Alleged abuses against civilians in non-ceasefire areas may constitute violations of Myanmar’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement

Legal analysis shows ceasefire’s civilian protection commitments extend nationwide

(Cambridge, MA, October 20, 2016)–  Reported abuses of civilians in non-ceasefire areas by the Myanmar military and other signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) would, if verified, constitute violations of key civilian protection provisions established by the agreement, said Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic (the Clinic) in a legal memorandum released today. The military and other signatories should act immediately to address such reports, including by engaging with the mechanisms and processes established by the NCA and investigating alleged abuses.

The Clinic’s memorandum comes on the heels of the one-year anniversary of the signing of the NCA by the government and eight ethnic armed organizations (EAOs). While the agreement failed to include many of the EAOs that participated in the ceasefire talks, it was still heralded as a significant step in the country’s peace process. Over the past year, however, armed conflict has intensified in Shan State, Kachin State, and elsewhere, with reports of widespread abuse of civilians by the Myanmar military in particular.

“Ongoing abuses in conflict zones cast doubt on the military’s commitment to the NCA and undermine the trust between Myanmar’s government and ethnic nationality populations,” said Tyler Giannini, Co-Director of the Clinic. “Myanmar military officers can’t hide behind the fact the NCA was signed with only some ethnic armed organizations to abuse civilians in non-ceasefire areas.”

Since the signing of the NCA, human rights organizations and journalists have reported significant abuses by the Myanmar military against civilians, including killings, enforced disappearances, torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and forcible displacement. Human rights organizations have also reported abuses by non-state armed groups, including EAO signatories to the NCA.

The legal memorandum describes the implications of such alleged abuses in relation to Article 9 of the NCA, which governs civilian protection. It concludes that the article should be interpreted to apply generally to the conduct of all NCA signatories, whether such conduct occurs in ceasefire or non-ceasefire areas. It also concludes that, if verified, alleged abuses by the Myanmar military and other signatories since the signing of the ceasefire would constitute violations of Article 9.

Importantly, many of these reported abuses, if true, would also constitute violations of international humanitarian law, including prohibitions on war crimes. Both the Myanmar military and EAOs are bound by such obligations.

The memorandum calls on both the Myanmar military and EAOs to ensure compliance with international legal obligations by investigating credible reports of abuse, holding perpetrators accountable, and providing a remedy to victims. The NCA signatories should also improve the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee by ensuring genuine third party participation, developing a clear means for community-based organization involvement, and providing effective verification and adjudication mechanisms. The Myanmar military and EAOs should also reform policies and practices that lead to abuses against civilians.

“The NCA represents an important first step in Myanmar’s effort to move beyond its legacy of armed conflict and human rights abuses,” said Matthew Bugher, a legal researcher with the Clinic. “However, ongoing abuses by the Myanmar military and other armed groups could stunt the peace process and jeopardize Myanmar’s hopes for long-term stability.”

For more information, please contact:

In Cambridge, Tyler Giannini: [email protected]  or 617-495-9362

In Bangkok, Matthew Bugher: [email protected] or +66 617464208