Category Archives: The Karen

WIN Facilitates UN-Focused Human Rights Training Programme

End of October 2010, WIN facilitated the training of Karen community health and relief workers for human rights documentation for the United Nations (UN). During the course, 10 Karen community workers leaned about the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism on Children’s Rights in Conflict.

Every time we talk to members of the Karen community about getting their message out to the world, they say they want to tell the UN, and rightly so. The United Nations has the power to enforce international cuts in communication, trade, military support and diplomatic relations to any government they feel is a threat to peace. Training programmes like these, therefore, aim help local community run groups to bridge connections with the UN.  Now, when abuses are suffered in their communities, they have the capacity to report these crimes on an international level.

Solid UN-approved evidence of Burma’s war crimes are tantamount to gaining international support for the country’s victims of war, both political and funding for relief and development. However, the international body often struggles to gain information from areas of war due to restrictions put in place the ruling military regime. Therefore, these community workers have been very enthusiastic to begin recording cases of abuse, which they come across regularly, and then report directly.

This also comes at a crucial time politically, as western governments across the globe are calling for the UN to implement a Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights Abuses in Burma. It is crucial that the UN is receiving up-to-date reports on the horrific crimes committed by the Burma Army from all angles so that these calls can be acted upon.


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Filed under The Initiatives, The Karen, Training, WIN

WIN gives presentation to the European Union

In September, WIN’s Kim Jolliffe traveled from the border to Bangkok to talk to representatives from eight European Union Governments, on ‘Internal Displacement in the Black Areas of Northern Karen State.’

Showing video and photographic examples of Burma Army operations and the devastation caused in one of the country’s most war-torn regions, he made a case for a need for more cross-border aid and understanding of the situation among all those reassessing Burma policy. While many have heard numerous statistics about the human rights situation in the region, few understand the continuing severity of the situation or of its implications on Burma’s development as a whole. Step-by-step explanations of the process as well as clear visual representation of the frequency of attacks on civilians were used at the talk to give a deeper understanding.

Some European governments and funders have begun to lean in favour of supporting legitimate aid and development groups working with the Burmese government’s permission, rather than those working on underground aid or civil education. While this shift has proved beneficial for many communities in non-conflict regions, the same approach cannot be applied to those in areas where rebel fighters are present, as civilians are attacked regularly, indiscriminate of age, sex or occupation.

Not only will people in these regions be unable to vote in the upcoming military-dominated elections, but the leaders that have supported them for decades will in most cases have never participated in Burma’s political discourse, making the incorporation of these people into the country a far-away prospect. For decades, the ruling regime has tried to achieve this process through a violent strategy of forceful assimilation aiming to destabilise entire communities while brutally subjugating ethnic minority groups and their claims to sovereignty. This has been attempted through regular destruction of houses, farms, schools and markets as well as attacks on individuals, using torture and rape.

It is important for all of those working on policy or allocating funding for aid to the Burma to understand the deeper factors effecting stability and the long-term risks politically if these populations continue to remain isolated and oppressed. Therefore, WIN has made advocacy at this level a top priority, and will continue to give the nation’s most oppressed war-affected communities the voice they need to stand up for their rights.

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Filed under Internal Displacement, Military, The Karen, WIN

Burma in the News: Landmine Victims Find Solace at Mae La

The choir at Care Villa sing. (Photo: Alex Ellgee/The Irrawaddy)

According to The Irrawaddy (published April 10, 2010):

As the last rays of sun beam through the wooden wall, the choir assembles in the hut. Without delay, the men bellow out the first verse of a Karen song.

One member of the choir tilts his head back, seemingly fully engrossed in the sounds around him while another raises his amputated arm to his ear. The back row breaks off into a harmony filling the room with melancholic songs of freedom and hope for their people.

They have been brought together by a love of music, but this is not your average choir. These men have formed a bond as a result of their near-fatal encounters with landmines.

“In my village, I had never seen a blind man or a person without a limb, so when I lost my sight I felt like such an outsider and lost all hope,” said Has Ka Tarai, who at 15 years of age, is the youngest member of the choir.

When he was 12, Burmese government forces stormed his village, deep in Karen State, burning down all the homes. He and his mother fled to the jungle where they hid for days till they thought it would be safe to return.

As they walked up the hill to the village, Has Ka Tarai recalls being excited to return home. Suddenly he was knocked to the ground; he had hit a landmine with a knife he was playing with.

He says he remembers feeling a pain in his eyes, something he compares to ants eating out his eyeballs. He remembers the sound of his mother shouting and crying. He was blinded and lost much of his hearing.

It has been well documented that the Burmese army often leaves landmines outside villages they raid in order to deter people from returning to their homes. By doing so, they are able to control more territory and leave a psychological scar on the jungle communities who reject their rule.

For two months, Has Ka Tarai’s eyes went untreated until a Free Burma Ranger medic came to the village. Seeing how severe his condition was, the medic took him all the way to Chiang Mai in Thailand. Has Ka Tasrai was told he would never see again.

He didn’t want to go back to his village, fearing for his life. Instead, he was offered a chance to stay at “Care Villa,” a foundation set up in 2000 by the Karen Handicap Welfare Association to look after landmine victims at Mae La Refugee Camp in Thailand.

Not only have many of the residents at Care Villa lost limbs, but many have lost their sight as well. Basic daily activities can be extremely difficult for them. Before coming to Care Villa, many of them stayed with friends or family who were unable to help satisfactorily. Many say they fell into heavy depression.

Continue reading the article here

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Filed under Burma in the News, Free Burma Rangers, Internal Displacement, Landmine Victims, Military, Reports, The Karen, The People

Female Village Heads in Karen State Systematically Abused by Burma Army Soldiers

In a new report released by the Karen Women’s Organization (KWO), female village heads from 5 districts of Karen State, eastern Burma, have testified to having suffered or witnessed a long line line of horrific abuses, including crucifixion, people being burnt alive, rape (including gang rape), many forms of torture (including beatings and “water torture”), people being buried up to their heads in earth and beaten to death, arbitrary executions, beheadings  and slave labour.

The report, entitled “Walking Amongst Sharp Knives”, includes interviews with 95 female village heads and offers a mere glimpse at the horrific subjugation and abuse of ethnic minority women inflicted by soldiers of Burma’s ruling military regime.

Photo From KWO's "Walking Amongst Sharp Knives"

The report also describes that “with men increasingly reluctant to risk their lives as chiefs,women have stepped in to assume leadership in the hope of mitigating abuses. However, testimonies of women chiefs show that, far from being exempt from the brutality of the Burma Army, they have faced ongoing systematic abuse, including gender-based violence.”

To download the report in full click here

For six decades, the 49,000 strong KWO has been working for the rights and welfare of Karen women. Click here to visit their website

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Filed under Burma in the News, Military, Photography, The Karen, The People

Pic of the Day: Karen Farm Girl

Ethnic Karen in mountain regions are mostly rice farmers, such as this young girl. They are attacked by the Burmese Army in the fall right after the rice harvest so they cannot survive for the year. The harvests are burned and the land strewn with landmines.

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Pic of the Day: Mobile Karen Medic

Young Karen health care workers work on teams of backpack medics and mobile clinics to serve villagers in remote areas.

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Filed under Internal Displacement, Medical, Photography, Pic of the Day, The Initiatives, The Karen

In Darkness, Karen Refugees Dread Forced Return to Burma

photo by: Alex Ellgee/ The Irrawaddy
After a sleepless night, families due to be repatriated gather before dawn to discuss their fate.

THA SONG YANG, Thailand (02/05/2010) — Last night, under the light of the stars, I guided myself through the paddy field toward the flickering flames on the top of the hill. Dashing across a dirt path, I narrowly miss a Thai security bike and arrive at the Noh Boe temporary refugee camp.

Immediately, I am whisked into a flimsy bamboo shelter to avoid the Thai soldiers, who the residents say are always circling the camp on patrol. Quickly, someone lights a candle—a precious commodity in a place with no electricity—and various residents tell me of their heartache.

“We can’t stay here but we don’t want to go back,” Saw Naing, a camp teacher, says quietly as we sit on his hut floor.

He explains that all the people in the camp are terrified to go back to Ler Per Her in Karen State because of the landmines that litter the area and the abuse they can expect to receive there from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), an ally of the Burmese junta.

Read the full article with a photo slideshow via The Irrawaddy

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Filed under Burma in the News, Internal Displacement, Landmine Victims, Military, Perspective, Refugees, Reports, The Karen, The People