NGO cries foul over Myanmar junta abducting 125 Kaman Muslims for military service

Published : 03 Mar 2024 09:32 PM

Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) has called on the Myanmar junta to be held accountable for forcing 125 Kaman Muslims in Kyauk Pyu Township, Rakhine State into military service on 28 February.

BHRN issued their call on 1 March.

The victims are from Kyauk Ta Lone camp for internally displaced people (IDP) since 2012. Although Kaman Muslims are recognized by a 1982 law as one of the ethnic groups of Burma, they have been targeted along with Rohingya in Rakhine State.

The abduction followed a visit by junta troops to the camp on 17 February to ask for at least 150 conscripts. The soldiers are from the Light Infantry Division No. 542, which is under the command of the Regional Operation Command No. 5 based in Taunggyi Township in Rakhine State, an IDP in the Kyauk Ta Lone camp who spoke to BHRN on the condition of anonymity said. He said the soldiers forced the IDPs to join the military.

The Kyauk Ta Lone IDP told BHRN that the soldiers threatened the IDPs who are between 18 and 55 years old to join the military or face the consequences of the military’s brutality on their families. He said that’s why the IDPs who had fled had to return to the Kyauk Ta Lone camp.

The source said the junta soldiers put up barricades at the gate of the IDP camp on 27 February and did not allow anyone inside the camp to leave. At 7 a.m. of the next day, they abducted 107 IDPs who were aged between 18 and 45 and also 18 IDPs aged between 46 and 55 were reportedly taken into the headquarters of the Light Infantry Division No. 542. The source said IDPs were not interested in joining the military but could not run away because of fear of reprisals against their families by the junta forces.

Kyauk Ta Lone camp is situated on the outskirts of Kyaukphyu and close to a military barracks, ocean, and mountainous terrain, making it difficult for IDP youth to flee from the camp. Those who managed to run away were arrested at military and police checkpoints.

The IDPs were residents of Kyaukphyu town, but sectarian violence in 2012 pushed them out of their homes. They have lived in the camp’s harsh conditions for more than 10 years. They may now potentially be used as human shields for the Burmese military, which is facing strong resistance from pro-democracy forces as well as ethnic armed groups.

The source said Muslims in Rakhine State who have been facing discrimination for many years are also facing the danger of oppression by the ethnic armed group, the Arakan Army (AA), who recently seized several towns in Rakhine State from the Myanmar military in recent months.

BHRN’s Executive Director, Kyaw Win, said, “The Burmese Army’s mandatory conscription has resulted in an exodus of young people from the country and pushed others to join rebel groups. In their continuing desperation, they are kidnapping the most vulnerable in the country and forcing them into service against international law and norms. The Burmese military are not a legitimate government and should be viewed as an occupying force since the 2021 coup, which means they have no right to mandatory conscription, especially when coerced through threats of violence and harm.” BHRN calls on the international community to hold the Burmese army accountable for every violation of international law. 

Forced and coerced conscription of the Kaman IDPs should be considered forms of forced labour and in violation of the Forced Labor Convention that prohibits “all forced or compulsory labour, which is defined as ‘all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.” The Fourth Geneva Convention also prohibits any “pressure or propaganda that aims at securing voluntary enlistment.” As the junta is losing the war, the international community must ensure that every member of the military knows they will be held accountable for their actions.