whose relatives had been raped by government troops.

In one interview, a villager recalls how in 1996, Burma Army soldiers killed 27 civilians in Seng Kong village tract in Kunhing Township. They had gone to retrieve rice from their homes after being forced to abandon their village.

“Burmese soldiers blocked them and killed them on this path. At that time, we found 19 dead bodies near here… Some of them were shot and killed and some of them were beaten to death. Some people were killed while sitting. We found these dead bodies in various positions,” the eyewitness explained in Shan language at the site of the forest massacre.

In a statement released alongside the film, and in footage included in it, the Shan groups highlighted State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s defense of the Burma Army during her ICJ testimony on December 11, 2019. She described the “clearance operations” used against the Rohingya as a counter-insurgency strategy intended to force “terrorists” out of an area.

The Shan groups pointed out that this same term had been used to describe the military campaign against them decades earlier.

The Shan community maintains that 400,000 people from more than 1,800 villages in 15 townships in Shan State were exposed to widespread military abuses between 1996 and 1998. At least 625 women were raped by the Burma Army’s soldiers in cases documented by women’s and human rights groups; most of these incidents were gang rape, and involved Burma Army officers.

Ahead of the initial ICJ hearings, Shan civil society organizations also released a statement on December 9 last year calling for action to be taken against the Burma Army and Burmese military leaders under international law for their patterns of brutal human rights violations.