Friday, April 24, 2009

Karen Refugee Testifies to Junta Crimes

Karen IDPs flee a Burmese army attack (Photo)

The Irrawaddy News

WASHINGTON—A Karen woman based in the United States on Thursday called on the US Congress and the Obama administration to push the UN Security Council to establish an international inquiry into crimes against humanity committed by Burma’s military junta against its own people.

Giving graphic details of the some of the human rights violations the junta has perpetrated, particularly against ethnic communities and in this case against her and her family, Karen refugee Myra Dahgaypaw told a Congressional committee that the Burmese regime must be held accountable for all the crimes it has committed.

A member of the Karen Women’s Organization and a board member of the Karen American Communities Foundation, Dahgaypaw testified before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, which had convened a Congressional hearing on human rights abuses in Burma.

“I urge members of Congress and the new US administration to support and push for a UN Security Council Commission of Inquiry into the regime’s crimes against humanity and system of impunity,” she said.

Demanding that the military regime be held accountable for the crimes it commits against the people of Burma, Dahgaypaw urged the international community to continue to pressure the junta into ceasing all human rights abuses and violence against civilians.

She said the Burmese army often uproots an entire village in just a few minutes, and sends the villagers running with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Myra Dahgaypaw, a member of the Karen Women’s Organization and a board member of the Karen American Communities Foundation, testifying before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission at a Washington congressional hearing on human rights abuses in Burma.

Then the Burmese troops place landmines around the area to ensure villagers remain on the run and do not return to their homes, she said. Today, Eastern Burma is one of the world’s most heavily mined areas.

“After villagers are forced from their villages, they live minute by minute, like nomads. They eat what they find in the jungle, and often go to bed hungry. They are always on the move, children in tow. They live in constant fear of the military,” she said.

“According to my personal experience, my family and I had nothing. We didn’t have food to eat, places to sleep or enough clothes [to wear], a situation made more difficult when it was cold or raining. We were constantly running from regime troops and we hid in the caves, bushes and jungle. The places we called ‘homes’ were burnt down many times a year. I will never forget sleeping with half of my body in the rain and the other half under a plastic tarp,” an emotionally choked Dahgaypaw said.

As humanitarian organizations could not get past the military regime to reach such people, Dahgaypaw said there was not enough food or medicine.

“I suffered from malaria, flu and other diseases many times a year. Many of my cousins died from malaria and other diseases,” she said.

“There were many times we had no food to eat. Sometimes, we had only one can of rice to feed seven family members. The older people didn’t eat. Instead they gave the rice to my sister and I because we were the youngest. We survived by eating bamboo shoots from the jungle. Sometimes we had to go to bed without any food in our stomachs,” Dahgaypaw said.

She emphasized to the committee that her story was neither unique nor exclusive to her ethnic community alone.

“There are several other ethnic groups besides the Karen. Each one of them also faces oppression and displacement at the hands of the Burmese military regime that will force them to live as IDPs [internally displaced persons] or to flee to the borders and other countries,” she said.

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